Monday, November 16, 2009

The USGA released revisions to the "Decisions on the Rules of Golf" on Monday which will take effect on Jan. 1. The 2010-2011 edition will include 28 new Decisions, 51 revisions and one withdrawn Decision. USGA Rules committee chairman Jim Bunch described the number of changes as "fairly typical" for the two-year cycle during which revisions to the Decisions are made. (The Rules of Golf are revised every four years).While the Rules of Golf is the svelte little book that fits handily into the top pocket of your golf bag, the "Decisions on the Rules of Golf" is a manifesto of more than 1,200 entries, which deal with the various situations that the Rules do not specifically cover. Bunch doesn't believe that any of next year's changes qualify as "earth-shattering news," but instead described the process as fine-tuning.One area that the USGA covers in the new edition is Decisions surrounding raking the bunker. One such Decision was actually foreshadowed last March, when Stewart Cink was disqualified from the Zurich Classic. Cink unknowingly incurred a penalty for "testing the condition of a bunker" in a bizarre sequence of events. After hitting a drive near a bunker, he was forced to take a stance in the bunker to hit the shot. After he hit his shot, his caddie raked the bunker. The problem? Cink's shot landed in a greenside bunker. Because his caddie had raked a similar bunker, Cink had violated the Rule against testing the conditions of a bunker.  He was disqualified after signing his scorecard. The new Decision reflects the position that the USGA took almost immediately after the tournament: While the Rule was interpreted correctly as written at the time, such an action should not be considered a violation of the Rules.The process for amending the Decisions (as with the Rules themselves) is a tag-team effort between the USGA and the Royal and Ancient. Proposed changes are presented to both the USGA Rules committee and the R&A Rules committee, where they are debated separately and together in a joint Rules committee."The people on the committee are all very well versed on the Rules, so you'd think the decisions would be easy," Bunch said. "But we have some very serious debates about which way the Rules should go." Once the joint Rules committee has decided it wants to pursue a change, it sends the proposal to the executive committee of the USGA and the R&A General committee. On top of the volunteer committee members, most of the major bodies of the game (including the PGA, LPGA, Nationwide Tour and NCAA) have a seat on the USGA committee, ensuring that a variety of voices are heard. If both the USGA and the R&A agree that a change or addition is in order, only then will it become an official Rule or Decision.Though most proposed changes arise from the questions of Rules officials, recreational players have a place in the process. Bunch estimated that about 20,000 people call the USGA every year looking for help with a Rules-related query. "Some of the answers are just quick interpretations right from the Rules, but if USGA staff come to us and say, ‘We keep getting this question over and over again,' then the committee can make a change or put out a guideline," Bunch said.The USGA and The R&A also issued a joint statement dealing with electronic devices, specifically rangefinders that have the ability to measure more than just distance (including slope, temperature and wind speed). The USGA and R&A reaffirmed their early decision that such equipment can only be used to measure distance, and that any other measurement would be in violation of the Rules.For a complete look at the Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf, check out usga.org.

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