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Newsletter January 2016

In consultation with other golf bodies in the world, the USGA and R&A Rules Limited review, revise and print the Rules of Golf every four years. The single set of Rules applies to players of all abilities and to both professionals and amateurs. It is your responsibility to know the Rules and to use them to your advantage instead of to your game's disadvantage.

The Rules of Golf Committees have put together a short four-minute video explaining the revisions that began on January 1, 2016. http://bit.ly/1mYQjBP  Also available for rules interpretations seven days a week is the USGA Rules of Golf hotline at 908-326-1850.

2016 Changes to the Rules of Golf

The four most impactful changes are:

1.  Rule 6-6d Limited Exception to Disqualification Penalty for Submission of Incorrect Score Card   A limited new exception has been introduced to Rule 6-6d (Wrong Score for Hole). A rules violation spotted on TV can still be penalized, but if it's not caught before a player signs his scorecard, he is no longer disqualified from the event.  A player is not disqualified for returning a lower score for a hole than actually taken, when the incorrect score is a result of failing to include penalty strokes that the player did not know were incurred before returning the score card. Instead, the player incurs the penalty under the Rule that was breached and must add an additional penalty of two strokes for the score card error. This disqualification exception will allow a competitor who has unknowingly broken a Rule to continue in the competition even though they failed to include the penalty on their scorecard before it was signed and returned. In all other cases in which a player returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, the penalty will continue to be disqualification.

This rule change would have affected the 2013 Masters play when Tiger Woods took a drop on the par-5 15th hole and signed for a score lower than his actual score, not realizing a penalty has been assessed. 

2.  Rule 14-1b Prohibition on Anchoring the Club While Making a Stroke - The long awaited ban on anchored putting is now in effect. This Rule prohibits anchoring the club either "directly" or by use of an "anchor point" in making a stroke. The penalty is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. THIS IS NOT AN EQUIPMENT RULE.

The method of putting was previously revised when Sam Snead reverted to a croquet-style stroke to improve his putting. The stroke was banned by the USGA in 1968 after he used it in the 1967 Masters.  "Bizarre stances and clubs were beginning to make it look like another game," said then USGA Executive Director Joseph C. Dey Jr.

3.  Modification of Penalty for a Single Impermissible Use of Artificial Devices

or Equipment (Rule 14-3) - This rule lessens the penalty for use of gadgets like rangefinders or other distance measuring devices, particularly on a first offense The penalty for a player's first breach during the round has been reduced from disqualification to loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. The penalty for any subsequent breach of Rule 14-3 will continue to be disqualification. Several other amendments were also made to Rule 14-3 including a statement of principle and changing the previous reference to "unusual use of equipment" to "abnormal use of equipment" (e.g., wind speed or the slope of the ground).

D. A. Points was disqualified for breaching this rule during the 2nd round at Pebble Beach in 2014. Instead of a DQ, this revision would have given him a 2-stroke penalty. He was using a sponge ball under his left armpit which constituted using an artificial device. He was DQ'd for using a training device while waiting to play the 18th hole. Had D.A. used a head cover, there would have been no penalty. 

4.  Rule 18-2b Withdrawal of Rule on Ball Moving After Address - The current change is meant to relax the rules against the golfer in a situation in which he or she has clearly not caused the ball to move. If a ball at rest moves after the player addresses it, the player is no longer automatically deemed to have caused the ball to move. A one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 will be applied only when the facts show that the player has caused the ball to move.

Justin Rose was penalized after the third round of the 2014 Players Championship when he addressed a chip shot off the 18th green, and then suddenly backed away. Rose said he didn't think the ball had moved from its original position, even after consulting with playing partner Sergio Garcia and seeing a replay on the video board. Only after his round, when he met with officials and watched a third television angle zoom in on the ball, was it clear that it moved ever so slightly. It was later determined that Rose was not at fault and the penalty was rescinded.

2016 Changes in the Handicap System

In tandem with the 2016 Rules of Golf, six major changes have been made to the handicapping system. Of particular interest is the inadmissibility of posting solo scores for the purpose of determining a handicap. Beginning in the New Year, golfers will not be allowed to count rounds played alone toward their handicap. Other changes include adjustments to the definition of a tournament score, adjusting a hole score, posting scores of a disqualified player, anchoring your club and posting, and the responsibilities of Handicap Committees.

Six of the principal handicap changes are summarized as follows:

1.  Definition of a tournament score:  Additional guidance is provided to Committees conducting competitions regarding the definition of a tournament score, placing greater emphasis on "significant events." The definition excludes fundraising events and regular league play, in favor of designated competitions such as a member/guest or club championship, local amateur tournament or national qualifying and competition. (Section 2: Definitions)

2.  Adjusting hole scores: A revised decision provides clarity for acceptable scores in limited situations where the player has not played a hole(s) under the Rules of Golf, but his or her score would be sufficiently accurate for handicap posting purposes.  Three areas covered under the examples include: 1) where the Local Rule is not in effect, but a player chooses to use a Distance Measuring Device or preferred lies; 2) where a player does not wish to cause undue delay; or 3) where the situation is outside of the player's control, such as an incorrectly marked golf course. (Section 4: Adjusting Hole Scores)

3.  Posting scores when a player is disqualified: To improve alignment with the Rules of Golf, the revised Handicap System is clearer about what scores are acceptable when a player is disqualified. In general, a score is acceptable for handicap purposes even when a player fails to hole out, or apply a Rule that affects the rights of another player. If the disqualification breach is determined to provide an advantage for the player, the score is deemed unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores) 

4.  Anchoring and posting: A new reference concerns a player who anchors the club while making a stroke during a round and fails to apply the appropriate penalty or an adjusted hole score (Section 4-2). Since the score would not be reflected as playing under the Rules of Golf, it would be unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores) 

5. Playing alone and necessary peer review: To further support the key System premise of peer review, scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable for handicap purposes. This change underscores the importance of providing full and accurate information regarding a player's potential scoring ability, and the ability of other players to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a posted score. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores) 

6.  Committee responsibilities: In an effort to assist the Handicap Committee with its responsibilities, this revision addresses a player with a temporary disability or permanent disability who has a Handicap Index that is no longer reflective of his/her current potential ability. In the particular instance cited, the Committee will no longer assign a local handicap (denoted with the letter "L" for local use only), but instead will issue a (temporary) modified Handicap Index (denoted by the letter "M"). This change supports the portability of a disabled player's handicap, so that it an be used outside the player's home club. (Section 8-4c: Handicap Index Adjustment by Handicap Committee) 

2016 Clarification of Amateur Status 

Prize Money to Charity - The New Rule 3-1b enables an amateur golfer to participate in an event where prize money or its equivalent is donated to a recognized charity provided the approval of the governing body is first obtained in advance by the organizer.

Golf-Related Expenses - The New Rule 4-3 clarifies that an amateur golfer may receive reasonable expenses, not exceeding actual expenses incurred, for non-competition golf-related activities.  Former Rule 4-3 becomes Rule 4-4. The organizations also announced slight changes to the Rules of Amateur Status which will also take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. The changes involve charitable prize money, expenses and amateur status reinstatement.

Reinstatement to Amateur Status - The recommended guidelines on periods awaiting reinstatement are amended to provide that a period in breach of the Rules of up to six years (previously up to five years) should result in a period awaiting reinstatement of one year.

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