Dems is the new Rules!

The R&A and the USGA has announced a public consultation on a major review of the Rules of Golf. Glyn Pritchard looks at what is proposed and its implications.

The proposed revision of the Rules of Golf is the first general review since 1984 and only the fourth general revision since the original ‘13 Articles’ were codified by The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in 1744. So it’s a significant event and we have until 31 August 2016 to complete a feedback survey. Assuming everything goes to plan the revised Rules will come into force on 1 January 2019.

In its statement announcing the review the R&A said: “The proposed 24 new Rules, reduced from the current 34, have been written in a user-friendly style with shorter sentences, commonly used phrases, bulleted lists and explanatory headings.”

To make the Rules more comprehensible, there will be an edited ‘Player’s Edition’ and the R&A states:

“The Player’s Edition will be the primary publication circulated to golfers worldwide. It is written in the second person (meaning ‘you’ is used rather than ‘the player’) and is a much shorter version of the Rules that will make it easier for you to find answers when situations arise out on the course. The Player’s Edition will be an actual Rule book, not merely a summary or a ‘Quick Guide’… Less frequently occurring situations will not be included, but the Player’s Edition will tell you where to find those answers in the full Rule book.”

Those less frequently occurring situations, rules and procedures include the current Rule 33, which guides club committees in charge of competitions and/or courses. This is all to be commended. When I started playing the Rules were written in an impenetrable ‘legalise’, although the English used in the current edition is much plainer. But it’s still easier to understand the Rules using the R&A’s illustrated version. The proposed Player’s Edition will include graphics which should make for simpler understanding.

The actual Rule changes centre around eliminating some of the petty restrictions, both to make the game more straightforward and to speed things up. However, there are some changes that may prove contentious including the, “elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged”. Personally I would still be inclined to notify other players if I wanted to touch the ball, to dispel any question of improving my lie in the rough.

To speed play the Rule changes will include ‘Pace-of-Play Support’ with time reduced for ball searching from five minutes to three and a recommendation that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke – though how this would be enforced is not elaborated. There is also ‘affirmative encouragement’ for ready-golf in stroke play. But all these measures should be best practice amongst players anyway. Sadly, stating them in print is not going to change the player who leaves his clubs 50 yards back along the fairway when putting, or stands and marks his card after finishing the hole.

More controversially the ‘Pace-of-Play Support’ section includes a “New alternative form of stroke play: The Rules recognize a new ‘Maximum Score’ form of stroke play, where your score for a hole is capped at a maximum (such as double par or triple bogey) set by the Committee.” This doesn’t seem fair on the player who would have won the monthly medal except that another player was allowed to record an eight on a par-4, when the actual score would have risen to double figures if the hole has been played out in full.

There are couple of changes which are obviously aimed at pro tour players: “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”. Nobody, as of yet, has ever videoed my drops and clearly this covers TV coverage of tour events.

Another proposed Rule change aimed at the pros is: “Your caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you from the time you begin taking your stance until you have made your stroke.” This seems particularly aimed at women tour players who now appear unable to make their own alignment judgements without meticulous and lengthy advice from their caddies.

All in all, the changes are to be welcomed although I personally have serious reservations about the ‘Maximum Score’ change in stroke play events. Stroke play is the purest form of the game and if you haven’t got time to play in the medal events, you should stick to the stablefords. Give your own feedback to the R&A at: www.rules.golf/#feedback