Original content published by Sioux Falls Business Journal with Jodi Schwan. Sponsored by GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.
While golfers begin to immerse themselves in all the routines involved in getting their games in shape after a particularly long and cold winter, they’ll have additional adjustments to make this spring.
The Rules of Golf have changed. While none of these changes would singularly qualify as earthshaking, collectively reducing the sport’s 34 core rules to 24 definitely will be worthy of study and commitment to memory for those who desire to play the game the right way.
The most obvious change, one that fans have witnessed on television since the PGA, Champions and LPGA Tours began play in January, is that golfers now have the option of leaving the flagstick in for all shots, including putts.
Other rule changes may not be as obvious but could be just as important depending on the situation. Collectively, it’s an attempt by golf’s governing bodies to simplify with a nod to making the game and its rules a little more accessible to the casual player.
“The whole point is to make golf more playable,” said Jason Sudenga, GreatLIFE director of golf. “I think they’ve done that, especially with the flagstick. There’s not so many rules with the flagstick or with golf balls on the putting green.”
Here’s a summary of some of the major changes, some of which will affect amateur casual golfers.
In the old days, once a ball was on the green, the flagstick had to be removed for the next shot. Not anymore. Now, it’s entirely up the preference of the golfer whether it’s out or in.
“Some people say it’s an advantage to keep the pin in, and some say it’s not,” Sudenga said. “I guess it depends on the situation that you’re in. It could hurt you, and it could help you. I’ve seen examples of both already this year.”
An obvious motive for this rule change involves speeding up play.
“You don’t have to take the time to pull the flag out and put it back in,” Sudenga said. “You can hit it in, pick up your ball and then move on to the next hole.”
On TV, the next most noticeable rule change involves caddies not being able to stand behind their golfers during putts. On a local level, however, the fact that golfers now will be able to repair everything in their path from ball to hole will be much more applicable. In the past, it was OK to repair ball marks that might alter the shot, but for reasons that seemed mystifying to many golfers, they could not repair spike marks. Now, it’s OK to repair with impunity, regardless of origination.
“On a day-to-day basis for the average golfer, it could really come into play,” Sudenga said. “We’ve seen with the elimination of metal spikes a drastic reduction in spike marks on the green from what it used to be. Now, they’re saying, ‘Hey, if you see one you can tap it down.’ ”
Accidental movement of the golf ball
In the past, if a golf ball on the green was accidentally bumped while being marked, it was cause for a penalty. Now, accidents like this will be tolerated as long as the ball is put back in its original spot. Furthermore, if a ball moved after it was placed after being marked, players had to play the ball from wherever it ended up. Now, they can move the ball back to its original spot without penalty. “The new rules are definitely a little friendlier on the greens,” Sudenga said. “If the wind moves your ball, you pick it up and put it back and away you go. That’s a nice one for golfers.”
No more two-chip penalties
It’s possible to hit a ball twice on the same shot. Famously, it was an act committed by T.C. Chen in the 1985 U.S. Open and played a role in costing him the tournament. It usually happens during chip shots with the club deaccelerating as it moves through shot. It was a one-stroke penalty, and now golfers can just play the ball where it lands without an additional stroke added to the score.
“That’s a good one,” Sudenga said. “Everybody double-hits it a couple times in their lifetimes. I did it myself down in Arizona this winter.”
No such thing as a water hazard
Water hazards have been renamed “penalty areas” in the golf rule book with no distinguishing one from the other. Golfers are free to move loose impediments and ground the club without fear of penalty. Players can not try to improve their chances of hitting out of a penalty area by using a club to clear a path, however.
“There were a lot of golf courses out there that were marking areas of the course as water hazards when they were not water hazards,” Sudenga said. “I like this rule. It’s going to save some time because you’re going to be able to make a drop instead of going back to the tee box to hit again.”
While there are several other rule changes, most of them will not affect a normal non-tournament round. For a complete list, with explanations and clarifications, players can visit the USGA website.
Here’s a look at all the major changes courtesy of GreatLIFE:
- SEARCH TIME – Reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes
- BALL MOVED DURING SEARCH – Replace with NO penalty
- EMBEDDED BALL – Free relief anywhere through the course
- MEASURING A DROP – Use longest club (except putter)
- DROPPING – Drop from knee height rather than shoulder
- TAKING STANCE ON WRONG GREEN IS NOT PERMITTED
- BALL UNINTENTIONALLY HITS PLAYER OR EQUIPMENT – NO penalty
- DOUBLE HIT – NO penalty, now only counts as 1 stroke
- TOUCHING SAND IN BUNKER ACCIDENTALLY IS PERMITTED
- LOOSE IMPEDIMENTS CAN BE REMOVED ANYWHERE INCLUDING HAZARDS
- DROPPING A BALL OUT OF BUNKER – 2 penalty strokes
- WATER HAZARDS – now called “penalty areas”
- TOUCHING GROUND IN PENALTY AREA – NO penalty
- BALL MOVES ON GREEN AFTER BEING MARKED – replace without penalty
- BALL ACCIDENTALLY MOVED ON PUTTING GREEN – replace NO penalty
- ALL DAMAGE TO GREEN CAN BE REPAIRED
- POSITIONING A CLUB FOR ALIGNMENT IS NOT PERMITTED
- CADDIE ASSISTING WITH ALIGNMENT IS NOW NOT PERMITTED
- PUTTING WITH FLAGSTICK IN HOLE IS NOW PERMITTED
- BALL WEDGED AGAINST FLAG STICK AND SIDE OF HOLE IS DEEMED AS HOLED