Rules of golf: R&A and USGA propose changes

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The R&A and USGA have announced proposals that could mark significant changes to several of golf's well known rules in a bid to modernise the game.

The governing bodies have spent five years reviewing the rules to come up with these new proposals, which target subjects such as pace of play and touching the sand in a bunker. In total there are 24 rules, reduced from the current 34.

Following the proposals, golfers are actively encouraged to test out the new rules and give their feedback online before August 31st this year. Both the R&A and USGA have insisted these rules are still very much in the proposition stage, and will not be implimented until January 1st, 2019.

David Rickman, the Executive Director – Governance at The R&A, said, “Our aim is to make the Rules easier to understand and to apply for all golfers.

"We have looked at every Rule to try to find ways to make them more intuitive and straightforward and we believe we have identified many significant improvements. It is important that the Rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles"

One noticeable change is the reversal of the rule on distance measuring devices, and it's potential impact on the professional tours. Under these new rules they are now permitted, which includes competitions, although if a committee did not want to allow them they could introduce a local rule.

Thomas Pagel, the Senior Director, Rules of Golf & Amateur Status for the USGA, said "We identified that there were golfers and golfing countries throughout the world that really had a heavy use of DMDs, so why is it that they would have to invoke a local rule.  So really all we've done here is reversed that to where DMDs are now permitted under the rules of golf. 

"It would be inappropriate for me to speculated what the professional tours will do with this change, but certainly if they were to want to not permit them, they would have the ability to do that through a local rule."

One of the rules that won't be changing? The unplayable ball rule. Players will still either have to take two club-lengths, return to where the ball was played, or take the ball back as far as they like on the line it crossed the hazard.

Pagel said it was a rule they were currently happy with: "We recognise that there are situations where players may not appreciate the relief that they get under that particular rule, but as we looked at alternatives, we just didn't find one that we thought was workable and consistent with the application of other rules."

R&A and USGA: The Proposed Rules
Here are some of the proposed rules most likely to affect your game

Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties:

There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.

Relaxed putting green rules:

There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole; players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage

Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”):

Red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water; expanded use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed; and there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.

Relaxed bunker rules:

There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions (such as not grounding the club right next to the ball) is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand; however, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty

Relying on player integrity:

A player’s “reasonable judgment” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong; and elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.

Pace-of-play support:

Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

Simplified way of taking relief:

A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific relief area; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from just above the ground or any growing thing or other object on the ground.

More information can be found here.

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