The New Rules … And Two They Missed


Word came out this week that the R&A and USGA have decided to go ahead with the changes to the Rules of Golf that they initially floated out to the world about a year ago.  Even though the changes don’t take effect until January 1st, 2019, the two governing bodies feel, I assume, that they’ve received enough comment and can now proceed with printed versions of the new regime.

And I quote:

For the first time, a new Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf is being introduced to provide a shorter, more user-friendly version of the Rules of Golf for golfers at all levels of the game.

This version, which will serve as the primary publication for all golfers, features:

  • An organization with 10 simplified topical groupings.
  • A “Purpose of the Rule” description at the top of each rule, to better define why it exists.
  • Easy-to-follow, full-colour diagrams and charts for better understanding.
  • A simpler, more direct writing style

This is all, generally, good news.  It does at least show that the R&A and USGA have recognized that the 21st Century has begun and that changes were long overdue.   For someone who is usually quite vocal about the stupidity and excess of the Rules, I can’t be too critical of an effort to modernize them and make them simpler.

It would take too much space here to detail all the rule changes.  Here’s a good quick guide and explanation of the major alterations:

HOWEVER, I just can’t understand why the governing bodies didn’t have either the courage or the intelligence to alter – or better yet, just plain delete – the following two Rules which have always made no sense to me.  And in today’s game, make even less sense:

  1. Playing out of a divot

The current rule, unchanged, says that if your ball comes to rest in a spot where a divot was made by a previous player, whether the divot has been filled in with seed or not, TOO EFFING BAD.  You must play it as it lies.  We all know that playing out of a divot — whether a one-inch crater or a sand-filled mini-bunker or a loose piece of grass that wasn’t properly stamped down – can produce any number of variations on an otherwise good shot.

If you’ve hit a good shot to get to this position (or a bad one, doesn’t matter), and it’s in the middle of the fairway you’re supposed to be on, I think it’s extremely unfair for you to have to now hit and hope that the divot you’re lying in or on doesn’t completely screw up your next shot.  Why should you not be allowed to move your ball… say, a maximum of three inches to the side of the divot you’re on?  Especially if you’re playing in a competition, where you should have the same grass bed to play off as your opponent who’s in the same fairway?

The governing bodies answer this question by saying, “well, how exactly do you define a divot?  Theoretically, any player could decide that any lie they have is on a divot.”  Well, yes, but in my opinion, you let the player have that discretion, and I believe that 99% of players would exercise their discretion appropriately and not just decide it’s worthy of winter rules.  Besides, if every player had the option to declare their lie as a divot, then everybody’s playing by the same rule, no?

But if the governing bodies were truly concerned about people taking advantage, then maybe they could add the proviso “the ball may be moved from the divot if, in a competition, the opinion of the player AND a fellow competitor deem it to legitimately be in or on a divot”… or words to that effect.

As it is, today, I know most players, in non-competitive rounds, move their balls off divots anyway.  Call me a cheat, but I can assure you that I do.

  1. The 14-club rule

The current rule states that you cannot “legally” play a round of golf with more than 14 clubs in your bag.  This rule was instituted in 1938, apparently to give caddies a break from having to carry excess weight.  If ever a law was outdated, then surely this is it!  (When’s the last time you took a caddie?)

Modern golf club technology has given us, since 1938, many more options and reasons to carry more clubs.

Personally, I would like to start each round with four “woods” – driver, 3, 5, and 7.  I like to use a 4-iron, occasionally for long low shots I may need to hit, but more often, for putting the ball from the fringe (a little trick I was taught by Raymond Floyd years ago).  So, I’d like to carry six irons, from 4-9.  I’d also like to have a 3- and a 4-hybrid in my bag.  Then, I’d like to include four wedges – pitching, sand, gap, and lob.  For low pitch-and-runs, I could use my 7-iron, but I wouldn’t mind carrying one of those “ginty”-style chippers that give you a sense of crisp efficiency.  Plus my putter, of course; but believe it or not, I wouldn’t mind having the option of two putters… one for longer putts, one for tap-ins.  Okay, add ‘em all together, and my “ideal” bag would contain 19 clubs.

Would having 19 clubs in my bag lower my score?  Maybe, maybe not.  I’d still have to hit good shots and get the ball in the hole, so the challenge is not diminished by having extra tools.  Would I hit better shots with more tools?  Who knows?  Frankly, I doubt it… I can screw up a shot just as easily with the club I want as the club I don’t want.

Would giving me 19 clubs provide any advantage for me in a competitive match?  Well, no… not if my opponent can carry as many or more clubs than I have.  And I wouldn’t care if he had 20… or even 31 clubs in his bag – as Lawson Little did, quite legally, when he won the British Amateur in 1934.

