Rules Column: Russ Wing

New rules could help attract new players to the game

In early March, the USGA and R&A announced the final changes to the Rules of Golf that will go into effect on January 1, 2019. A year earlier, they had announced a series of proposed changes to the Rules and solicited feedback. In general, most (but not all) of the proposed changes have become final changes. Readers are encouraged to visit the USGA web site and check out the new Rules.

The overall scope of the changes is huge in the context of Rules changes over the last few decades, where most changes were very incremental. I think the USGA and R&A have gone a long way toward achieving their goal of making the Rules easier to understand and apply, thus reducing one of the barriers to attracting new golfers needed to grow the game.

One of the areas of the Rules ignored when the proposed changes were announced last year was Rule 27 – Ball Lost or Out of Bounds. Many Rules Officials thought that a change to that Rule should have been included in this comprehensive overhaul. Why? Because many golfers don’t hit provisional balls when they should, and then if their ball is lost or OB they don’t go back to play their next stroke from where the original ball was last played (because it disrupts the flow of play and takes too long). Instead, they just drop a ball and play it. These same golfers then conveniently forget to add a 2-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place.

Recognizing this, the governing bodies developed an Optional Local Rule that allows a player to drop a ball under penalty of 2-strokes and then continue to “move forward”. This Optional Local Rule is described in the exhibit that accompanies this article.

The exhibit does a good job of illustrating how it will work, even though it is somewhat complicated. As with other Optional Local Rules, it will require the Committee to put it into effect in order for players to be able use it.

This new Optional Local Rule is not intended for “higher levels of play”, where players will still be required to “go back” or play their provisional ball. Instead, it is intended to speed up play at the local or club level by not requiring players to “go back”.

All in, I like this change to the Rules, and I’m looking forward to 2019.