News & Opinion

Simpler rules make golf friendlier, fairer

As promised after the stated six-month period for golfers worldwide to respond to proposed changes, the U.S. Golf Association and R&A revealed on Monday the “modernized” Rules of Golf that will go into effect Jan. 1.

More than 30,000 golfers in 100-plus countries tested the proposed new rules and gave their input to the first sweeping revamp in more than 30 years.

The stated goal was for the rules to “be more easily understood and applied by all golfers; be more consistent, simple and fair; and reinforce the game’s longstanding principles and character.”

Have they succeeded?

Most notably, there are 10 fewer rules: 24 versus 34. And, for the most part, they are more understandable and more accommodating to the realities of today’s game.

To summarize …

Regarding a largely disregarded concept by recreational players, the “stroke and distance” penalty for hitting a ball out of bounds: the new rules will provide for a local rule “to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area), under a two-stroke penalty.” The change is intended to support pace of play and is not for higher levels such as professionals and elite amateurs.

Accidentally moving your ball on the putting green won’t cost you a stroke. Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson weep.

No additional penalty for hitting a ball in motion. T.C. Chen weeps, perhaps because his name never again will be mentioned in a jibe.

No penalty if your ball in motion accidentally hits you or your equipment.

Embedded-ball relief anywhere except in a bunker.

No penalty for hitting an unattended flagstick if you are putting while on the green. This may or may not be to your advantage.

You can repair “spike marks, and other damage made by shoes, animal damage and other damage on the putting green.” There is no penalty for touching the line of putt. This in itself is a potential pace-of-play liability.

There also are more generous applications regarding relief from hazards and other penalty areas. Under the new rules, a player will be able to move loose impediments in a bunker and touch the sand with club or hand. It goes without saying, it is hoped, that this is not for players to improve their lie therein. Dustin Johnson continues to weep.

In relief situations, you can drop from the knee, not shoulder, level. We’ve come a long way from dropping back over your shoulder, haven’t we?

As of Jan. 1, the time searching for a lost ball is down to three minutes from five.

It’s all good for most of us, unless you’re an LPGA player. Gone are those tiresome days of a caddie lining up his or her player on every shot.

Thankfully, the 600-page Decisions on the Rules of Golf doorstop is gone. It and its compact sibling rules will be replaced by three volumes: Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf, the Rules of Golf and the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf. There will be more than 30 “how to apply” videos and a summary of the principal changes available and

The first words in the rules: “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair.” As it continues, “but to do what is fair, you need to know the Rules of Golf.”

That is as true now as it was when the first edition was published in 1744.

No one would contemplate playing a sport with at least a passing understanding of its rules. Why is golf any different?

If you didn’t understand the old ones, at least have a look at the new ones.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:;  Twitter: @gordongolf