Rules Column: Russ Wing

Rules of the Game: USGA, R&A offer up a temporary rules fix that should work for all

In December, the USGA and the R&A jointly announced the introduction of a new optional Local Rule that eliminates the penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green. This new optional Local Rule was available starting January 1, 2017, and it was described in a front-page article in the January paper.

The USGA/R&A infographic accompanying this article gives their description of “How It Works” and “How It Doesn’t Work.”

This new optional Local Rule addresses a part of the Rules that has been problematic for some time – i.e., how to handle situations where a ball moves on the putting green. The key question has always been who or what caused the ball to move. If the player caused the ball to move, the player got a 1-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 and replaced the ball. If something else (like wind or gravity) caused the ball to move, the player got no penalty and played the ball from its new location.

The problem is that over the years, advances in agronomy equipment and techniques have enabled green speeds measured by the stimpmeter to be increased from ~10 to ~14. When a green is rolling ~14, it doesn’t take much wind or gravity or anything else to cause a ball to move. And so it became very difficult to determine whether or not the player caused the ball to move. The Dustin Johnson incident at last year’s US Open is the current “poster boy” incident highlighting this problem.

This new optional Local Rule is designed to recognize the problem and not penalize the player for accidently causing the ball to move on the putting green.

It is important to understand that the USGA and the R&A have not modified the Rules of Golf. That is only done every four years, and it won’t be done again until 2020. Instead, they have issued a temporary fix in the form of an approved optional Local Rule that must be adopted by tournament Committees in order to be in effect. I expect the USGA, R&A, PGA, LPGA, NCAA, WSGA, PNGA, and other such golf organizations to implement this optional Local Rule via their “hard cards” (more on this in a future article). But other tournament Committees (men’s clubs, women’s clubs, etc) will need to explicitly adopt it if they want to use it. Additional information about this new optional Local Rule is available on the USGA web site.