Nobody needs to be told that golf is a game built on tradition. Centuries of it, in fact. So when 2019 brought changes to the rules of the game, there was no doubt they were going to make waves – no matter what they were.
The question, of course, was whether and how they will affect tournaments.
Very little, say most experts – unless the event in question happens to be on the pro circuit (and the pros have had plenty to say about it, much of it hilarious.) In fact, even the New York Times ran an article succinctly entitled: “Golf’s New Rules: Few Players Know them; Even Fewer Understand Them.” Nevertheless, it behooves all event owners to make sure players understand and are aware of the rule changes.
They’re substantial, too. According to a note on the PGA TOUR website, “Golfers at all levels are still trying to grasp the scope and breadth of the rules changes. Consider this: In an eight-page document that offers a summary chart of the changes, there are 37 new rules – and those are just the most significant changes as outlined by the USGA and the R&A.” (The rule book itself has been condensed; it went from 34 to 24 rules, but each of these rules has subcategories and notes, meaning there is a lot to take in).
The consensus, says USA TODAY, seems to be that the changes have been made “in the interest of modernizing the game, eliminating several unusual rules that could lead to head-scratching penalties and even possibly speeding up play.”
Will they? Time will tell, and it is likely there will be some difficulties as everyone struggles to wrap their head around the first significant change tothe sport in quite some time. (A history of the game and various rule changes through the years can be found here.)
When it comes to knowing the rules and making sure they’re followed, some pros admit to delegating responsibility to their caddies, including Dustin Johnson, who had an official print up a copy of the new rules, which he then handed off to his brother, who caddies for him. And when it comes to caddies, the rules have changed concerning their involvement too, by the way.
Tournament directors for events at the amateur level, (which lack the scrutiny faced by pros) should spend time familiarizing themselves with the rule changes, and make sure to post them in the clubhouse or the pro shop so that players are reminded.
The new rules are always worth reinforcing, says Stephen Hamblin, executive director of the U.S. Junior Golf Association, and that includes for youth players. For example, one of the rules which involves dropping the ball from knee height, is something AJGA tournament directors now tell athletes before play commences. "We'll start at the first tee and tell them to drop the ball. We'll see their arms go out straight and then they'll catch themselves and do it lower."
A great synopsis of what amateurs will need to know, along with a sample poster outlining the rule changes, can be found here.