Golf’s rule-makers soften their stance on some things for 2016.
Every four years, the USGA and R&A, golf’s governing bodies, jointly release an updated Rules of Golf. The newest version, and its corresponding Decisions book, have an unmistakably kindlier attitude. Here are the most significant changes:
1/Ball moves after address? There is no longer an automatic penalty (rule 18-2). If your ball moves, all relevant information will be used to determine what caused it. If it’s more likely than not that you caused the ball to move, you will be penalised one stroke, and the ball should be replaced. If not, the ball is played as it lies unless some other agency (spectator, opponent, etc.) caused it to move. In those cases, replace it without penalty.
2/Use of unusual equipment or abnormal use of equipment during a round is no longer grounds for automatic disqualification (rule 14-3). Your first breach during a round will come with a two-shot penalty in strokeplay or loss of hole in matchplay. A second violation during the same round results in disqualification.
3/Turn in an individual hole score lower than you made in strokeplay, and you aren’t disqualified if you did so because you weren’t aware of penalty strokes incurred on that hole. Instead, you receive the original penalty plus two additional strokes for failing to include it on your scorecard (rule 6-6d).
4/Shared equipment, other than golf carts, is considered to be the equipment of the last player to carry or use it (definition: equipment). Golf carts are still considered to be the equipment of the player whose ball is involved unless the cart is being driven by the other person.
5/Possess a 15th club on the first tee of your round and realise it before starting? You can declare it out of play without penalty (decision 4-4c/1). It’s recommended that you segregate it in some way, such as turning it upside down in the bag or placing it on the floor of a cart.
6/A provisional ball dropped in error can be picked up if your original ball is found within five minutes of starting to search, given you haven’t made a stroke at it (decision 27-2b/5). Example: You start searching for your ball and mistakenly think you can still play a provisional, so you return to your previous spot and drop a ball. If, before you make a stroke at that ball, your original is found within five minutes of when you started searching, pick up the second ball with no penalty. Once you make a stroke at the second ball, your original is lost, and the second ball is in play under penalty of stroke and distance.
7/Distance-measuring devices that offer prohibited functions such as gauges that factor elevation change or wind speed may be used as long as you don’t use the prohibited functions (appendix IV, part 5). But a Local Rule allowing distance-measuring devices must first be adopted (decision 14-3/0.5).
8/Animal imprints can be repaired on the putting green or treated as ground under repair if a Local Rule has been adopted (decision 33-8/32).
The USGA’s digital Rules of Golf Experience is a new interactive game designed to educate golfers on the basics and intricacies of the golf rule book. As far as we can tell, it’s the best effort by anyone to make learning the Rules of Golf entertaining. Check it out at www.usga.org/rules/rules-of-golf-experience/#/.