MEXICO CITY — Sweeping changes could be coming to a golf course near you.
The U.S. Golf Association — which governs the rules of golf for the U.S. and Mexico — and the R&A — which governs the rest of the world — announced changes Wednesday morning that would simplify and reduce the number of main rules and definitions from 34 to 24. The governing bodies will allow for a six-month comment period with a proposed implementation date of Jan. 1, 2019.
“Our aim is to make the rules easier to follow and to apply for all golfers,” said David Rickman, executive director of governance for the R&A, in a press release. “We have looked at every rule to try to find ways of making them more intuitive and straightforward, and we believe we have identified many significant improvements.
“It is important that the rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played, but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character.”
Among the changes:
- A player will not receive a penalty if the ball (or ball marker) accidentally moves on the putting green or in search of a ball.
- Players can leave the flagstick in the hole while putting.
- Players may repair spike marks or other damage on the green with no penalty.
- Caddies will no longer be able to line up a player. This will be a big change on the LPGA tour, where many players have their caddies line them up before stepping away just before the player makes a swing.
- Players who have trouble in bunkers could get relief. If you want, you can remove your ball from a bunker (and place it in the fairway or rough behind the bunker, depending on where the bunker is) and accept a two-stroke penalty.
- A new procedure for how to drop a ball in a relief area.
- Time searching for a lost ball would go from five minutes to three.
- There's a proposal calling for players to take no more than 40 seconds to play their shot.
Several players seemed to like the proposed rule changes.
“I like how they are being proactive,” Brandt Snedeker said from the WGC-Mexico Championship. “Some make perfect sense. It’s common sense, really, like a ball moving on a green or getting a penalty stroke when the ball hits your caddie.
“Some of them have too much gray area, like grounding a club in a bunker. But overall I like what they are doing.
“But it’s funny. I have to go back to school now to learn all of them.”
Maybe there should be professional rules and amateur rules because I'm not getting a good vibe about some of these proposed changes— Daniel Berger (@DanielBerger59) March 1, 2017
Tiger Woods took to Twitter early Wednesday to praise the changes. "Lots of thought & hard work by @USGA and @RandA to modernize our rules. Great work to benefit the game," Woods wrote.
Mike Davis, USGA executive director and CEO, said on Golf Channel's Morning Drive that it's been a collaborative process that involved more than just the USGA and R&A and he welcomes feedback in the months ahead.
"We want to know how we can make these rules presented in draft form even better," he said. "How can we make them even simpler, more consistent, fair to the game, how we better leverage technology? We want to hear from golfers."
Davis also emphasized the rules will be an improvement for all golfers, not just those playing professionally on tour.
"This is great for all golfers, this isn’t just about elite golfers, tournament golfers or avid golfers," Davis said. "If we get this right, this is about all golfers. It’s beginning golfers, recreational golfers and golfers globally. It’s been an interesting process because this has been about making the rules easier to understand, easier to read and easier to apply."
Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior director of the rules of golf and amateur status, said the process began in April 2012.
"How do we look at the delivery?" Pagel said of how the process unfolded. "How can we write the rules so that as you the golfer, when you get into the book and you’re looking for that answer, you can actually understand what you’re reading. ...
"We looked at everything. If you think of the rules as a puzzle, we pulled every puzzle piece apart, looked at every outcome, looked at every word to see how we could make it better."
Golfers are encouraged to review the proposed changes and submit comment via www.usga.org/rules or www.randa.org. Both organizations will accept information through Aug. 31.
USGA has gotten the rules changes right. This is a great start to modernizing the rules for both pace of play and simplicity!! @USGA 👌🏻— Paula Creamer (@ThePCreamer) March 1, 2017