By 2018-04-16 InOpinion

All change please! 2019 golf rules released

Rory did it, so did Westwood and Goosen, and probably all of us – infringe the Rules of Golf unintentionally. The R&A states that there are some 300 hidden Rules in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf book, so the major revision for 2019 slides those into the normal rule book and concertinas the Rules from 32 to 24.

Such a wholesale revision has not been seen for decades and we will all have to learn new terms – penalty area; no play zone; general area; general penalty; relief area, etc.

There has been much discussion at local level about two of the proposals – dropping the ball from six inches and marking a dropping limit by 40 or 80 inches (or the metric equivalent). Both of those have now been discarded and from January we will be dropping the ball from knee height and marking the dropping limit with the longest club in the bag (except a putter).

That all seems straightforward but what is a ‘penalty area’? Gone are ‘water hazards’ and ‘lateral water hazards’.

‘Penalty areas’ are bodies of water and any other areas defined by the committee where a ball is often lost or unable to be played such as a jungle, desert or rocky area. This prevents some of these areas from being marked as out-of-bounds and applies a relief penalty of one stroke, thus speeding play.

Strangely and unlike before with water hazards, a player, after taking relief, may still stand in the ‘penalty area’ to play the ball. A committee may do away with yellow stakes altogether and rely solely on red-staked areas.

A ‘no play zone’ is a defined part of any ‘abnormal course condition’ which of itself gives rise to free relief, specifically animal holes, ground-under-repair, immovable obstructions and temporary water. A player must take relief from a ‘no play zone’ which may also be defined within a ‘penalty area’.

Few of us really knew what ‘through-the-green’ excluded in the existing Rules, so that definition has been dropped. In its place is the ‘general area’ defined as anything except the four other defined areas of the course, those being the teeing area being played, bunkers, penalty areas and the putting green of the hole being played. Evidentially, therefore, it includes the rough, bushes, trees etc.

A ‘relief area’ can change in size, location and point of reference whenever a player must drop a ball to take relief under a Rule. However, the current Rule by which a dropped ball is in play if it stops within two club lengths of where it first hit the ground is excluded.

The ‘point of reference’ is now that point which gives complete relief from an ‘abnormal course condition’ and the ball must stop within one club length of that point. As now, a player drops the ball twice and then places the ball if it runs outside the defined area.

The R&A defends its decision to maintain the different nuances of some Rules that apply to stroke play and match play by emphasising the worth of retaining the two forms of golf and that it remains appropriate for a small number of penalties and procedures to be different. In stroke play, the ‘general penalty’ is defined as two strokes and in match play as loss of hole. Multiple penalties can still apply.

In September 2018, the R&A will publish the Rules of Golf, complete; The Player’s Edition; The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf and The Modified Rules of Golf for Players with Disabilities, facilitating translation into 300 languages and finishing work on a new Rules app and other means of electronic delivery.

By Malcolm Judd

Malcolm Judd has played the game for 30 years, reads the Rules avidly but confesses he is an entirely ‘amateur’ interpreter of the Rules. He says his Christmas presents always include the latest ‘Decisions on the Rules of Golf’, a 600-page book designed to send anyone to sleep.

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