Tuesday, 21 February 2017
The first recorded Rules of Golf, drawn up in 1744, amounted to just 13 Rules in 13 sentences, hand-written on two sheets of paper (see the extract in the photo above and view the wording at this link). By the time the R&A published the first 'national' (UK) set of rules, in 1899, which were adopted by the USGA the following year, there were 35 Rules, including 17 Definitions. Today there are 34 Rules, subdivided into 126 sections, 61 Definitions, and over 1,380 Decisions on the Rules. I liken the Decisions to the ‘case law’ of the Rules of Golf; they are required to elaborate and clarify the wording of the Rules in every possible circumstance that might occur in the myriad of topographic, climatic and variable course conditions, anywhere in the world. It has taken over 270 years for the Rules to evolve to where they are today, every change and amendment resulting from actual situations that have occurred during competition. And yet, the Ruling Bodies still receive thousands of new enquiries every year from Committees who are looking for an authoritative answer to situations that they cannot resolve themselves.
The primary objectives of the modernisation of the Rules, as stated by both the Ruling Bodies, are to make them easier to read, understand and apply by golfers at all levels, whether the play is competitive or social and wherever their game is played. There has been a leaking of some of the changes that are likely to feature, though these are expected to be the tip of the iceberg.
Reduce lost ball search: 5 to 3 minutes:
This seems to be more a speed of play issue, on which any positive improvement is to be welcomed.
Greens: Allow spike mark repairs.
Great! But will other damage to the putting green also be included, e.g. heel indentations, flagstick scores, etc. If so, will this not adversely contribute to slow play?
Water Hazards: emphasis on red lines and/or stakes.
Designating water hazards as lateral water hazards provides the additional option of dropping within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin, or an equidistant point on the other side. This should eliminate some of the confusion that many golfers have over where they are permitted to drop in taking relief, under penalty, from a water hazard.
Taking relief: Allow drop from any height.
Hmmmm! Say 2 inches from the ground? If the height is not going to be specified, perhaps all references to dropping should be changed to placing.
Taking relief: Eliminate use of club-lengths.
There is not enough detail here to make a judgement. Presumably one change may be to replace club-length(s) relief with some other fixed measurement, otherwise the player would be permitted to drop a ball almost anywhere that is farther away from the hole. Club-lengths don’t have to be measured anyway, providing the player intends to drop well within the permitted area. See my blog on this subject.
Unfortunately, such a major revision of the Rules, though undertaken with the admirable intention of making learning them and complying with them much easier, is bound to create a period of confusion in the short (and probably medium) term. The multiple changes will almost certainly be challenging for Golf Committees, even if they and their members, do take the time to study and understand them. There are many golfers that never reference the existing Rules book and this is unlikely to change, which is bound to result in differences of opinion, increasing the number of issues that Committees will have to give rulings on. These issues do not arise when all competitors are playing together, as in match play, or a casual ‘skins’ game between friends, as they can resolve the situation amongst themselves, but it is obviously a different matter when the rights of the whole field have to be taken into account. It would obviously be inequitable to have one competitor proceeding with a different interpretation of a Rule to another who is faced with the same situation, but playing in a different group. I have said before that I have never got close to winning the annual Captain’s prize at my Club, but if by some miracle I was to come second and subsequently find out that the winner had breached a Rule without including the penalty on their score card, I know that I would be apoplectic!
So, although most golfers obviously wish for a dramatic reduction in the size of the Rules book, this is probably not going to happen. As previously stated, the reason for the existing number of Rules, sections, definitions and decisions is that over the years it has been necessary to update them as a result of what is regularly happening on golf courses all over the world. The welcome modernisation should certainly lead to a reduction in verbiage, but in my opinion, not nearly enough to satisfy most players, who often do not take the time to logically think through the potential unintended consequences that may occur following any change, however minor. From the comments that I receive it is clear that the Rule that most amateur golfers would like to see changed, is for them to obtain relief from divot holes on closely mown areas. I am not privy to any inside information on this, but I would be extremely surprised if this was included in the modernisation for the reasons that I explain in this blog.
Another welcome objective of the ‘Rules Modernisation’, which is expected to be far less controversial, is to identify and put into practice ways that will improve how the Rules are distributed and consumed, including increased and better use of technology. This should involve easier and more user friendly ways of accessing Rules information, for example through the use of audio, images and videos. We can all look forward to that.
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