When the clock chimed midnight on New Year’s Eve, it didn’t just bring in a new year. It also brought sweeping new changes to the world of golf, the biggest revisions in the game’s rules in at least a century. The United States Golf Association cites 31 major rule changes.
How will those changes affect you? Depends on how you play the game now.
Judge Smails, Al Czervik and Danny Noonan have agreed to play another round of golf together at Bushwood Country Club. The pompous Smails is a longtime member of Bushwood and prides himself on playing by the official rules of the game—although, like many golfers, he’s been observed giving himself an illegal break from time to time.
Czervik is an uncouth lout who plays by his own set of rules, as do a good percentage of golfers just out for exercise and fun.
Noonan is a young man who aspires to be a competitive player and has studied the new changes closely. How might this match play out?
Ball moved during search
On the first hole, Czervik hits his ball into the thick rough, and the three begin searching for it.
“Found it!” Czervik cries. “I stepped right on it.”
As he begins to pick it up and replace it in a better lie, the judge steps in.
“You can’t do that. It’s a one-stroke penalty for accidentally stepping on your ball during a search.”
“Not anymore, Judge Smails,” Danny says. “Al can replace it in the original spot. No penalty.”
“Are you sure?” Smails says, glaring at Danny.
“Positive. It’s in the new rule book.”
Smails harrumphs and the game continues.
No penalty for moving a ball on the putting green
On the second hole, Czervik is preparing to hit a twenty-foot putt. One of his practice strokes contacts his ball and knocks it a few inches sideways.
“That’s a stroke!” Smails yells. “Put your ball back where it was and take a one stroke penalty, sir!”
“That wasn’t a stroke,” Czervik bristles. “That was an accident.”
“He’s right, Judge,” Danny says. “Under the new rules, if you move your ball accidentally on the green, you just put it back where it was. No penalty.”
The judge fumes, but says nothing.
Repairing damage on putting green
On the third green, Czervik is lining up another putt when he notices a couple of protruding tufts of grass, pulled up by the shoes of some previous players. He presses them down with his putter and then prepares to putt.
“A flagrant violation!” Smails bellows. “Even you, sir, should know that you cannot tap down spike marks on the green. Not at Bushwood, not anywhere!”
“Starting this year, you can,” Danny says. “It’s one of the rule changes.”
Smails glowers at Danny, then mutters under his breath, “I guess anything goes now…”
The ball must be played as it lies
On the fourth hole, the Judge’s drive ends up in an un-replaced divot in the middle of the fairway. He rakes it out of the divot and prepares to hit his next shot when Danny says, “You can’t do that, Judge Smails.”
“I always do that. You can’t expect a man to hit a shot out of a divot hole in the fairway. It’s…it’s unfair!”
“They didn’t change that rule, sir.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because the rules-makers still think you should play the ball as it lies.”
“Well, the rules-makers are clearly nincompoops!”
Ball in motion accidentally deflected
On the fifth hole, Czervik is chipping from just off the green and hits a shank that goes well right of his target and hits his own golf bag.
“Two stroke penalty!” Smails cries.
“No penalty this year,” Danny corrects him. “It was accidental.”
“Oh, I see how this is going to be,” the judge says, rolling his eyes.
On the sixth hole, the judge faces a difficult downhill chip to a pin that is cut near the edge of the green, with a creek just ten yards beyond. He orders his caddie to stand on the other side of the hole and lay his golf bag down on the fringe of the green, directly behind the hole. He skulls his chip and it goes rocketing toward the water, but hits his golf bag and bounces back onto the green.
“Pretty lucky, eh, Danny?” Smails says, arching his eyebrows.
“Not really, sir. That’s a two-stroke penalty.”
“What!” the judge howls. “But Czervik did the same thing on the last hole!”
“Not intentionally. There’s a distinction in the new rule book.”
“I’d like to throw that new rule book in the creek.”
“They’re just trying to simplify and speed up the game.”
“Sure, for hackers like Czervik!”
“You might need a little help yourself, Smails,” Czervik says.
Procedure for dropping and playing a ball from a relief area
On the seventh hole, Smails hooks his drive and finds his ball under a few inches of water in a pond. He extracts the ball and, cursing under his breath, is preparing to take his penalty drop in the rough from shoulder height when Danny stops him.
“You don’t have to drop it from shoulder height anymore, sir. You can drop it from knee height now.”
The judge bends his knees a bit and drops the ball into a reasonably good lie.
“I like that change,” he admits.
Ball played from green hits unattended flagstick in hole
On the eighth hole, the judge putts from the fringe and leaves his ball a few inches short of the cup. He tells his caddy to walk to the hole and pull out the flagstick so he can tap in his putt.
“You don’t have to do that anymore, Judge,” Danny says. “You can leave the flagstick in. No penalty now for hitting the pin when you’re putting from anywhere on the green.”
“Well,” Smails chortles as he taps his ball into the hole. “It’s about time.”
Local rule: balls lost or out of bounds
On the ninth tee, Judge Smails hits a vicious slice that clears the trees and hits a car in the parking lot, setting off the car alarm.
“I hope that was your Mercedes,” Czervik says to Smails.
The judge glares at Czervik and says, “I guess I’ll have to tee up another ball.”
“No, sir,” Danny tells him. “Now, all you have to do is estimate the point where your ball went out of bounds, walk from that point sideways to the edge of the fairway and drop a ball within two club lengths, no closer to the hole.”
“How many penalty strokes for that?”
“Two. You’ll be lying three, but you’ll be in the fairway and you don’t have to risk slicing another one out of bounds.”
“I never slice.”
“You just did, genius,” Czervik says.
Caddie standing behind a player to help line the player up
On the ninth green, Czervik is again facing a mid-range putt, and asks his caddie to stand behind him and let him know if his putter is lined up correctly.
“Sorry, Mr. Czervik,” Danny says. “You can’t do that anymore. The caddie can’t be on your line when you start to take your stance to putt or hit a full shot.”
“Ha!” Smails says. “Line up your own shot, Czervik!”
Use and replacement of clubs damaged during round
Czervik misses the putt, misses the next one, and in frustration bends the shaft of his putter over his knee. Then he uses the putter to tap his ball into the hole.
“Can’t do that! Can’t do that!” Smails yells. “It’s against the rules to make a stroke with a club you damaged in anger!”
“Not anymore,” Danny says. “He can keep using it.”
“But, that’s preposterous!” the judge sputters. “He could end up playing with a whole bag of bent clubs!”
“Do you really think it would make any difference?” Danny says.
“Hey! I heard that!” Czervik says.