Golf rolls out major changes to make rules ‘easier to understand and apply’


Seeking to simplify their game and increase its popularity among younger generations, golf’s governing bodies previewed a broad set of rule changes Wednesday. The proposed revisions to golf’s official code of play are designed to make the rules “easier to understand and apply,” and the overhaul represents arguably the most sweeping effort since the sport’s first known rule book was published in 1744.

The USGA, which governs golf in the United States and Mexico, and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which oversees the sport in the rest of the world, produced the joint effort. The proposals will undergo a six-month period of public review, in which comments from pros and amateurs alike will be solicited, and they could be put in place by 2019.

“The main goal of the initiative is to help golfers everywhere by revising many rule procedures and outcomes for better consistency, simplicity and fairness and, overall, by bringing the rules up to date to meet the changing needs of the global game,” the USGA said on its website. “The current review began five years ago [as opposed to the usual four-year cycle] because we recognized that these incremental revisions over the years have tended to make the rules more and more complex, especially as concepts and exceptions are added in an effort to give a ‘fair’ answer for every situation.”

If enacted, the changes would shrink the main rules and definitions from 34 to 24. The USGA identified eight categories in which it thought the proposals would have “the most impact”: ball at rest; ball in motion; taking relief; areas of the course; equipment; playing a ball; when to play during a round; and player behavior.

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Here are some of the specific proposals:

– No penalty for accidentally moving your ball while in search of it or on the putting green.

– No penalty when a player (or the player’s equipment or caddie) accidentally deflects his or her own ball while it’s in motion.

– When dropping a ball while taking relief, players can do so from just above the ground, rather than from a standing position with the arm outstretched.

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– Time for a ball search is reduced from five to three minutes.

– Allow players to repair “any damage on the green,” including spike marks and shoe damage.

– No penalty for hitting an unattended flagstick still in the hole on a putt from the green.

– No penalty for touching the line of play on the putting green, as long as a player did not improve the line.

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– Players can take relief from a bunker for a two-stroke penalty, using the “back-on-a-line procedure.”

– A club damaged during a round can continue to be used, even if a player damaged it in anger.

– Players are encouraged to employ “ready golf” and take shots out of turn when it makes sense to do so; players should make strokes in no more than 40 seconds.

– Players could have their number of strokes on a given hole capped under a “maximum score” format.

Another proposed rule change would bar caddies from lining up players right before putts, which could affect several LPGA Tour players. Many golfing stars who weighed in on the changes Wednesday voiced their approval.

“I think golf’s emphasis on the rules can sometimes turn people away from it,” Rory McIlroy said (via the AP). “To modernize and make it simple is a good thing. With what’s happened in the last couple of years, with some rulings and high-profile things that have happened at crucial stages in tournaments, people who look at that and might want to get into the game say: ‘You know what? It’s too complicated.’

“Making them more modern to move with the times is good.”

“It all just seemed to get away from the simple game that it once started out to be,” Adam Scott said (via USA Today). “Lots of things have changed over time, and I just don’t think we moved the rules quickly enough as the game changed, and decisions became a big part of this and having to ask about intent and all these kind of things. It’s difficult. There’s competition golf and then there’s social golf, and I think some common sense should be applied to both.”

Some other pros expressed concern about the proposals and suggested they be limited to amateur players.

“It is important that the rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played,” said David Rickman, executive director of governance for the R&A (via the AP). “But we have been careful not to change the game’s long-standing principles and character.”

Both the USGA and the R&A are encouraging people to submit feedback online, here and here.