November 23, 2007
A recent column discussed a few new changes to the official Rules of Golf, adopted by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland.
The new amendments go into effect January 1, 2008, in keeping with a longstanding agreement to review and revise the rules every four years.
Some changes are primarily intended to simplify the Rules’ sometimes complex phrasing that some golfing lawyers might love, but most other golfers certainly do not appreciate. Other changes for 2008 mark a change in attitude about aspects of the game.
This new edition seems to be focused on being more forgiving. Several changes soften the blows that strict adherence to the Rules would have produced under the old scheme.
For example, there are rules about when a golfer can substitute a new golf ball for the original, during play on a hole. Under the 2004 edition, doing this the wrong way could lead to a double penalty, after the player makes a stroke at his newly substituted ball.
In the new edition, the double penalty is eliminated. Once the player makes a stroke at a wrongly substituted ball, he either loses the hole in match play or earns a two-stroke penalty in medal play. There’s no additional loss of hole or stroke penalty for the improper substitution.
The new amendments also take into account recent advances in golf equipment for those with medical conditions that make it hard to play with regular clubs. The old rule simply barred the use of what it called “any artificial device or unusual equipment.” The 2008 edition provides for a notable exception to this rule:
A player is not in breach of the Rule if (a) the equipment or device is designed for or has the effect of alleviating a medical condition; (b) the player has a legitimate medical reason to use the equipment or device; and (c) the [local golf] Committee is satisfied that its use does not give the player any under advantage over other players.
In addition to the Rules changes, the USGA and R&A recently issued a new series of Decisions on the Rules of Golf.
These Decisions are intended to be a useful guide in determining how to apply the Rules to some of the more likely situations in which they might arise.
One new Decision reminds us that over-reacting to a disappointing stroke doesn’t help, and might make things worse:
Q. A player has a short pitch shot to the green. He makes a stroke and, while the ball is still in motion, he makes a subsequent swing and takes a divot out of the ground with his club. The divot deflects or stops the moving ball. What is the ruling?
A. The player is deemed to have accidentally deflected or stopped his ball in motion. He incurs a penalty of one stroke and must play the ball as it lies (Rule 19-2).
For some Decisions, however, one has to wonder why anyone would come to any different conclusion than what the rules officials decree.
One example reminded me of an old beer commercial. Two buddies are playing golf, but their real goal appears to be to finish as fast as possible, so as to be able to return to the bar for more beer. After first conceding short putts, then long putts, then approach shots to each other, they finally pull up to a tee box in their cart. Each one says “Good?” to the other, nods “yes,” and laughingly agrees that they’ve set a new course record as they glide off to the 19th hole.
It’s funny, but it’s not a real round of golf, as the new Decision makes clear:
Although Rule 2-4 allows a player to concede a hole before playing it, an agreement between players to concede holes to each other exceeds this authority as it undermines the principle in Rule 2-1 of playing a stipulated round. Therefore, such an agreement constitutes an agreement to waive the Rules, [with a penalty of disqualification].
Not that those two guys cared, of course.