The R&A has vowed to hear all concerns and views as golf’s governing body announces sweeping changes to the Rules of Golf.
David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, said all feedback great and small would be welcomed as part of the Scottish-based body’s rules modernisation process, announced jointly with the USGA today.
A large reduction in the number of rules has been complimented by increased brevity and clarity in their application in today’s proposed changes, planned for a 1 January 2019 global introduction.
Among more than 30 substantial changes are that:
• Penalties for accidentally moving your ball while searching for it or accidentally moving your ball or ball marker on the green will be scrapped;
• Time allowed for ball searches will be reduced from five to three minutes;
• A ball being dropped will soon be able to be released at any height above the ground without touching anything;
• There will no longer be a penalty for hitting an unattended flagstick with a putt from on the green;
• Touching or removal of loose impediments in a bunker will be permissible; and
• Almost all damage, including spike marks and animal damage, will be able to be repaired on the green.
Rickman said he hoped for and expected great feedback on these and all the changes to the Rules of Golf from Australian players.
Asked whether he would like a collective response from Australia or myriad single complaints or inquiries, Rickman said the R&A’s online feedback system would “welcome and handle both”.
“I suspect the Australian golf industry will have an interest in that (group response), but we’d be delighted to hear the views of Mary from Adelaide – we’ll have a feedback form online and we’ve designed that to allow people to try to give feedback in a reasonably structured way,” he said from St Andrews.
“That’s all about `we are listening’. This is a real and proper consultation process and that’s the best way for us to be able to then process the responses – hopefully the wonders of the internet will give us the ability to receive all of those comments in a usable way.”
Rickman stressed the Rules changes remained proposals and that a six-month feedback period would now be employed around the world.
“I would confirm that these are just proposals at this stage – we have taken time to produce them and they’re not frivolous; we have tried to think them through,” he said.
“But there may be something we haven’t thought of, a nuance or an unintended consequence of some of these ideas, so we are expecting these proposals to be edited and refined over the next 12-18 months.
“At the moment I think the overall shape of this code is reasonably close to where we might be in 2019, but I would not be surprised at all if there were a number of changes made between now and when they’re finalised.”
Rickman said while the Rules of Golf were constantly evolving, “this scale of change and review happens less frequently – probably 1952 and 1984 are the most recent times we’ve done something of this scale”.
“Certainly it’s an extensive review and we believe the changes will be good for the sport. We have aimed the revision at the game as a whole, so irrespective of your ability and where in the world you play, we have tried to make these rules relevant to all golfers and easier to understand and apply.
“So the overall goals are significant and I hope relatively clear.
“We are keen to get feedback – to encourage golfers from around the world to let us know if they think the rules will work for them and … we hope many people will take the opportunity to let us know what they think.”
Rickman said the shorter ball search time and other promotions of faster play – including the encouragement of “ready golf” and a recommendation of not more than 40 seconds before your shot once it’s your turn – were important to the sport.
But he said some initiatives could not be mandated globally.
“We are introducing a number of pace-of-play initiatives … we’ve actively encouraged players to play promptly and a guideline for the first time ever that calls out 40 seconds as the absolute maximum time,” he said.
“We’re also actively encouraging clubs to check their own time pars and beyond all of that, a committee if it wants to, can be more prescriptive and detailed and seek to encourage play at a quicker pace.
“It’s a big issue for the sport, there are many solutions and the Rules have to play their part. But I think it better to leave it to local clubs to address the particular issues they’re facing. Those issues vary and therefore the solutions are different.
“I think this strikes the right balance. Certainly, in the elite game, we’re focused on penalising players and 18 months ago we had a pace of play conference and I was particularly attracted by the ideas of a number of clubs that actually reward fast play. That might be the ability to buy something cheaper in the pro shop or a free drink at the bar if you go round in a certain time.
“But we need a mix of rules to work in elite and club environments where at least 95% of golf is played.”