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Rules of Golf finalized, with four new tweaks

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The new Rules of Golf have been finalized, with four tweaks.

Rolled out last year as a “modernization” to make the game easier to understand at all levels, golf’s governing bodies announced Monday that the new set of rules will take effect Jan. 1.

Though the majority of the proposals unveiled last year will be implemented – including no penalty for a ball accidentally moving – the USGA and R&A made four changes after a six-month comment period:

• The drop rule: Previously able to drop from shoulder height, balls now must be dropped from knee height or higher.

• Taking relief: Instead of the 20- or 80-inch measurement proposal, relief will now be one club length (for free relief) and two club lengths (for penalty drops).

• Double hit: There will not be a one-stroke penalty for striking the ball more than once.

• Balls lost out of bounds: A new local rule will be available that allows players to drop where the ball went out of bounds – with a two-shot penalty. The governing bodies point out that this local rule is not meant for the professional tours but rather as a means to speed up recreational play.

“We’re thankful for the golfers, administrators and everyone in the game who took the time to provide us with great insight and thoughtful feedback,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of Rules and Amateur Status. “We couldn’t be more excited to introduce the new Rules ahead of the education process and their implementation.” 

Last March, the USGA and R&A revealed 30 proposed changes to make what they believed were more fair, consistent and straightforward rules.

Some of the other rules that have been finalized: no penalty for a ball accidentally moving on a green, as long as a player is “virtually certain” that he did not cause it to move; no penalty for repairing spike marks on the green; no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area (excluding a bunker); and using “reasonable judgment” as the standard when measuring a line, drop or distance, even if video evidence later shows it to be incorrect. 

After that initial wave of proposed changes, the USGA and R&A accepted feedback for six months from players, rules experts and administrators worldwide.

Said David Rickman, the executive director of governance at the R&A: “We believe that the new Rules are more in tune with what golfers would like and are easier to understand and apply for everyone who enjoys playing this great game.”