IMPORTANT NOTICE: THE RULES OF GOLF HAVE NOT CHANGED – YET. YOU CAN STILL HAVE YOUR SAY.
This is not a joke. Every man, woman and child who plays golf has until the end of August this year to influence the game’s rules makers at the R&A and USGA, who plan to introduce a brand new rule book in January 2019. If you have what you think is a brilliant workable solution to the knotty problem of stroke and distance, for example, they’re dying to hear from you. If you have a particular bugbear, get in there and make sure they include it in their deliberations. The official announcement of the biggest overhaul of the rules since 1984 was made on Wednesday afternoon and I know that at least one of the members at my golf club was on the phone to St Andrews on Thursday morning.
Some of you will know that there are currently 34 rules and 1200 decisions, so no wonder a lot of us are confused. The aim is to cover the same ground but more succinctly and clearly, to make things easier to understand for all golfers, amateur and professional. The quest started five years ago and that sounds like a long time to deliberate but in the world of rules it’s almost Farah-esque it’s so speedy.
The men at the forefront of this transformation are Thomas Pagel, the senior director of rules and amateur status at the USGA and David Rickman, who used to be the main rules man at the R&A but now rejoices in the rather grand title of executive director of governance and chief of staff. An engaging, courteous person who seems to be blessed with endless patience, Rickman said, “We’re a bit unapologetic about taking our time.” He pointed out that golf is “a self-regulating game played in over 200 countries around the world, so this is a complex process and we need to get it right.”
There are tournament professionals who think they should be a law unto themselves and make their own rules but their representatives have been involved in the discussions since the beginning and a central tenet of this whole process is that a single set of rules benefits the game worldwide. Bifurcation, thankfully, has been booted into the boondocks, with no hope of a free drop.
There are lots of apparently sensible changes mooted: no need to attend the flagstick; permission to chuck all loose impediments out of a bunker not just bits of paper and cans; players to line themselves up, without help from their caddy; ok to repair spike marks on greens; play when you’re ready (match play apart). There are others that raise my eyebrows more: dropping the ball from an inch above the ground; penalty areas; the double par rule.
All the details are on randa.org and usga.org and there’s a hashtag thingy (which I can’t find on this computer) golfrules2019. Feedback and evaluation forms are available in seven languages, so there’s no excuse for not taking part. It’s your game, after all. But, please, do NOT lobby for free drops out of divots. Golf is an outdoor, cross-country game and in essence, you should play the ball as it lies, bearing in mind that you can get bad outcomes from good shots and good outcomes from bad shots. Suck it up!
Most golfers, I think it’s safe to say, pay scant attention to the rules. It’s not that they cheat, they’re just not interested, most of the time. They can pick up a rule book, for free, at their club but I’d bet (if I was allowed to) that most members don’t bother. And golfers who aren’t members anywhere may not know that there is such a thing as a rule book, let alone what it looks like or where to get one.
I know someone who ditched the rule book in her (golf) bag to make room for an extra packet of jelly babies and someone else, with a bigger bag, who keeps the book for matches against other clubs “just in case, even though I’ll probably not understand it.” This is an intelligent woman but she wasn’t being disingenuous: the rules do take some interpreting, especially in the heat of battle.
Appearances notwithstanding, some research sometimes goes into this blog and yesterday I made the surprising discovery that dry and tedious though the rule book is, the Decisions are a great read, laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining and informative. You could do worse than keep one by your bedside to cheer you up and help you fall asleep with a smile on your face. I’m not joking but my friends probably had it right when they said, “Get a life!”