Rules Column: Russ Wing

New rule changes will spell out how long a club length is

How long is a club-length? Most relief procedures in the Rules use a club-length to measure where a player is allowed to drop a ball – e.g., within one club-length of the nearest point of relief (Rules 24 and 25), or within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin of a Lateral Water Hazard (Rule 26) or was unplayable (Rule 28).

But how long is a club-length? A club-length varies between 31” (putter) and 45” (driver). A player with a 50” putter could get 5” more relief for each club-length than I can. Is that fair? And in any case, why not standardize these distances?

As part of their Rules Modernization Project, the USGA and the R&A recently announced a number of proposed changes to the Rules scheduled to go into effect in 2019. And one of those changes is to standardize the distances used in relief procedures to 20” and 80.” In addition, the proposed changes would require that the ball be played from the 20”or 80” “relief area,” whereas the current Rules just require that the ball be dropped within the specifi.ed distance of one or two club-lengths. I like both of these changes.

To me, standardizing the distances is a fairness issue. So under the proposed changes, all players will be treated the same. I like that. And how will players measure these new distances? They will either put marks on one of their clubs (e.g., a 20” mark and a 40” mark on a driver) or carry a tape measure.

Requiring the ball to be both dropped in and played from the “relief area” will avoid giving players more relief than necessary. Under the current Rules, a player with “good dropping skills” can get up to two additional club-lengths of relief in certain situations (Rule 20-2c). The proposed changes will eliminate that “loop hole” in the Rules and require players to play the ball from the “relief area.” I like that.

I think both of these proposed changes are consistent with the goals of the Rules Modernization Project – i.e., to make the Rules more consistent, simple and fair, and to make them more easily understood and applied by all golfers. I’m looking forward to 2019.