One of the great things about the game of golf is that the rules are the same around the planet. Playing in USGA and Canadian Senior Championships I had no doubts that the competition was being played by all the women adhering to the same rules of play. One of the greatest distractions in the game is fear or doubt. It is a comfort to a golfer to know ahead of time just what his/her options are, thus eliminating any potential stressful situations on the course.
One of the functions of the United States Golf Association (USGA) is to write, interpret and protect the Rules of Golf. The USGA does this in conjunction with the R&A Rules Ltd., a newly formed group of companies in 2004. Formerly the governing rules body was the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. The R&A represents more than 130 national, international, amateur and professional organizations from over 120 countries on behalf of an estimated 30 million golfers in Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas (outside the US and Mexico). Through agreement with the R&A, the rules jurisdiction of the USGA includes only the US, its possessions and Mexico.
The two organizations are joint authorities and owners of the Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf. As independent bodies, the R&A and the USGA have worked closely together to produce a uniform code of rules so that wherever the game is played the same laws apply. Golf authorities in all parts of the world discuss and submit proposed changes. When the R&A and USGA make their final decisions there has to be complete agreement on both sides.
The abiding principle for the changes is always, “Are they for the good of the game?” The changes generally fall into two broad categories:
1. those that improve the clarity of the Rules, and/or
2. those that reduce the penalties in certain circumstances to ensure that they are proportionate.
Every four years the two governing bodies review, revise and clarify the rules so that they can be more easily understood and applied. The latest revision took effect on January 1, 2008. Some of the significant changes you need to be aware of are as follows.
Players were previously not permitted to lift a ball for identification when the ball lay in a hazard. Consequently there was no penalty for hitting a wrong ball in a hazard. Now a golfer will be allowed to lift a ball for identification in a bunker or water hazard (Rule 12-2 and 15-3). However, there now will be a two-stroke penalty for playing a wrong ball from a hazard. In match play, the penalty will be loss of hole.
Another key change is the reduction in penalty for carrying, but not using, a nonconforming club (Rule 4-1). In stroke play, a player will incur a two-stroke penalty per hole (maximum four strokes per round) instead of disqualification. In match play, an adjustment to the status of a match would be made, with the maximum penalty being two holes. Once the infraction is discovered, the club must immediately be declared out of play. Failure to do so would result in disqualification.
The penalty for the accidental deflection of a ball by a player, his partner or either of their caddies or equipment will be reduced to one penalty stroke in both match play and stroke play (Rule 19-2). (In 2007, the penalty was loss of hole in match play and two strokes in stroke play).
Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment) has been amended to clarify that a player with a legitimate medical reason may, in certain circumstances, use an artificial device or piece of unusual equipment.
The term “reasonable evidence” has been replaced by “known or virtually certain.” This change in phrasing within the Rules of Golf does not change how the affected Rules are applied; rather, it provides greater clarity regarding the standard that must be met in order for a player to proceed under Rule 18-1 (when his ball may have been moved by an outside agency), or, when his ball has not been found, under Rule 24-3 (for a ball in an obstruction), Rule 25-1C (for a ball in an abnormal ground condition), or Rule 26-1 (for a ball in a water hazard). If that standard is not met regarding a ball that has not been found, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1 incurring the penalty of stroke and distance.
Rule 24-1 has been amended to allow a flagstick, whether attended, removed or held up, to be moved when a ball is in motion even if the act could influence the movement of the ball.
An amendment to Rule 13-2 permits the removal of dew, frost or water from the teeing ground.
An exception has been added to Rule 16-1e (Standing Astride or on Line of Putt) to clarify that a player incurs no penalty if his stance taken astride or on his line of putt or an extension of it behind the ball was taken to avoid standing on another player’s line of putt or taken inadvertently.
Rule 20-3a states that if a wrong person places or replaces your ball, it’s just a one-stroke penalty.
Also, the definition of “advice” was changed so that information on distance can be exchanged. Such information is no longer considered “advice.”
The rules of amateur status were changed to clarify that cash prizes made for a hole-in-one while playing golf are permissible.
"Awareness is our main --- Preparedness is our game" (Mitch Battros)
The fundamental principles by which the game is played – play the course as you find it and the ball as it lies – have been unchanged since the first known Rules were created in 1744.
For your peace of mind buy a copy of “The Rules of Golf, and the Rules of Amateur Status.” Read it now during the off-season and then keep a copy in your golf bag for reference for when there are no rules officials available. Copies can be purchased at your local pro shop or from the www.USGA.org, or call 1-(800) 223-0041. Also newly available is “The Spirit of the Game II” DVD which covers the fundamentals of the game, the history, etiquette, and the importance of respect. It can be ordered at www.usgapubs.com or 1-(800) 336-4446.