Updated decisions on Rules of Golf for 2014

November 29, 2013

Last week’s column briefly discussed one of the new decisions on the Rules of Golf going into effect in 2014, in which the naked eye will trump high-definition, slow-motion replays that have caused some real controversies in the world of professional televised golf.

The decisions, all hundreds of pages of them, are designed to help golfers and the rules officials interpret the Rules of Golf in realistic golfing situations that come up in competition or during friendly rounds.

This new ruling is a direct result of a couple of issues involving Tiger Woods, most recently in a case where the HD replay suggested his ball moved when it shouldn’t have, but he insisted it hadn’t.

The other new decisions should be helpful, but perhaps not as potentially contentious.

One decision recognizes and accepts the ubiquity of smartphones out on the golf course, despite the best efforts of some clubs to ban cellphones during play.

It allows players to access weather reports on their smartphones during a round without breaching the rules about equipment. The USGA notes that this decision “also clarifies that players are permitted to access information on the threat of an impending storm in order to protect their own safety.”

In one of the USGA publications announcing this decision, the organization also stresses that a player may not “actively measure or gauge weather-related conditions at his specific location.” In addition, it suggests, “Accessing such information does not provide a measurement of immediate conditions, any more than what the player could gather from general observation.”

The USGA may have a point there, if the summertime experience of my usual Sunday gang is any indication.

One gray morning, we headed out to Rookery North, in two groups split by the usual tossing of golf balls on the first tee.

When we finished the first hole, the skies looked threatening.

When we finished the second hole, the wind picked up significantly.

When we finished the third hole, the rain started.

When we finished the fourth hole, the rain was coming in sideways, and falling at about an inch or two per hour.

A few members of our plucky band then did just what I expected they would do. While tightly grasping their umbrellas, they whipped out their smartphones and pulled up the radar app.

I could have told them it was raining, if it wasn’t already so obvious.

The bright red colors on the screens depicting the skies both above and west of Rookery North convinced the group to pack it in at that point. We were thoroughly soaked by the time we reached the clubhouse a half-mile away.

Under less challenging conditions, I can still see some benefit to this new decision, especially in parts of the country where the weather can change quickly and with little warning. Otherwise, I tend to think that smartphone weather radars are something you use before deciding to go to the golf course in the first place.

Another new decision is intended to help speed up play by putting a limit on how far forward a golfer may walk before deciding to go back and play a provisional ball.

The USGA and R & A suggested that in some cases, a short advance could help golfers confirm if their ball is hopelessly out of bounds, or lost outside of a water hazard, if they were able to walk up 50 yards or so to make that determination.

By permitting a bit of additional forward scouting, but with a relatively short yardage limit, the rules organizations expect the pace of the game to be improved.

My wayward tee shots are typically so spectacularly bad that I rarely see the need to walk 50 yards from the tee box just to make sure.

But the new decision might help others, so let’s see how it works next spring.

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