MEXICO CITY — Golf’s governing bodies have proposed significant changes that would see the sport’s rulebook reduced to 24 main rules and definitions from 34, with a six-month comment period to follow and a proposed implementation date of Jan. 1, 2019.
The United States Golf Association, which governs the U.S. and Mexico, and the R&A, which governs the rest of the world, made the announcement Wednesday following a comprehensive review process that began in 2012. The result figures to be the most comprehensive overhaul since the first set of rules was published in 1744.
Among the big changes proposed is that a player would not incur a penalty for a ball (or ball marker) that is accidentally moved on the putting green or elsewhere on the course while searching for a ball. Both currently draw a 1-stroke penalty.
“Our aim is to make the rules easier to follow and to apply for all golfers,” said David Rickman, R&A’s executive director of governance. “We have looked at every rule to try to find ways of making them more intuitive and straightforward, and we believe we have identified a number of significant improvements.
“It is important that the rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played, but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character.”
According to both organizations, the rules have been written “in a user-friendly style with shorter sentences, commonly used phrases, bulleted lists and explanatory headings.”
Once adopted, the rules will be supported by technology that allows the usage of photographs, images and graphics.
“I think it’s great,” said Rory McIlroy, one of several players who met with the USGA and was briefed on the proposed alterations. “I think golf can be too complicated. To modernize the rules and make them simpler is a good thing.”
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) March 1, 2017
Another significant proposal, which got McIlroy’s attention, was how to drop. The goal was to get the ball back in play quickly. Modern rules would more easily identify where to drop, and players would only have to hold the ball above the ground without it touching anything. The recommendation is at least 1 inch above the ground or grass. Currently, players have to stand upright and hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length from their bodies.
Speeding up the game was at the core of many of the changes. To that end, the governing bodies are proposing that players take no more than 40 seconds to play their shot when it is their turn. And they are stressing that the order of play — which has never resulted in a penalty — is not an issue, with “ready golf” encouraged.
One proposed change would have a big impact on the LPGA Tour by no longer allowing caddies to stand behind a player while lining up a shot, a common occurrence on that circuit. Currently, a caddie can stand behind the player until he or she is over the ball. That would result in a penalty under the new rules, which should help in discouraging caddies from assisting in lining up shots, forcing players to rely more on their own skills.
“We are excited and encouraged by the potential this work brings, both through the proposed new language and the opportunities to use technology to deliver them,” said Thomas Pagel, senior director of Rules & Amateur Status for the USGA. “We look forward to an ongoing conversation with golfers through the feedback period during the months ahead.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.