USGA, R&A propose sweeping changes to golf rules in effort to simplify game

MEXICO CITY — PGA Tour players are on board with the proactive stance the game’s leaders have taken to overhaul the Rules of Golf.

On Wednesday, golf’s governing bodies announced potential changes to the rules and definitions that could produce the broadest revision of how the game is played since the first set of rules was published in 1744.

The U.S. Golf Association — which governs the rules of golf for the USA and Mexico — and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club —which governs the rest of the world — are intent to simplify the complicated rule book by reducing the main rules and definitions from 34 to 24.

The governing bodies will allow for a six-month comment period with a proposed implementation date of Jan. 1, 2019.

“Anything that makes the game faster and more fun and less difficult, I’m all for,” Kevin Kisner said at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. “That’s the problem with the game. The game is going to die because it’s too slow, too difficult and there’s too many rules. … Our generation wants instant everything. You can pull out a phone and Goggle anything, but you have to pull out a rule book that’s got 700 pages to figure out what rule infraction you broke.

Among the changes:

  • A player will not receive a penalty if the ball (or ball marker) accidentally moves on the putting green or in search of a ball.
  • Players can leave the flagstick in the hole while putting.
  • Players may repair spike marks or other damage, including foot prints, on the green with no penalty.
  • Caddies will no longer be able to line up a player. This will be a big change on the LPGA tour, where many players have their caddies line them up before stepping away just before the player makes a swing.
  • Players who have trouble in bunkers could get relief. If you want, you can remove your ball from a bunker (and place it in the fairway or rough behind the bunker, depending on where the bunker is) and accept a two-stroke penalty.
  • A new procedure for how to drop a ball in a relief area.
  • Time searching for a lost ball would go from five minutes to three.
  • There’s a proposal calling for players to take no more than 40 seconds to play their shot.

Players at the tournament in Mexico voiced approval for many of the changes and were happy to see the governing bodies being proactive in bringing the game closer to the 21st century.

“It all just seemed to get away from the simple game that it once started out to be,” Adam Scott said. “Lots of things have changed over time and I just don’t think we moved the rules quickly enough as the game changed and decisions became a big part of this and having to ask about intent and all these kind of things. It’s difficult. There’s competition golf and then there’s social golf, and I think some common sense should be applied to both.”

Some of the proposed changes make perfect sense, Brandt Snedeker said.

“It’s common sense, really, like a ball (accidentally) moving on a green or getting a penalty stroke when the ball hits your caddie.” he said. “Some of them have too much gray area, like grounding a club in a bunker. But overall I like what they are doing.

“But it’s funny. I have to go back to school now to learn all of them.”

William McGirt was split on the changes.

“I think half the changes make sense and the other half need more thought, more clarification,” he said. “I think the half that makes sense … it’s a good thing not to allow the caddies to line you up on every shot. Allowing the caddies to mark the ball on the green and mark it if we’re lagging behind is a good thing. I’m all for the changes that will speed up play.”

But one of the changes, McGirt said, would actually slow up the game.

“Tapping down spike marks I think is going to lead to slower play. There are some guys that will walk a 40-footer and tap every single one of them down,” he said. “There are some things that are a little unclear right now. It’s still a little bit unclear where you can ground your club in the bunker but you can’t ground it for testing. So if I lean on it is that considered testing? …

“I think they are on a good track here. But there is a lot of discussion to be done in the next two years to get some more clarity.”

The public is encouraged to review the proposed changes and submit comment via or Both organizations will accept information through Aug. 31.