The 14-club rule just makes no sense to me.  It’s arbitrary, pointless, and simply doesn’t recognize the reality of modern equipment and technology, and the options for shot making that the manufacturing industry has devised.  To ignore these new options is, in my mind, equivalent to forcing us all to play the same golf ball they did in 1938.  And wouldn’t that be a hoot!

Unfortunately, I suspect that the R&A and USGA will not be considering new or further changes to the Rules of Golf anytime soon.  I’m sure they’re sitting back in their leather chairs at Golf House and thinking “right then, you whining, sniveling yobs… we’ve made a few changes to shut you up for the time-being, now kindly shut up!”

So, I suspect for the rest of MY life at least, I’ll have to continue to (theoretically) play out of divots and carry a caddie-friendly bag of 14 clubs at the back of my buggy.  And shut up.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

5 thoughts on “The New Rules … And Two They Missed

  1. i agree with the divot rule change but the club number … well … we periodically go out with just 5 clubs for a real challenge and if you haven’t noticed they still use caddies on the tour.

    1. And the average tour bag weighs about 60 lbs! But fine, if they must stick to 14, for the sake of the poor beleaguered caddies, then let the rule apply only to professionals. Let the rest of us yobs play with as many clubs as we feel we need. (Thanks for the comment, Doug!)

  2. Hello Jim;

    I’m sorry I missed your article until now. I agree with your ‘take’ on divots but disagree re the number of clubs a player can use. I think the number should less; down to 10 or even 9. With 10 a player would probably choose a driver, fairway wood, hybrid, 6, 7, 8, 9 two wedges and a putter. They would likely ‘bend’ their irons increasing the distance for each and theoretically gain another club. The big difference would be that players would have to become more creative with their shot making. Bump and run shots would come back, long shots from the fairway would require a lot more consideration for pin placements and hazards. In short, the game would return to one of skill and control and move away from an exact measure of coordinates, loading up a howitzer and blasting a projectile in a dead straight line.

    Yours, Michael Schurman

  3. Are you kidding me?! I hope that this article was in jest. If not, you really need to reconsider your position.
    If your position is serious, them you’re claiming that it’s ok to have good luck, but you should get relief from bad luck! What a terrible sense of entitlement.. so, you want to get relief if you land in a divot in the fairway. Of course, every ball that lands in the fairway is the result of a good shot. Yeah, right! Even if your ball was heading out of bounds and hit a tree, ricocheting back into the fairway, you want additional relief because some other duffer didn’t do a good enough job replacing their divot. And BTW, what is your definition of a divot? As the divot heals, at what point does it become a natural part of the course again, and not allowing relief? Is it a specific number of days? Is it when the grass starts growing back through the ground…how long does the grass have to be before it is no longer considered a divot? Wow, I want to see your wording and definition on that one.
    According to your logic, a golfer shouldn’t be penalised for a good shot. So then, what if I hit a bad shot into the rough, should I be rewarded if my ball ends up in a divot which was left by another golfer, thereby allowing me to get clean access to the ball? I have been fortunate like that in the past, where I have been able to cleanly hit the ball because I landed where some other golfer left a clean swath from a previous shot. One inch or two to either side, I would have to chop it back out to the fairway. Or, should you also write an additional rule of golf requiring me to drop into the rough, because I shouldn’t get a lucky break?
    And, what about other unlucky breaks, do you want to write rules for those situations too? I recall a fellow golfer hitting a majestic shot towards a green, but landing on a sprinkler head and taking a large bounce over the green and out of bounds, Should we write a rule covering that too?
    Golf is not fair, and was never meant to be. Get over it. If you want to move the ball because you ended up in a divot, knock yourself out and do it. Just don’t call what you’re doing golf!
    I’m reminded of a quote from the late Bruce Edwards, who once caddied for Tom Watson and later Greg Norman. From an article by Jerry Tarde in Golf Digest:
    “I told him the story of the late Bruce Edwards, who famously caddied for Tom Watson, then left Tom to caddie for Greg Norman (and eventually returned to Watson). Bruce used to get asked about the difference between the two Hall of Famers. “When Greg would get to his ball and find it sitting in the bottom of a divot hole,” Bruce said, “his head would go down and he’d mutter something about the bad luck he’s always had. Same divot hole, same lie, when Tom would find his ball there, he’d pause, and a smile would slowly cross his face. ‘Bruce,’ he’d say, ‘Wait till you get a load of what I do with this one.’ “”
    Play the ball as it lies, and enjoy the game. Speaking from experience, you will garner much greater satisfaction from hitting a shot from that divot onto the green, than you will from rolling the ball out of the divot and hitting a normal shot.

  4. Relief from a divot makes sense. More than 14 clubs does not. We need no further reasons for slow play.

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