2008 Rules Changes are Player Friendly
A scan of the changes to the Rules of Golf for 2008 indicates the rulesmakers had the player in mind. The committees of the USGA and the R&A seem to have asked, “What is a player likely to do in this situation and should he/she be penalized for the action?” The answer is either no penalty or a reduction to one stroke.
LIFTING THE FLAGSTICK: A typical reaction of a player who sees a ball about to strike a flagstick lying on the ground is to lift the flagstick. In the past this action resulted in a loss of hole penalty in match play or a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, but as of January 1 there is NO PENALTY. Go ahead and lift the club or flagstick lying on the course and breathe easy as this action is an exception under Rule 24-1 to the penalty incurred for moving an obstruction that might influence the movement of the ball.
PENALTY REDUCTIONS: Under Rule 19-2 when a player’s ball in motion is accidentally deflected by him, his partner or either the caddie or equipment, the penalty is now one stroke in both match and stroke play. You may recall Jeff Maggert’s ball at the 2003 Masters hitting the lip of a bunker and then hitting him in the chest. The one-stroke penalty that is now in effect would have been much easier to take. There is an exception: If the ball strikes the person attending or holding up the flagstick or anything carried by him, there is still a loss-of-hole or two-stroke penalty. See Rule 17-3b.
NON-CONFORMING CLUBS: Another player-friendly reduction occurs when a golfer discovers he is carrying a non-conforming club during a stipulated round. When Kevin Stadler recently discovered on the second hole of a tournament that one of his shafts had been bent during travel, he was disqualified. In 2008 his penalty would be the same penalty as for carrying more than 14 clubs.
In match play at the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered, the state of the match is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred; maximum deduction per round, two holes. In stroke play, two strokes for any hole at which a breach occurred; maximum penalty is four strokes. The player must immediately declare the club out of play upon discovery. The penalty of disqualification still applies if a player uses a non-conforming club. See Rule 4-1 and -2.
IDENTIFY YOUR BALL IN A HAZARD: Probably the most discussed change to the rules is a player is now allowed to identify a ball in a hazard (bunker or water hazard) when he cannot visually determine it is his ball. It should be noted that it must be necessary for a player to lift his ball to identify it in order to be allowed to lift it under this rule. If he lifts the ball when he could have identified it without lifting, he incurs a one-stroke penalty.
The procedure for lifting is identical to what players have already been doing under Rule 12-2 when identifying a ball on other parts of the course. This change should speed up pace of play as a player will not walk back after discovering the ball played from the hazard was not his ball. It does, however, change the penalty situation as a player will now be penalized if he plays a wrong ball from a hazard. Match play – Loss of Hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.
VIRTUAL CERTAINTY is the new term replacing “reasonable evidence” when a player wishes to take relief for a ball that has been struck toward a water hazard, an abnormal ground condition, an obstruction or if the ball has been moved by an outside agency and is not found. If the player’s ball could be somewhere else on the course, the player must proceed under the penalty of stroke and distance.
As you become more familiar with the changes to the rules you will also discover they have been reorganized for standard construction to make it easier for golfers to navigate and understand the rules. Learn and enjoy the new changes to the Rules of Golf; they offer you better options and will help you achieve a lower score.
The NCGA will offer classroom and on-course rules seminars throughout 2008. Please check times and locations for a seminar that meets your needs at ncga.org under “Education.” If your club would like a rules seminar, contact Gail Rogers at email@example.com or call 831- 625-4653. This is just one of the many benefits of being an NCGA member.