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Garnett on Golf: What are the changes being proposed in the new Rules of Golf?

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews are considering changes to the Rules of Golf, set to come into force in January 2019. Picture: PA SPORT

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews are considering changes to the Rules of Golf, set to come into force in January 2019. Picture: PA SPORT

PA Wire

In his latest column, Tony Garnett takes a look at the new Rules of Golf, which are set to be introduced from January next year.

Tremendous efforts are being made to speed up play on golf courses round the world.

For the past five years the Royal and Ancient and the United States Golf Association have been working on a project to make the Rules of Golf easier to understand and to apply.

While the Rules are revised every four years, this is the first fundamental review since 1984. It was established to ensure the Rules fit the needs of today’s game.

Until the end of August all golfers worldwide can study the proposed changes and provide input before they take effect in January.

The announcement follows a comprehensive review process that began more than five years ago.

David Rickman of the R&A said: “We have looked at every Rule to try to find ways to make them more straightforward. 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. We have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles.”

Highlights of the proposed changes include:

- Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties.

There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.

- Relaxed putting green rules.

There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole.

- Players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed.

Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage on the putting green. There will be no penalty for merely touching the line of a putt.

- Relaxed rules for ‘penalty areas’ (currently called water hazards).

Red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock etc in addition to areas of water.

Expanded use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed. There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.

- Relaxed bunker rules

There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions, such as not grounding the club right next to the ball is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand.

An extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.

- Relying on player integrity

A player’s ‘reasonable judgement’ when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong.

Announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged will be eliminated.

- Pace of play

Reduced time for searching for a lost ball from five minutes to three.

Recommending players to take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke.

- Taking relief

A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball and playing it from a specific relief area. Relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from just above the ground or any growing thing of other object on the ground.

The current 2016 edition of the Rules of Golf remain in force when playing, posting scores or competing, until the new rules are officially adopted in 2019.

- Tony says

Being able to putt when on the green without the flagstick being attended or removed will save time for long putts. Most golfers may prefer to remove the flag for short putts.

There could be times, such as a short downhill putt on a slippery green at Augusta, when a player might prefer to keep the flag in the hole to prevent the ball from sliding too far away past the pin.

Penalty areas may cover areas of desert (thinking of Dubai perhaps). Will jungle mean that thick gorse on some courses will be designated as a penalty area?

Relaxed bunker rules are interesting. Loose impediments can be removed. Touching the sand with a hand or club will no longer be a problem although obviously the club cannot be grounded behind the ball.

The extra relief option for an unplayable ball in a bunker will allow to the next shot to be taken from outside the bunker with a two- shot penalty. A poor bunker player may feel that a plugged ball in wet sand is unplayable and will welcome the new option.

Cutting the time searching for a ball from five minutes to three seems sensible. Many elderly players often don’t bother to search at all in friendly games. On other occasions I have seen a search go on for well over five minutes because no-one looked at a watch.

Some 30 years ago the procedure of dropping a ball was to let it fall backwards over your shoulder.

Currently the ball is dropped from shoulder height. As from January players will be able to drop from just above the ground. It seems very close to being able to place it.

Rushmere head professional Kelvin Vince agreed with most of the proposals but was not so sure about the ball dropping.

I feel sorry for referees. They must apply the current Rules until the end of December as well as learning the new ones (many of the numbers will change) ready for January

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