The governing bodies wanted feedback. Boy, did they get feedback.
In March, as part of their ongoing effort to simplify the Rules of Golf, the USGA and R&A put forth a preview of proposed revisions to those rules, along with a request for input from golfers around the world.
That six-month feedback period is now over, and this much is clear: the golf-loving public had a lot to say.
All told, more than 22,000 golfers from 102 countries offered their two-cents on the proposed rules changes. Most of their feedback came through an online survey, conducted jointly by the governing bodies. But there were also phone calls, letters, texts and tweets, as well as input from golfers who played under the proposed new rules in test-run tournaments held by regional golf associations.
"The bottom line is we couldn't have been more pleased with the level of engagement," said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of Rules and Amateur Status. "For us, it is further evidence of how many people around the world share a passion for the game and are eager to be part of this process."
It's a process, all right.
The proposed changes, which represent the most ambitious rules overhaul in more than three decades, are designed to make the rules easier to comprehend and less prone to controversy, all the while accounting for cultural differences and speeding up the pace of play. They call not only for more than 100 modifications to existing rules and sub-rules but also for more simplified language and a slimmed down rulebook, trimmed from 34 core rules to 24.
They are, in short, wide ranging. One of the new rules would reduce the time allotted to locate a lost ball from five minutes to three. Another would free golfers to fix spike marks and other infelicities on the green that they are currently forbidden to repair. Still another would allow players to drop a ball outside a bunker, at a cost of two penalty shots. (You can read the full list of the proposed changes here.)
Though Pagel said it was too early to provide a detailed account of the public feedback, he said that much of the input touched on proposed changes focused on the putting green (fixing spike marks, for instance, or allowing putting with the flagstick left in the hole). There was also ample interest in rules changes related to penalty areas (such as eliminating the penalty for moving loose impediments), and oodles of feedback on new dropping procedures.
Now comes the hard work of sifting through the feedback. Countless hours, Pagel said, will be spent on that, to say nothing of myriad committee meetings and discussions, all leading up to the spring of 2018, when the new rules are finalized.
At that point, the governing bodies will get busy getting the word out through a range of public education programs designed to reach golfers around the world.
Then, on Jan. 1, 2019, the new rules will take effect.
"There's still a lot of work to do," Pagel said. "This process has kept a number of us busy and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But that's ok. We love it, and we're as excited about the next steps as everyone else seems to be."