November 2, 2007
Your tee shot on a long par three buries itself near the lip of a greenside bunker. At least, you think that’s your ball, but it’s almost completely covered in sand, and you can’t see your usual identifying mark on the ball.
Knowing that you can hit a golf ball in a hazard in this condition without a penalty stroke, even if it turns out not to be yours, you blast away, only to watch the ball sail out of the bunker and into a nearby pond.
You still don’t know if that golf ball was really yours, and now you’re stuck—until next year, when the 2008 Rules of Golf adopt a new method to deal with this surprisingly frequent occurrence.
The United States Golf Association’s press release issued October 31 explained the amendment briskly, along with a new penalty arrangement for not following the new rules:
“[A] golfer will be allowed to lift a ball for identification in a bunker or water hazard. 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.”
James T. Bunch is chairman of the USGA’s Rules of Golf Committee, and in the press release he continued the explanation:
“First, there are already several Rules, such as “Rules 5-3 (Ball Unfit for Play) and 22-2 (Ball Interfering with Play), that allow or require a player to lift his ball from a hazard, so the idea of lifting and then replacing a ball lying in a hazard is nothing new.
“Second, this provision will eliminate many difficult and unfortunate situations that occurred under the present version of Rule 12-1. For example, there is the case of a player who finds a ball in a hazard that may be his, and he then hits it out of bounds, without ever really knowing whether it was his ball. Third, there is the general principle that the elimination of one large exception from the Rules will only lead to a more consistent and understandable code.”
In other words, you can lift the ball in a hazard to identify it, put it back, and play on. If you don’t make sure it’s yours, however, you’ll have a new penalty stroke added to remind you not to do that again.
These and the other Rules amendments are the result of a regular process of review and revision adopted by the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. The last major changes were adopted in 2004.
The 2008 amendments aimed at meeting two primary goals. First, the rules gurus made a determined effort to “improve the clarity of the Rules.” Some previous editions would be fun reading for a law professor on a long weekend, but weren’t as well written as most other folks would want. Second, the committees worked to make sure that the penalty stroke allocations for Rules violations were truly proportionate, especially when compared to each other.
A few other changes should be noticeable, and at least one of them may help speed up golf tournaments where the Rules are most likely to be strictly enforced.
Currently, for example, players have to be careful about giving advice to each other during a match. The Rules define what counts as advice and, more importantly, what doesn’t count.
For example, telling each other where a hazard is, or where the flagstick is on the putting green, is not advice, because these are considered “matters of public information.” For 2008, players will now be able to tell each other what’s on the nearest yardage marker, or otherwise discuss the distance their balls are from the green or hole, without any additional penalty.
Another change reduces a former two-stroke penalty when a golf ball is deflected (usually by accident) by a player, a partner, the player’s caddie, or the player’s equipment, such as a golf bag lying too close to someone’s line of play. The ball is played where it lies, except under odd circumstances such as stuck in a player’s clothing, and there’s only a single stroke assessed.
I’ll discuss some of the other Rules changes in an upcoming column.