Rules modernization is ongoing

Posted February 8, 2017 - Western Pennsylvania Golf Association - Contact



Last December, when the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club announced the Local Rule now in effect that eliminates most penalties for balls moved accidentally on the putting green, the decision was favorably received.

Many wrote “it’s about time!” in terms of changes that make sense, simplify Rules, or eliminate penalties. However, Rules are constantly reviewed, and changes take place every four-year cycle. The main point on the putting green change is that it’s a Local Rule between change years. The Rules we have now are in effect until December 31, 2019. If clubs or committees approve of the new Local Rule, it must be posted or communicated to be in effect.

The Rules of Golf Committee, a group of 15-20 from the R&A, USGA, and other key officials in the world of golf, meet quarterly and has for decades. Some Rules changes have taken decades, if not years, to implement. Here is a summary of key changes this century.

Advice (2008) - Exchange of information on distance is no longer advice. With the availability of distance information, this common sense change was inevitable.

Nearest Point of Relief (2000) - Reflects the procedures for relief from an “immovable obstruction,” “abnormal ground condition,” and “wrong putting green.” These are relief situations without penalties.

Substituted Ball (2004) - A new definition to clarify the distinction between a substituted ball and a wrong ball. Note: differentiating between a substituted ball and a wrong ball minimizes disqualification penalties in stroke play. The most common is switching balls during the play of a hole, a substituted ball and a two-stroke penalty, not disqualification.

Rule 3-3. Doubt as to Procedure (2004) - Amended to provide that the player must report to the Committee in all cases, including when he believes he has scored the same with both balls. Note: requiring the competitor always to report to the committee eliminates the problem of a player who thinks he has scored the same on both balls but hasn’t. The Committee reviews the matter with the competitor and decides.

Rule 6-4. Caddie (2004) - Penalty amended from disqualification to loss of hole in match play (adjustment to state of match) or two strokes in stroke play, with a maximum of two holes in match play and four strokes in stroke play. This is also a similar penalty to Rule 4-4, Maximum of Fourteen Clubs.

Rule 6-6d. Scoring in Stroke Play (2016) - To minimize disqualification penalties for failure to include a penalty a competitor did not know he incurred, the competitor incurs the penalty prescribed by the applicable Rule plus two strokes for each occurrence.

Rule 12-2. Identifying Ball (2008) - Amended to allow a player to lift his ball for identification in a hazard. At the same time, Rule 15 was changed to make the playing of a wrong ball a penalty at every occurence, regardless of its location on the course.

Rule 13-4. Ball in Hazard (2012) - Permits a player to smooth sand or soil at any time provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and doesn’t improve any areas affecting the next stroke.

Rule 14-3. Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment (2016) - Instead of disqualification, the first occurrence results in the general penalty (loss of hole in match play, two strokes in stroke play), followed by disqualification for a subsequent breach.

Rule 15-2. Substituted Ball - Exception added to avoid a “double penalty” when the player incorrectly substitutes a ball and plays from wrong place.

Rule 15-3. Wrong Ball - Amended to remove the exception from penalty for playing a wrong ball in a hazard (see change to Rule 12-2, allowing the player to lift a ball for identification in a hazard).

Rule 16-1a. Touching Line of Putt (2004) - Amended to provide that the player may remove loose impediments on the putting green by any means, provided he does not press anything down.

Rule 18. Ball as Rest Moved - Amended to avoid a “double penalty” when the player lifts the ball without authority and incorrectly substitutes a ball (see related changes to 15-2 and 20-7).

Rule 19-2. Ball in Motion Stopped or Deflected by Player, Partner, Caddie, or Equipment - Reduce the penalty in match play and stroke play to one stroke across the board.

Rule 20-7c. Playing from Wrong Place (2008) - Note added to avoid “double penalty” when the player plays from a wrong place and incorrectly substitutes a ball (see corresponding change to Rule 15-2).

Rule 20-7c. Playing from Wrong Place; Stroke Play (2012) - In most cases the penalty will be limited to two strokes, even if another Rule has been breached prior to playing the stroke.

Terminology (2008) - The term “reasonable evidence” has been replaced by “known or virtually certain” when determining whether a ball that has not been found may be treated as lost in an obstruction, abnormal ground condition, or a water hazard.

Many of theses changes have resulted in fewer disqualifications or penalties being eliminated or reduced. It’s a rare official or committee that is seeking to disqualify a player. Developing Rules which assess penalties in stroke play but keep the competitor in the game has been an overall philosophy for quite some time. Several multiple penalty situations have been averted with Rules changes which to a certain extent “stops the bleeding.”