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  • Alistair Tait

Did the Rules of Golf really need to be rewritten?

As Rules of Golf referees from across the world gather in St Andrews for the annual Level 3 Tournament Administrators and Referee Seminar maybe they can reflect on one simple question: did the Rules of Golf need to be completely rewritten?

I don’t think so.

We’re 13 months into the new Rules of Golf published on 1 January 2019. The previous 34 were distilled down to 24 in what was called the biggest change to the laws since the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers laid down the original 13 in 1744.

Quite why the entire rule book had to be rewritten is still beyond me.

I’m not alone.

European Tour chief referee John Paramor agrees.

The Association of Golf Writers gave Paramor its Outstanding Services to Golf Award during the 2018 Open Championship. Arguably no tournament official knows more about the rules than JP, so it pays to listen when he speaks.

“I didn’t think there was much wrong with the old rules,” Paramor said.

I agree. That’s not to say I disagree with some of the changes.

Putting with the flagstick in the hole makes perfect sense, and chimes with what had been happening for years. Many British clubs operated an unofficial local rule allowing members to putt with the flag in during winter months to reduce footprints around the hole.

I agree with the three-minute rule to look for a lost ball, which obviously speeds up play.

No penalty for accidentally moving your ball is fine.

Stopping caddies lining players up was overdue, albeit it took a few hiccups before this rule was clarified. Alignment is integral to the game.

Extending the embedded ball rule through the green, sorry “the general area,” makes sense.

Repairing spike marks sits well with me too.

I’m fine with grounding a club and removing loose impediments in a hazard – oops, “penalty area.”

I disagree with no penalty for a double hit. Such gaffes are often the result of nerves, and controlling those should be part and parcel of golf.

I don’t like the drop from knee height rule. I’d have preferred the rule to read anywhere from shoulder to knee height.

Every time I hear the words “penalty area” I think of a game of football. Nothing wrong with hazard.

The 40 second per shot recommendation doesn’t cut it. Otherwise professional tours wouldn’t be scrambling to speed up the game. I’d prefer a maximum time in professional and elite amateur golf, after which players automatically receive a one-shot penalty. Exceptions could have been built in to mitigate against certain circumstances.

You’ll never hear me use the expressions “tied match” or “putt to tie the hole.” Nothing wrong with “halved” or “halve,” terms that have stood for centuries. And whoever decided to eliminate “dormie” from the Rules of Golf” should be be forced to play six-hour rounds in torrential rain for evermore.

That’s my take on the changes a year on. However, my biggest beef is why the rules had to be completely rewritten. Every new rule change could have been incorporated into the existing 34.

The new rule book hasn’t made the Rules of Golf simpler, which was one of the original aims. The people I play with still ask me for rulings, as they did when there were 34. Moreover, most tour professionals don’t seem any wiser than they were on the 31st January 2018.

Maybe we should have just gone back to the original 13.

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