Friday, November 23, 2007

The Rules of Golf 2008 - 2011

The R & A and the United States Golf Association have worked closely for more than fifty years to produce a uniform code of rules so that wherever golf is played the same laws apply. Every four years these two governing bodies, after consultation with golf authorities worldwide, agree any changes that they consider will make the Rules of Golf fairer and easier to understand.

New rules come into force on 1st January 2008. Four million copies of the ‘Rules of Golf’, sponsored by Rolex, will be printed in English. The new rules will also be printed, under licence, in twenty-five other languages. Rule books will be distributed free of charge to golf clubs and may be ordered on the R&A Website
‘Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2006 – 2007’ becomes obsolete and is replaced by the new 2008 – 2009 edition. This book is invaluable not only for Rules Officials but also for all those involved in the administration of the game (e.g. club committees). It may be purchased from the above website or from high street or on-line booksellers.

Many members will have read in the press recently that there are to be changes to 28 of the 34 rules but there is no cause for alarm. ‘Rules of Golf 2008 –2011’ contains a new ‘Quick Guide to the Rules of Golf". This is excellent and should certainly make players feel more at ease with their rule books. Many rules have simply been re-worded in order to make them easier to understand. One example is the term ‘reasonable evidence’ that was used previously used in several rules. This was difficult to interpret and has been changed to ‘known or virtually certain’ which is much clearer.

One significant change relates to hazards. Until now the rules did not giver a player the opportunity to lift a ball from a hazard in order to identify it and therefore there was no penalty for playing a wrong ball either from a bunker or from a water hazard. The restriction on identifying a ball in a hazard has been removed (Rule 12 – 2) and the exemption from penalty for playing a wrong ball from a bunker or water hazard has also been removed (Rule 15 – 3). The result is that the penalty for playing a wrong ball anywhere on the course is now loss of hole in match play or a two stroke penalty in stroke play. In stroke play the mistake must of course be corrected in order to avoid disqualification.

Several other changes are to penalties rather than to actual rules and in every case the change favours the player. When a ball in motion is stopped or deflected by the player, her partner, or either of their caddies or equipment the penalty has been reduced from loss of hole in match play and a two stroke penalty in stroke play to one stroke in either form of play (Rule 19 – 2). This is a very welcome change. Many members will have been in the situation where the ball re-bounds off the face of a bunker and it is impossible to move quickly enough to avoid being struck by it!

Until now a flagstick that had been removed and placed on the ground was not allowed to be moved whilst a ball was in motion. This left players in a ‘catch 22’ situation. Moving the flagstick in case a ball in motion struck it incurred a penalty under one rule (Rule 1- 2). Leaving it on the ground to be struck by the ball incurred a penalty under another rule (Rule 17 – 3). This situation has been resolved. A flagstick, whether attended, removed or held up may now be moved when a ball is in motion (Rule 24 – 1).

On the putting green it is sometimes very difficult to avoid standing on another player’s line without standing astride the line of one’s own putt which is of course not allowed (Rule 16 –1e). An ‘exception’ to this rule has been added to allow inadvertent standing astride the line of putt or doing so in order to avoid another player’s line.

The penalty for carrying, but not using, a non-conforming club has been reduced from disqualification to, in stroke play, a penalty of two strokes per hole at which a breach occurred, with a maximum penalty of four strokes per round. In match play the state of the match is adjusted by one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred with a maximum penalty of two holes per round (Rule 4 – 1). This is now the same penalty as that for carrying more than fourteen clubs (Rule 4 – 4).

The penalty for using a non-conforming club remains disqualification. The R & A announced four years ago that from 1st January 2008 all drivers must have a conforming clubhead and ensured that this was well publicised. Sufficient warning was given to allow players plenty of time to check and, if necessary, change their drivers. This rule applies to all golfers of all abilities and in all forms of play. The required specifications are set out in Appendix II, 5c of the new rule book and detailed lists of conforming and non-conforming driver heads may be found on the R & A website. In club golf it is the responsibility of each player to check that her equipment conforms to the Rules of Golf. Players taking part in County or National events should also check as to whether the Conditions of Competition include the Driving Club Condition. If so any driver used must be on the R & A’s ‘List of Conforming Driver Heads’. For more detailed information refer to the R & A website and in particular their ‘Frequently asked questions’ on this topic.

Space does not permit me to mention, let alone explain, every single rule change but I have highlighted those most likely to crop up in the normal course of play. For more detailed information refer to the R & A website and to ‘Principle Changes introduced in the 2008 code’ which you will find on page 6 in your new rule book. Always remember that the Rules of Golf exist to make the game fair for all players. The more familiar you become with the rules the more you will enjoy your golf.

Jenny McGahan
R & A qualified Rules Official
November 2007

Thanks Jenny for all the information