AFTER much deliberation, the new rules of golf came into play this week. Your club should already have copies of the modernised, slimmed down booklets. Ask for one or, download a digital copy from the R&A website.
It's the biggest rules revision in more than 60 years with long in the tooth veterans, like me, having to study them closely or be caught on the wrong side of the Law! Here is a quick run through (in my own words with a few wry comments added) of what I think are the most significant changes.
1) No longer will you be penalised if you accidentally move your ball (or ball marker) on the green. Put the ball, or marker, back where it was and carry on! The same applies if you accidentally move the ball while involved in searching for it. (Clear and fair enough)
2) You may repair ANY perceived damage to the green including spike marks and you may touch the line of a putt with one's hand or club. (Some golfers do more gardening than others. Instead of speeding up play - as intended - it will slow it down)
3) Golfers have only three minutes to search for a missing ball. If you haven’t found it in three minutes, you must abandon it and move on! (Some golfers take up to 10-minutes; so the same ones will now probably take six)
4) When dropping a ball, from knee height will do! (Whatever!)
5) The biggest rule changes and the ones that may be the most difficult to grasp revolve around obtaining relief from what used to be called ‘Water Hazards’ - now, ‘penalty areas’ where you won’t incur additional penalties for 'incidentals' e.g. touching/moving loose impediments or grounding your club. Important caveat: You may not under any circumstances improve the conditions for the stroke.
Incidentally, you may also remove loose impediments in bunkers without penalty, although touching the sand near the ball (especially in addressing it) is still prohibited. In future, when taking relief from what we used to call a 'Lateral' (red stakes) you may only drop out on the side where ball entered (not nearer the hole) The option of going to the other side of the hazard is no longer allowed.
For yellow staked hazards, the procedure remains as before, EXCEPT it is recommended that yellow staked areas should be a rarity - the rules makers recommend 'red stakes' should predominate. (There will always be 'complications' regarding penalty areas, best to steer well clear of them, whether you are a rules official or a player)
6) You may continue to play with a club accidentally damaged during your round. Abusing a club in bad temper is now considered 'accidental'.
7) An accidental double hit no longer carries a penalty. (Double hits are 'lotteries' that rarely end up in advantageous places)
8) For reasons that elude me, a local rule (for casual play only; not in handicap counting competitions) has been introduced as an alternative to the stroke-and-distance penalty for balls lost or hit out of bounds is available.
Instead of returning to the tee, a ball may be dropped between where the original ball was believed to come to rest (or went out-of-bounds) just off the edge of the fairway, but not nearer the hole having taken a two-stroke penalty.
(Why bother if CONGU and GUI and ILGU actively discourages it? I doubt if any GC in Ireland will adopt this procedure as a local rule)
9) Free relief for embedded (plugged) balls anywhere in the general playing area, apart from penalty areas and bunkers.
10) When measuring a dropping area, use your longest club EXCEPT a putter.
11) Putting with the flagstick in the hole will now be permitted. Research claims there is a statistically better chance of a ball dropping into or coming to rest near the hole if the flag is left in place.
The 'mad scientist' (Physics major and US Ryder Cupper, Bryson DeChambeau) says he will putt with the flagstick in the hole depending on the 'coefficient-of-restitution' (bounce-back-ability) of the flag pole. DeChambeau's search for golfing perfection always has to be measured. He tests his golf balls by spinning them in water; his irons are all exactly the same length and so upright they are practically vertical.
DeChambeau is a micro-manager who works everything out by mathematical formulae.
Whereas, the rising star, Cameron Champ's approach is much simpler and dare I say more effective? Drive the ball, straight as a die off the tee and 400-yards plus as often as possible.
The nearer anyone is to the hole, the better the chances he/she has of getting close with his next shot, which makes perfectly good sense to me. In my opinion, DeChambeau's scientific approach may be out of date and futile when in competition with such obscene, long hitting as Cameron Champ's.
The first time any pro (including DeChambeau) sees a putt ricochet off the flag, it will also be the last.
For myself, beyond 12-feet, I will rarely take the flag out and inside it, I will never leave it in.
12) Pace of play: No longer than 40-seconds to play any stroke (I'm looking forward to seeing the pros adhering to that on TV!)
Words of the Wise
Any man (or woman) guilty of golf should be ineligible for public office - H.L. Mencken