USGA, R&A announce new set of modern rules for golf

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In this June 19, 2016, file photo, Dustin Johnson, right, talks to a rules official on the fifth green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this June 19, 2016, file photo, Dustin Johnson, right, talks to a rules official on the fifth green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

St. Andrews, Scotland (AP) – Golf now has a modern set of rules for the Royal & Ancient game, an extensive overhaul that took six years and is aimed at making the rules easier to understand.

The R&A and USGA announced the final version of modernized rules on Monday. They take effect in 2019.

“This was out of recognition that in trying to make the rules more fair, they became too complicated,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status. “With 30-plus years of tinkering, they got complicated, and that wasn’t good for the game.”

Among the changes will be how to take penalty drops — from knee-high length starting next year, instead of from shoulder height. There no longer will be penalties if a golf ball accidentally moves on the green, if a club touches the ground in a hazard or if the ball hits a flagstick that is not being tended on the green.

Also, caddies can no longer line up their players while they are setting up over a shot.

This is the most comprehensive change to the rules since the first set was published in 1744, only in this case, the book got smaller. There now are 24 rules instead of 34, and “The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf” replaces about 1,300 examples in the Decisions book.

“With revised rules being easier to understand, we think committees will be able to reach the right conclusion without having 1,300 fact sets,” Pagel said.

The modernization project began with a meeting at St. Andrews in April 2012 among the R&A, USGA, PGA Tour and European Tour. They introduced a proposed draft a year ago and during six months of public feedback received some 30,000 comments from 102 countries through surveys, social media and phone calls.

The original proposal was for players to drop the ball 2 inches from the ground. Pagel said there were concerns that it was too close to the ground. The idea was to get the ball back in play, and knee-high length was determined to keep the ball from bouncing away from the right area and keep some randomness to how it lies.

One rule is only for recreational golf. Starting next year, a local rule will let golfers simply drop a ball that goes out-of-bounds in the vicinity of where it went out — even if that means the fairway — with an additional two-shot penalty.

That was done for pace of play and will not be applied in professional golf and other elite competitions.

Other changes include:

— Eliminating penalties for accidentally moving a ball in the green or while searching for a lost ball.

— Players will have only three minutes to search for a lost ball instead of five minutes.

— Players now can repair spike marks or shoe prints on the putting green. Some players expressed concern that this might slow the pace if players spent too much time grooming the putting surface. Pagel said pace-of-play policies would keep that from happening, and it was a rule change that was needed for competition. No one wants to see a tournament decided by a spike mark in the line of a putt.

“It’s the skill we’re testing,” he said. “We’re not testing whether you can navigate around a shoe print. Really it allows for great equity across the field.”

— Eliminating the penalty for removing loose impediments in a bunker and the general touching of sand with the hand or club (without grounding the club next to the ball). Also, players can declare a ball to be unplayable in a bunker, take a two-shot penalty and play from outside the bunker.

The modern rules are available at www.usga.org/rules or at www.RandA.org .

The tours are likely to provide training packages or seminars to get players up to speed before the new rules go into effect next year.