Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Modernisation of the Rules

I guess that a majority of those that play competitive golf are expectantly awaiting news of the proposed ‘modernisation’ of the Rules of Golf that has been signalled by the Ruling Bodies. It seems that we should have a good idea of what is being proposed when the first draft of what is expected to be a broad and significant change to the Rules is released next month (March 2017). I want to emphasise that there will not be any change to any Rule of Golf this year and almost certainly not next year. January 1st 2019 seems to be the earliest that any changes will become effective in competitive play. The period in between includes approximately six months for public comment, after which the R&A and USGA will take time to review the feedback and then draw up their revisions, to be revealed in late 2017, or early 2018. Remembering the lengthy discussion, early opposition and eventual acceptance prior to the comparatively simple amendments relating to anchoring a club, I anticipate that this will be a very busy time for everyone involved with the Rules in competitive golf, whether as a Committee member, Rules official or media reporter.

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.

Good golfing,



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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Making a Stroke

I received a question this week asking whether the shaft or grip of a club can be used to make a stroke. I cannot imagine the circumstance that led to this question being asked, but it has prompted me to list a few points relating to making a stroke at a ball.

•    The ball must be fairly struck with the head of the club. Rule 14-1a.
•    The head of the club includes the face, back and sides of the club (so, obviously not any part of the shaft or the grip). Note that the clubhead must have only one striking face, except that a putter may have two faces if their characteristics are the same and they are opposite each other. Appendix ll, 1 / 4 / d.
•    The ball must not be pushed, scraped or spooned. See this blog for an example of what is not permitted in this respect. Rule 14-1a.
•    In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either "directly" or by use of an "anchor point." See this blog for more information on this subject. Rule 14-1b.
•    A stroke is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball. So if a player checks their downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball, they have not made a stroke. Definition of Stroke.
•    A player must not make a stroke while accepting physical assistance (e.g. having an umbrella held over them), or protection from the elements (e.g. aligning their bag to shelter their ball from the wind. Rule 14-2a.
•    A player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner that might assist them in making a stroke. Rule 14-3. Note that this includes listening to music or a broadcast, Decision 14-3/17.
•    A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving. Rule 14-5. There are 3 exceptions; a) Ball falling off tee, Rule 11-3; b) Striking the ball more than once, Rule 14-4; c) Ball moving in water, Rule 14-6. A player may make a stroke at a ball that oscillates providing it does not move off its spot.
•    A player may make a stroke one-handed, e.g. holding the flagstick in the other hand when making a short putt, Decision 17-1/5. (See photo above).
•    A player is not necessarily entitled to see their ball when making a stroke. Rule 12-1.
•    A player is not penalised for improving their lie or line of play if it occurs while making a stroke, or the backward movement of their club for a stroke, e.g. breaking or moving grasses growing behind their ball when making a stroke from a hazard. Rules 13-2 and 13-4. (Edit 10th February 2017: However, they may not touch the ground in the hazard, water in the water hazard, or move a loose impediment in the hazard with their backswing, Rule 13-4.)

Good golfing,


 


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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.