by Steve Keipert

Let me say from the outset that I’m a fan of the now-upon-us revision of golf’s rules. It was time – probably long overdue – for the Rules of Golf to step into the 21st century (some might say into the 20th century).

Tweaks have happened in isolation through the years, usually one careful revision at a time, such as the change a few years ago to the rule concerning a ball at rest being moved by strong winds after a player has addressed it. That was a common-sense call and a nod to the far superior standards of turf maintenance today compared to when the rules were first written.

Yet 2019 stands to be a different year in golf for everyone who plays with a scorecard in his or her back pocket. The new-look rules taking effect this month are, on the whole, positive moves. I’m still not convinced the leave-the-flagstick-in-the-cup-while-you-putt one was needed or will save time, but I’ll live with it. (What if two members of a foursome want the flag in and two don’t? That’ll surely add time, not save it.)

Golf Rules

Will your club be implementing this new rule?

However, where I think the game is in danger at club and recreational level is golfer education. In ‘club land’ in the lead up to the changes taking effect, I’m not hearing much discussion about rules nights or explanations of exactly what the changes mean – despite the governing bodies making them available – and whether clubs intend to implement some of the rules that are down to individual club discretion. As a result, I suspect a lot of these new rules will be broken or mis-interpreted through lack of awareness.

I suspect a lot of these new rules will be broken or mis-interpreted through lack of awareness.

Steve Keipert

The most glaring stands to be the optional rule that (rightly) does away with the need for a trudge back to the tee or the place the last shot was struck after a supposedly findable ball turns out not to be. In cases like this where a provisional ball hasn’t been played, clubs have the option of allowing players to drop on the edge of the fairway in an agreed position based on where the ball was lost or went out-of-bounds. Think of it this way: this rule is essentially conceding that your imaginary provisional ball finished on the short grass (which a lot of golfers – usually with an exasperated, “Why didn’t I do that the first time?” – do anyway).

Many golfers I know already play a bastardised rule known as an ‘Irish drop’ when scores are not for competition or handicap purposes. This allows, for instance, a lost tee shot in bushland to pave the way for a penalty drop at the edge of the bush then a third shot and a fast escape instead of a return to the tee. This new rule works in a similar fashion, but with two key distinctions: 1) the drop is allowed to take place in the fairway rather than beside the area where the ball was lost, and 2) the penalty is two shots, not one [see diagram]. So a lost tee shot will result in the fourth shot being played from the fairway, not the third. I suspect golfers familiar with the Irish drop might exercise this option but forget to add the extra stroke.

The rules boffins at our own Golf Australia organisation appreciate it will take some time for everyone to digest the changes. Their hope is that, initially at least, one golfer in every foursome will be familiar enough with the new rules to school his or her playing partners. It’s a realistic goal, but I would advocate that all regular players should be aspiring to be that one golfer in each group.

Furthermore, if you’re a club captain, president, professional, committee member, board member or general manager and your club isn’t in any way educating your golfers about the new rules now in effect, ask yourself what impact that will have on your upcoming competitions and your members’ scores and handicaps. And if you’re a member or anyone who plays competition golf, you have an implicit duty to know and understand these new rules and to let your playing partners in the next few months know how they work.

Over the years I’ve seen some horrific cases of abuse and negligence of the rules by long-time golfers who should know better. Let’s hope these new rules don’t exacerbate the problem.