Golf’s governing bodies have relaxed rules regarding wind, hole-in-one prizes, contracts, late starts and more.

USGA Rules

The United States Golf Association (USGA) and the R&A have announced the publication of the new Rules of Golf for 2012-15.

Changes in the Rules – which for the first time have been designed, published and presented jointly by golf’s governing bodies – include exonerating a player from penalty if it is known their ball was moved by the wind after address.

Following an exhaustive, four-year review of golf’s 34 playing Rules, nine principal Rules have been amended to improve clarity and ensure penalties are proportionate. Significant changes include:

Ball Moving After Address (Rule 18-2b). A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.

This rule change will see an end to situations like the one witnessed during the final round of this year’s Open Championship when Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was penalized when his ball was moved on the seventh green by the wind after he had addressed it. The rule also affected Webb Simpson in the final round of the Zurich Classic — Simpson was leading by a shot and closing in on what would have been his first title when his ball moved on the 15th green. After being given a one-stroke penalty, he eventually lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson. (On a side note: Simpson was pipped for this year’s PGA Tour money title by Luke Donald by a margin of $335,861 — the difference between first and second place at the Zurich Classic was $460,800.)

In addition, the definition of addressing the ball was revised to mean “simply … grounding his club immediately in front of or behind the ball, regardless of whether or not he has taken his stance.” Before, the address position required a player to be stood over the ball with the club grounded.

Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions (Rule 13-4). Exception 2 to this Rule is amended to permit a player to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and Rule 13-2 (improving lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play) is not breached.

Time of Starting (Rule 6-3a). The rule is amended to provide that the penalty for starting late, but within five minutes of the starting time, is reduced from disqualification to loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play. Previously this penalty reduction could be introduced as a condition of competition.

Other changes were aimed specifically at amateur players.

Amateur golfers all over the world now will be allowed to play for unlimited hole-in-one prizes.

Previously, the rules allowed for amateurs to receive only small prizes, and that accepting something of greater value would force golfers to forfeit their amateur status. In one high-profile instance, Derek Lawrenson, a golf writer for The Daily Mail newspaper in London, won a Lamborghini but had to surrender his amateur status.

The governing bodies have now decided that “the special nature of a hole-in-one during a round of golf means that restrictions on the prizes offered have been lifted.”

In addition, the new Rules of Amateur Status include changes for elite amateur golfers aimed at easing the move from amateur to professional. It follows a far-reaching four-year review of amateurism in golf, which even questioned the need for a set of rules and has resulted in the first-ever uniform worldwide code for amateur status.

“We felt the time was right to carry out a fundamental review of the Rules of Amateur Status,” said R&A Director of Rules David Rickman. “We were conscious that many sports had done away with amateur status rules and we felt that was an appropriate question for us to ask.

“We concluded that it is very important that golf retains its amateur regulations, mainly because of the self-regulating nature of the game both in terms of the playing rules and handicapping,” he added. “We felt that uncontrolled financial incentives could place too much pressure on these important features.”

Excluding hole-in-one prizes from the general prize limit and allowing high-value prizes, including cash, to be awarded brings the R&A into line with the USGA.

“I think this is a really good change. Anyone who makes a hole-in-one knows there is a degree of luck,” said LPGA Tour star Suzann Pettersen, an R&A ambassador. “Most professional tournaments offer hole-in-one prizes and it adds some real interest for players and fans. It is great to think that club golfers can now experience that same excitement.”

Also under the new rules aimed at amateurs thinking of a professional career, players will now be able to enter into an agreement with an agent or sponsor as long as they do not receive any financial gain while still an amateur.

Rules have also been relaxed on subsistence payments paid through national golf unions.

“The rules on contracts now reflect the modern game and adopt a much more realistic and common sense approach,” Rickman explained. “Similarly, the rules on subsistence expenses should help the support of deserving talent wherever it may emerge across the golfing world.”

England’s Tom Lewis, who won recently won the Portugal Masters in just his third pro start at age 20, is a supporter of that change.

“It is an important change because some players are forced into turning pro early just because of financial difficulties,” he said. “It will make a real difference as they will now be able to turn professional for all the right reasons and also at the right time for them. It is probably the most important decision they will make in their career.”

Commenting on the revisions to the Rules of Golf supported by Rolex, R&A Director of Rules and Equipment Standards David Rickman said: “The key point is that the Rules of Golf will remain fundamentally the same. We have undergone a pretty extensive review although what has come out of that has been relatively modest.

“The Rules of Golf are constantly evolving and our hope is that what we have produced for 2012 is clear, informed by common sense and reflective of the demands of the modern game.”

USGA Senior Director of Rules of Golf Thomas Pagel said: “We have produced a unified code of the Rules of Golf for 60 years and although the context has been the same, we often found the perception that there were different Rules in place depending upon where you were to play the game.

“Now the book will not only have the same content, but it will also be presented in a uniform fashion with similar formatting and covers; this will truly be a single code governing the Rules of the game that reflects the strong collaboration between The R&A and USGA.”

Padraig Harrington, three-time Major winner and R&A-Working for Golf Ambassador, said: “I am delighted with the changes, in particular the ball moving after address. Every time the wind blows I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt.

“This change will speed up play, there won’t be as many suspensions and players won’t be getting penalized or disqualified unfairly. It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break.”

There has been a unified code of golf since 1952 but until now The R&A and the USGA have published the same rules in separate editions, thereby giving the impression to some that the rules were different. However, this year sees identical publications with only some spellings and respective logos changing depending whether the edition serves the U.S. and Mexico or the rest of the world.

Golfing legend Arnold Palmer welcomed the announcement of a jointly published edition of the Rules. He said: “What has happened with The R&A and the USGA is wonderful. In the years I have been associated with the game and got to know The R&A and what their efforts are and having lived with the USGA all my life, one of the things I have always thought we should be closer together.”

See videos regarding the Changes to Amateur Status here, and Changes to Playing Rules here

(With PGA Wire)


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