The USGA and the R&A have released changes to the Rules of Golf that will take effect January 1, 2012. For the first time in the 60-year collaboration between golf ’s two ruling bodies, the USGA and R&A have jointly issued a rules book that will remain in effect through 2015.
A discussion of the principal changes to the rules may be found on the USGA website (usga.org). The most significant change is the addition of an exception to Rule 18-2b, which provides that if the ball moves after the player has addressed it, the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a 1-stroke penalty. The rule has been criticized by a number of Tour players, including Webb Simpson, who lost the 2011 Zurich Classic when his ball apparently was moved by wind as he was preparing to putt.
The new exception provides that the penalty will not apply if “it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move.” This is a stringent test, and it remains to be seen how rules officials will interpret the new rule. Unless it is virtually certain that some external agency (e.g., a gust of wind) caused the movement, the penalty will still apply. The former rule was designed to eliminate such factual issues concerning the movement of the ball.
The definition of “addressing the ball” has been changed to require only that the player ground his club immediately in front of or behind the ball; it is no longer required that the player takes his stance. Since it is not permissible to ground your club in a hazard, this change effectively will preclude the operation ofRule 18-2b when the ball lies in a hazard. An exception to Rule 13-4 has been liberalized to permit a player, at any time (even before making a stroke) to smooth sand or soil in a hazard provided it is for the purpose of caring for the course and the action does not improve his situation.
Rule 6-3 has been amended to provide that if a player arrives at the first tee late but within five minutes of his starting time, he will not be disqualified but will incur a penalty of two strokes or loss of hole in match play. Previously, this grace period only applied if it was adopted by the rules of the competition. The USGA explained that the Rules of Amateur Status have been amended to ”strike the right balance in preserving the traditional character of the amateur game while acknowledging that young, talented golfers may need more support.” For example, amateurs may receive subsistence expenses to assist with living costs, provided they are paid through golf unions or associations, and may enter into contracts with such organizations provided they obtain no financial gain. Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.