Have Your Say: R&A and USGA reveal proposals to change rules of golf

Number of rules has been reduced from 34 to 24 in a bid to modernise simplify the sport

The R&A and United States Golf Association have announced proposals to make significant changes to the rules of golf, including eliminating numerous penalties and banning caddies from lining up players.

The number of rules has been reduced from 34 to 24 in an effort to modernise and simplify the regulations which govern the sport.

Among the revisions under consideration are reducing the search time for lost balls from five minutes to three, allowing players to repair spike marks on greens and to drop a ball from any height when taking relief, rather than shoulder-height as currently stipulated.

David Rickman, the R&A's executive director, governance, said: "We are really about modernising the rules of golf and, in very simple terms, trying to make them easier to understand and apply.


“The concern was that, over time and despite our best efforts, the rules have grown in length and complexity and therefore have become confusing and intimidating.”

Allowing players to repair spike marks is certain to be especially popular among professionals, as will removing the penalty for being struck by your ball if it rebounds back from, for example, the face of a bunker.

Removing the penalty for accidentally moving your ball marker on the green has arguably come too late for Ian Poulter, who was penalised for such an incident in a play-off in Dubai in 2010, which contributed to him missing out on £352,000 in prize and bonus money.

Preventing caddies from helping players with alignment may not go down well on the LPGA Tour, where it is most prevalent, but Rickman added: “Even though it may be unpopular in some parts of the game, a reinforcement of player skill and judgement was important.”

Another area of potential conflict stems from allowing distance-measuring devices to be used, except when prohibited by a local rule.

That is a reversal of the current default position and Rickman added: “In 2019 this will be something for the pro tours to decide.

“Two sets of rules could exist, as they could today, but inconsistency of application would not be a good thing for the game.”

Rickman believes removing the necessity to drop balls from shoulder-height will help speed up the game, citing the lengthy debate involving Jordan Spieth during the second round of last year's US PGA Championship.

“That took longer because of the intricacy involved and the ability for players to be more precise means this can be sped up,” Rickman added.

“The dropping process can be quite lengthy. You can have a very small dropping area and every time you miss it, that drop doesn’t count and you need to re-drop if it rolls to any of nine specific places.”

Video reviews will still be used to determine if rules have been breached, but not to “second guess” players who need to estimate where a ball may have entered or last crossed a hazard.

“We expect players to use all reasonable judgement and in those circumstances, if that proves to be wrong, as long as they acted reasonably we would not be seeking to punish based on later evidence,” Rickman said.

The R&A is encouraging feedback on the proposals until the end of August, with any amendments to be made before the new rules come into effect from January 1st, 2019.

“They are proposals,” Rickman added. “We have spent a considerable amount of time trying to remove any bugs and anticipate unintended consequences, but there may be ways to do this better. We are absolutely open to that.”

Highlights of the proposed Rule changes:

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 and other damage on the putting green and there is no penalty for merely touching the line of 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; and 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; however, 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 judgment" when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong; and elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.

Pace-of-play support: Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of "ready golf" in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

Simplified way of taking relief: A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in 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 or other object on the ground.