R&A Rules and USGA have announced their four-yearly revisions to the Rules of Golf, which will be effective worldwide from 1st January 2012. The good news is that there are very few changes that will cause us any difficulty in understanding and remembering. The majority of the changes are amendments aimed at improving the clarity of the Rules. I am pleased to present my summary of those changes that are most likely to affect golfers, whatever their handicaps or playing status.
• Definition of Addressing the Ball:
At present, a player has addressed their ball when they have taken their stance and have also grounded their club. Under the revised Definition a player will have addressed their ball as soon as they ground their club, whether in front of the ball, or behind it. There is no requirement to take a stance. Consequently, a player will no longer address their ball in a bunker or a water hazard, as the Rules do not permit the grounding of a club in a hazard.
• Rule 6-3a. Time of Starting:
Under the existing Rules, a player who arrives even 15 seconds later than their starting time should be disqualified from a competition, unless the Committee has introduced a condition of competition that reduces the penalty for players arriving within five minutes of their official starting time from disqualification to two strokes in stroke play, or loss of the first hole in match play. The revised Rule dispenses with the need for such a condition of competition, as the penalty of disqualification has been reduced accordingly in these circumstances.
• Rule 13-4. Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions:
This will be a welcome change for golfers and course maintenance staff alike. Players will be permitted to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, providing it is done for the sole purpose of caring for the course and nothing is done to improve the position or lie of their ball, the area of their intended stance or swing, or their line of play. How often have we wanted to smooth irregularities made by previous groups at one end of a bunker when our ball lies waiting to be played at the other end? Well, we will soon be able to do just that.
• Rule 18-2b. Ball Moving After Address:
Most of us will have been sympathetic when my near-neighbour, Padraig Harrington, penalised himself one stroke during The Masters in Augusta, in 2008, because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, even though the movement was obviously caused by the gusty wind blowing around the course. There have been several other similar, high-profile incidents since then. Well, now there is going to be an Exception to Rule 18-2b that exonerates the player from any penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed (remember the new definition of address) when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move.
• Appendix lV:
Although a new Appendix is to be added, relating to the regulations for the design of tees, gloves, shoes, clothing and distance measuring devices, I don’t think that it contains any noteworthy changes to the existing regulations. I am quite surprised that there is no change to the ruling that a player may not use a smartphone or PDA as a distance measuring device if there are other features or applications installed on the device that, if used, would be in breach of the Rules, whether or not they are actually used (e.g. the inbuilt compass feature on an iPhone). Perhaps this subject will be addressed in the revised Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2012 – 2013, which are due to be published soon. It is Decision 14-3/4, which prohibits the use of a compass on the course, that I would like to see changed.
• Rules of Amateur Status; Hole-in-One Prizes:
The only material difference that I am aware of between the R&A Rules and the USGA Rules is going to be removed. From the 1st January there will be no general prize limit to the prize for achieving holes-in-one while playing a round of golf. Previously there was no limit in USA or Mexico, but a limit of £500 (or the equivalent currency) applied in the rest of the world.
Please note that the above are my interpretations of the most important revisions to the Rules of Golf, which are not effective until 1st January 2012. For the detail of all the amendments please refer to the 32nd edition of Rules of Golf, as published by R&A Rules and USGA.
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Between now and 1st January 2012, I will be scrutinising my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ and my weekly ’Rhodes Rules School’ series to see what has to be updated, following the 2012 revisions to the Rules of Golf. I will publish those changes as soon as they are finalised, for the benefit of all my customers and subscribers.