As The R&A and USGA, the game’s governing bodies, continue a process to make the game’s rules “easier to understand and apply”, a number of changes are being introduced from the start of 2023.
They include a first as the modified rules for players with disabilities are fully incorporated into the playing rules without the need to adopt a local rule.
“This is very much part of our agenda for inclusivity in terms of the game of golf,” Grant Moir, Director of Rules at The R&A, told The Scotsman in a briefing about the changes.
“The modified Rules of Golf for players of disability has been in existence for over 25 years, but what we wanted to do is make them part of the mainstream Rules of Golf so that they apply all the time to players playing against players with the same disability, other disabilities or players with disabilities playing against those without any disability.”
The DP World Tour’s G4D (Golf for the Disabled) Tour has featured seven events this year while golfers with disability champions also took part in the Celebration of Champions at St Andrews during the week of the 150th Open.
“It is really just trying to shine a light on this growing part of the game,” added Moir. “We’ve seen a lot of emphasis on players with disabilities in competitions and we felt the time was right to bring those rules in as a fundamental part of the Rules of Golf.”
Other changes include an amendment that will allow a player to replace a club that is damaged during a round, though not if that has been caused through “abuse” in an act of anger.
“With the 2019 Rules, we initially tried to adopt perhaps a stricter approach to club damage and say that a player would never be able to replace their club,” said Moir of that one. “As it transpired, we felt, particularly at the higher levels in the game, that being unable to replace a club that had been damaged in a normal way through making a stroke was overly strict.
“So, at the highest levels, we introduced the ability to bring in a local rule that would allow for replacement of a club that was damaged and we felt that it was only right and proper that we should extend that through the full game and include that in the Rules for 2023.
“So, it’s a case now that if somebody breaks a putter by mistake or their iron gets snapped when they are playing a shot behind a tree, if they happen to be walking past the pro shop, they can pick up a replacement. It just seems a more appropriate outcome for the game in general.”
After separate incidents involving both Rickie Fowler and Charley Hoffman in Phoenix, the clause covering a ‘ball moved by natural forces’ has been relaxed, while the ‘back-on-the line relief procedure’ has been simplified.
At club level, players will no longer be penalised for failing to put their handicap on their scorecard when playing a stroke-play event, with the accuracy of that being the “responsibility of the committee”.
In a bid to significantly reduce the production and distribution of more than four million copies of the printed Rules of Golf, golfers around the world are being encouraged to use an app instead.
“We did a survey back at the beginning of 2020 when we established that 80 per cent of those golfers were carrying a mobile phone in their bag and that wasn’t necessarily a young group of golfers that we surveyed,” said Moir.