On March 1, the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient—which together govern the game of golf worldwide—proposed a major modernization of the rules. The groups are now collecting feedback from players before the new rules are implemented in 2019.
Slight revisions to golfing rules aren’t uncommon. In fact, the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient usually release small updates on a quadrennial basis, but major changes have only occurred a couple of times since the rules were first marked down in 1744.
However, recognizing that these small updates had made the rules too complicated and confusing, USGA and R&A decided it was time to overhaul and modernize them in order to better fit the needs of professional and recreational players around the world.
About five years ago, they formed committees and started the painstaking process of reviewing the 34 rules that currently exist, pulling them apart, and rebuilding them while still preserving the essence of the game.
“We wanted to modernize the language and the delivery so that the rules of golf would be easier to understand and apply for all golfers,” said Janeen Driscoll, USGA’s director of public relations.
On March 1, the associations released the proposed changes on their websites and across social media. These changes, which mark the largest overhaul since 1984, pare the rules down to 24—and include everything from shortening the time allowed to search for a ball to eliminating the penalty for hitting the flagstick in the hole.
Now, USGA and R&A are asking for feedback through August 31. Once those comments are reviewed, the groups hope to finalize the new rules by January 2019. In just the first week of the feedback period, USGA received around 7,500 emails and survey responses, the majority of which have been “extremely favorable,” Driscoll said.
“Golf is enjoyed by just about 24 million golfers across the United States and even more globally, and it’s our desire to make sure that they’re understood,” Driscoll said. “But more importantly, a key component of this entire project was to be able to leverage technology to be able to distribute and to improve the usability of the rules wherever golfers are worldwide.”
By modernizing the language of the rules, USGA and R&A will be able to translate them into more than 30 languages worldwide—allowing for increased accessibility through its Rules of Golf app.
In addition, while Driscoll said that growing the game wasn’t the main goal of these proposed rules changes, it certainly sees it as a positive byproduct.
“We know how many people are using their phones and actually rules of golf is available via a mobile app now, and we’re just seeing increased use of that mobile app and people are interacting with the rules through their mobile devices, so it just stands to reason that we would invest our time and our energy towards making them more globally accessible in that fashion,” she said.