Around 30,000 views from all around the world helped golf’s two main governing bodies decide on a new set of Rules, with a knee-high drop and no penalty for a double hit among changes being introduced at the start of 2019.
Proposals from the R&A and USGA last March included a ball being dropped from any height when relief was being taken but that has now been altered in a bid to ensure “consistency” and “simplicity” while also “preserving the randomness of the drop”.
“Interestingly, we talked about the dropping procedure at the very first working group,” David Rickman, Executive Director – Governance at the R&A, told The Scotsman. “We recognised that it’s a really important part of the code. In some ways, it is a good representation of all that we try to achieve - a reasonably simple and quick process and one that people can work with.
“We feel that going to knee height strikes that right balance. It is going to be quicker and going to be accurate in terms of dropping in the relief area. But, equally so, it preserves that element of chance. There’s not that guarantee of getting the best possible lie in and, on reflection, we felt that was an appropriate outcome.”
Club golfers in particular will welcome the decision to remove a one-stroke penalty for a “double hit”, which more often than not can be totally accidental and also unavoidable.
“It doesn’t happen that often but, when it does, it is clearly a frustration to golfers and in some ways, it is another good example of trying to achieve consistency across the Rules,” added Rickman.
“We were keen to make this change because other accidental deflections - the ball that comes back off a bunker face or a tree that hits you - are now not going to be penalised. Currently, that is a one-stroke penalty but, from 2019 onwards, there is no penalty.
“We are trying to create a code of Rules that has this degree of consistency and, given this is accidental, there is no guarantee the outcome is going to be good, bad or indifferent. We feel that a penalty is not needed.
“We have had situations in recent years with retrospective penalties where players haven’t realised there is a penalty but perhaps there is. So, by removing a number of these at source, you remove the possibility of there being an issue that develops later on and has to be scrutinised by the committee. We think this helps in a number of ways.”
A number of measures aimed at trying to speed up play are included in the new set of Rules, including the introduction of a new Local Rule at club level to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds under a two-stroke penalty are also in the modernised Rules.
“That has been a fascinating debate between the different sectors of the game because, if you were take a very purist view that if you hit a ball out of bounds or you lose a ball, you have really failed that test and what you need to do is do it again,” said Rickman.
“The only place with any certainty is the place you played from originally. That having been said, the reality of the game, particularly at club level, is that there continue to be challenges with time and everything we can do to make the game that bit quicker has to be welcomed.
“We have taken a fair while to develop this proposal but we think it strikes the right balance. The penalty being two strokes means it is still not a great outcome from golfers and it mirrors stroke and distance.
“On a full course, if someone loses a ball unexpectedly, we now have a solution that gives them a wide scope of where the ball was lost or went out of bounds to enable them to drop a ball - from knee height, of course - and carry on and that seems pretty attractive to us.”
The process to modernise the Rules began in 2012 and both organisations believe the extensive review that was involved in the latest set being made official was a worthwhile exercise for the game at all levels.
“I think the consultation process was extremely valuable,” said Rickman. “We’ve had insightful comments from across the game and that is always one of our biggest challenges. We want to try and make the Rules work for everyone playing the game.
“We want a set of Rules that work simply for people playing a club game but equally so we need to have a set of Rules that work in the spotlight, when Rules are subjected to that very close scrutiny at the very highest level of the game and players need to know exactly what to do.
“That always presents a challenge and the feedback has allowed us to appropriately refine the proposals that we announced last March.”
While players being lined up by caddies on tees and fairways - something that is particularly prevalent in the ladies’ professional game - is being outlawed under the new Rules, the use of green-reading books has not yet reached that stage.
“If I am being entirely honest, that is a concern that we continue to have,” admitted Rickman. “But we need to find a simple, effective and clear Rule to do the job so that work continues.
“We remain concerned that green reading material - those detailed maps - erodes the skill of putting but we are continuing to search for the right regulatory response to that concern.”