The final draft of proposed golf rule changes from 2019 has been revealed, with the USGA and R&A seeking to not only modernise the game, but to also help speed up pace of play with the raft of alternations to the rule book.
It is not a case of ripping up that rule book, but instead making sweeping changes that have been on the table for more than six years. They have been discussed endlessly between the four walls of both governing bodies since the first draft details were released last year.
The final draft features some alterations to the rules that don’t affect the vast majority of golfers. However, a large number do. Pace of play—something that has dogged the PGA TOUR and European Tour in recent months and years with five-hour rounds becoming the norm—and simplifying the game is where the heart of the changes really lie.
Among the changes—which will come into force on 1 January 2019—are a reduction in the time a player can search for a lost ball, relaxing of stringent rules surrounding bunkers, a moving ball and spike marks on greens and a new ruling for dropping the ball where relief is taken. All have been designed to speed the game up a bit.
When it comes to searching for a lost ball, a golfer now has two minutes less to do so, with the time permitted being reduced from five minutes to three. Proposals are also in place for amateur golfers to be able to drop a ball where they deemed the lost one to be, or where it went out of bounds, with a two-stroke penalty, rather than return to the original place the shot was taken from with a one-stroke penalty. A local rule would need to be in place for this to be permitted, however.
“This [new rule] addresses the issue you hear at the club level about the practical nature of going back and playing under stroke and distance just doesn’t work. It has a negative impact on pace of play, and so how can we introduce something to resolve that. That’s what this local rule is about,” Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of Rules & Amateur Status, is quoted as saying.
“You simply estimate where it’s out of bounds or where you ball is likely to be lost, you can go all the way out to the fairway and drop anywhere behind. But the primary objective here is to keep the player moving forward, and we think that’s the real benefit of this.”
Golf rule changes: dropping the ball
Dropping the ball will also have a new rule, the above shoulder-height method currently used will become knee-high instead. Originally pencilled in to be from two inches above the ground, the change of rule was raised to knee height instead but still gives golfers the chance to see from above where they are dropping their ball.
The one or two-club length rule for dropping a ball will, from the start of 2019, remain in place after the USGA and R&A abandoned original plans to change it to a 20-inch to 80-inch distance. But there is a change to the penalty stroke currently incurred for a double hit, which is to be replaced by counting one shot for the original strike only.
Golf rule changes: penalties
In bunkers, there will be no penalty for removing loose impediments and golfers will be able to ground the club in the hazard. On greens, the penalty for accidently moving your ball has been removed, spike marks on your line can be repaired and the flagstick no longer needs to be attended and can be left in when putting without penalty.
Significantly—but not an official ruling—both the USGA and R&A will also be encouraging “ready golf” to be adopted. The person ready to play will be expected to strike first rather than play in turn of the furthest away from the hole, or those with the honour on the tee from the previous hole.
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