What’s In Store For The Rules of Golf In 2016

Adam Scott is among the high profile players who are changing their putting style to adapt to the new Rules of Golf
Adam Scott is among the high profile players who are changing their putting style to adapt to the new Rules of Golf
Adam Scott is among the high profile players who are changing their putting style to adapt to the new Rules of Golf

by Dean Ryan, Champions Tour/PGA Tour Rules Official 

“Common sense” and “player-friendly” are two terms being used to describe the latest instalment of the Rules of Golf. Every four years Golf Canada in conjunction with the R&A and USGA review and amend the Rules of Golf. Here are the significant changes coming in 2016.

Anchoring Prohibition

When the governing bodies of golf announced the Rules changes last month, it came as no surprise to anyone that anchoring will no longer be permitted. After decades of debate and a carefully orchestrated PR campaign which began three years ago, the Rule will finally be implemented on January 1st, 2016.

While the prohibition on anchoring will only impact a small percentage of golfers, here’s what it boils down to. First of all, it is NOT an equipment rule. Long and mid-length putters will still be permitted. The rule prohibits the anchoring of a club while making a stroke in two ways: 1) During a stroke you can’t hold the club or a hand gripping the club directly against the body. Except that you’re permitted to hold the club against you forearm. 2) You can’t intentionally hold your forearm against your body to create an “anchor point”, i.e., a stable point which the club swings around or hinges. Essentially, circumventing the rule. 

Ball Moving After Address

Perhaps the most welcome change in the new code is the withdrawal of Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address). Currently, if you address your ball (i.e., ground your club immediately behind your ball) and the ball subsequently moves, you are presumed to have caused it to move and you incur a one-stroke penalty. With the withdrawal of this Rule, a penalty under Rule 18-2 (Ball at Rest Moved by Player) will only be applied if the facts show that you actually caused your ball to move. Common sense in the Rules is finally gaining a foothold!

Artificial Devices

Another common sense amendment to the Rules has to do with the use of artificial devices during the round, e.g., distance measuring devices, alignment sticks, swing weights, etc. Previously, if you used a distance measuring device during a competition, when the Local Rules didn’t permit their use, you where automatically disqualified. The same penalty applied for the use of any type of training aid during the round.

Beginning in 2016, the DQ penalty for the use of an artificial device has been lessened in cases where there’s only been a single breach of the Rule. As such, for a player’s first breach of Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Abnormal Use of Equipment) during the round, the penalty is two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. The penalty for any subsequent breach of Rule 14-3 will continue to be disqualification.

Failure to Include a Penalty That You Did Not Know You Incurred

Heralded as a blessing by Tour players throughout the world, a new exception has been introduced to Rule 6-6d (Wrong Score for Hole). Not that Tour players don’t want to be responsible for the correctness of their score cards, but to help protect themselves from video evidence of a Rules infraction, which doesn’t come to light until after they’ve returned their score card.

Essentially, the amendment to the Rule provides that a player is not disqualified for returning a lower score for a hole than actually taken as a result of failing to include penalty strokes that he did not know were incurred before returning the score card.

Instead, the player will incur the penalty under the Rule that was breached and must then add an additional two-stroke penalty for the score card error. In all other cases in which a player returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, the penalty will continue to be disqualification.

While the 2016 Rules of Golf changes may seem a bit underwhelming to some, the introduction of common sense and the lessening of penalties speaks volumes about the direction the Rules are headed. In fact, the governing bodies have now set the stage for the biggest change to the Rules of Golf ever, coming in 2020… or sooner! 

For more information on all of the 2016 changes to the Rules or to purchase a copy of The Rules of Golf and/or The Decisions on the Rules of Golf, visit the Golf Canada website at www.golfcanada.ca.