More discussion of the revised Rules of Golf for 2012

November 4, 2011

As noted in last week’s column, the United States Golf Association and Great Britain’s R & A recently published revisions to their common Rules of Golf.

The new edition goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012, and is intended to last until 2015, when it will be time for another revision.

Some of the new rules changes are frankly a bit technical, but others are well worth discussing here.

For example, players sometimes absentmindedly smooth over sand or soil in a bunker as they head toward their ball, on the parts of the bunker that do not affect their intended stance, swing, the line of play, or the area where the ball lies. Under the prior rules, mucking about like this before taking one’s stroke could lead to a loss of hole in match play, or a two-stroke penalty in medal competition.

The revised Rule 13 is far more forgiving, as long as the player’s intentions were for the “sole purpose of caring for the course.”

That explanation should not be too hard to accept, if there is enough distance between the newly smoothed area and where the player’s ball lies in the bunker.

I can think of occasions when I’ve entered a greenside bunker that still has footprints in it from a prior golfer, and kept myself from grabbing a rake and cleaning it up while waiting for someone else to take their turn.

Now, I won’t have to wait until after my bunker shot to clean up the mess and leave the course in better shape than when I found it. As long as it has nothing to do with making my own sand shot easier, I can fix up the bunker without any worries.

Another revision reduces the chance that penalty strokes for a particular violation of the rules won’t add up to the equivalent of “piling on” a golfer who screws up. There is a new Note 3 to Rule 27, which deals with making a stroke from the wrong place, and which normally calls for a two-stroke penalty.

Under the new note’s provisions, there are no additional penalties for this error, even if the reason for playing from the wrong spot is based on another error, such as substituting a ball when it is not permitted. Similarly, once the two strokes for the Rule 27 violation are assessed, there are no additional penalty strokes for dropping a ball when it was supposed to be placed, or placing a ball when it should have been dropped. The same penalty limitation also applies if the golfer dropped the ball the wrong way.

I assume one reason for the relative mercy granted by this rule change is to keep folks focused on finishing the round, instead of bringing a calculator to the course to tote up the score.

A brand-new Appendix IV to the rules deals with the increasingly ubiquitous distance-measuring devices, such as Sky Caddies, Golf Buddies, or other range finders.

The amendment makes clear that a local rule is required in order to permit the use of these devices during a stipulated round, typically in competition. On the other hand, the rules folks insist that the devices must only be used to measure distance.

Even if the digital tool can also give you the slope between you and the hole, the wind speed and direction, and the temperature and humidity index, none of that data is to be provided during the round by that instrument. If your device has these features, they must be disengaged or otherwise switched off during the round.

That’s a bit of a relief. There are far too many amateur golfers who suffer from paralysis by analysis, and needlessly slow down a round of golf. I also doubt that most golfers can really play for the difference between a 150-yard shot at 75 degrees into a quartering wind at 6 miles per hour, and the same shot when it’s five degrees warmer.

If they can, I want to see them on tour.