Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The NEW Decisions are Here!

            At long last, the Revisions to the Decisions on the Rules of Golf are in!  And boy, there are some doozies…  Today is a very exciting day for a Rules geek like myself, and while some of these changes seem small, maybe even nit-picky, every change is important to correctly applying the Rules.  There are only 3 new Decisions this year, but two of them have a significant effect on certain rulings.  There are 59 revised Decisions, most of which have very little impact and have been only slightly modified for clarification purposes, and then there are 24 withdrawn Decisions along with one lone renumbered Decision.

The Newbies
            The first new Decision, 14-3/18, permits the player to access weather reports through an app or internet browser on a “multi-functional device” (ok, we’re talking about smart-phones).  This takes us one step closer to getting smart-phones the green light as distance measuring devices.  (The next step comes later).  Previously there was a lot of debate about whether “general” weather information constituted a breach of the Rules with regards to learning about temperature or wind-speeds, humidity or any other meteorological factor that could influence the player, but now the prohibition is officially limited to exact information.  The kind of information that can only be gathered by a thermometer an anemometer or other specific meteorological tool.
            If you call the second new Decision the “Tiger Rule” I will block you on Twitter and everywhere else.  New Decision 18/4, without going into the entire text, basically states that if you can’t tell the ball moved with the naked eye it didn’t move (Also see the joint USGA and R&A statement about the Use of Video in Administering the Rules).  The masses have already started chirping that this is the “Tiger Rule” and it only came into play because of the recent penalty to Tiger Woods whose ball moved while removing loose impediments and it was only discernible through video evidence.  The use of video has been reviewed for a long time and I can guarantee this specific Decision was reviewed and discussed prior to the Tiger Woods incident.  You can look back to the 2012 U.S. Senior Open with Corey Pavin who was penalized for a very similar indiscernible movement and to any number of other events where player’s incurred penalties for movement they didn’t know had occurred.
            There’s a catch though… The new Decision leaves room for the Committee to decide that the movement WAS in fact discernible to the naked eye and therefore the penalty for playing from a wrong place (ball at rest moved then not replaced) should be applied.  I don’t want to be on that Committee any time soon…
            The last new Decision doesn’t affect our current interpretation of the Rules because it was basically taken out of another Decision.  New Decision 18-2b/1 (replacing the former 18-2b/1 which has been nixed) talks about the effects of gravity and that gravity is not an agency to be considered when applying the no longer new Exception to Rule 18-2b.  This was taken out of Decision 18-2b/11 and given a prominent place at the front of the 18-2b Decisions and further clarifies what we already had to work with.  Just as before, in order to determine that the player did not cause the ball to move with virtual certainty, it must be known or virtually certain that some “observable factor” DID cause the ball to move.

The Revisions
            There were a lot of revisions, most of them very minor (i.e. Decision 23/13 was changed from “Clod” of earth to “Lump” of earth), but several themes arose out of the clarifications and there were actually some revisions that reversed previous rulings.
            The first theme was to clarify in specific Decisions that players need to be aware they are breaching a Rule in order for there to be an agreement to waive the Rules.  I think a clear example of this is the revised 2-1/4: Two Holes Purposely Omitted in Match.  Currently, if two players purposely omit 2 holes of their stipulated round during a match, they are both disqualified.  Come 1/1/2014, the Decision is modified so that the players would only be disqualified if they were aware that omitting holes was a breach of Rule 2-1.  This is a relatively significant change in the world of “Rules Theory” where ignorance is very rarely bliss but it is consistent with the thread that in order to be waiving the Rules, you have to know the Rules first.
            The second theme is clarity.  The words “amended for clarity” or “expanded for clarity” are rampant (in a good way) throughout the Amendments to the Decisions.  This is why we have a Decision that talks about a Lump rather than a Clod of earth.  But there are also some significant developments in clarity in these changes.  Decision 25-2/0.5 now has an illustration to explain when a ball is embedded. Decisions 23-1/6.5 clarifies that the removing loose impediments from a spot where the ball is to be placed is ok specifically through the green and not in hazards.  We also see several changes where the Decision refers to a different Decision to get the facts.  They have added the facts back into the question so that you don’t have to flip back and forth to understand the answer.  And another type of clarification is additional references.  There are several revised Decisions that have added reference to specific Exceptions in order to add clarity.  The last kind of clarity comes with detail.  The most notable added detail is in the new 27-2a/1.5 which is a clarity Decision in and of itself.  Now it puts a specific limit of approximately 50 yards that a player can go forward before he is no longer able to play a provisional ball (provided the player is not going forward for a different purpose such as getting a new club or ball).
            There are some notable reversals of fortune in the Amendments as well.  The most notable is Decision 14-3/4 which currently prohibits the use of a compass.  Come 1/1/2014 that Decisions will specifically allow the use of a compass.  This is the second step in getting smart-phones into the “usable as DMD” category and was formerly the largest hurdle.  Another reversal of fortune comes with regards to tree roots.  Decision 33-8/8 currently prohibits making a Local Rule providing relief from exposed tree roots as GUR.  Come 1/1/2014, if the ball lies in a closely mown area, the Committee may make a Local Rule treating interfering roots as GUR.
            There are also some notable “recommendations” that come through the Amendments.  The new 33-1/2 now notes that canceling a round when reducing the number of holes in a stroke play competition, is not recommended and is highly undesirable (remember Kapalua?).  The new 33-8/16 also states it is not recommended to implement a Local Rule making all stakes on the course immovable obstructions.  The new 4-1/1 recommends that while the new Groove Condition is being more widely implemented starting in 2014, it is still only recommended for competitions with expert players.

The Rest
            There are 24 withdrawn Decisions which all tend to follow the theme of redundancy.  These removed Decisions were all either restating the Rule or were already stated in another Decision.  For example, 33-8/3 specifically disallowed play of a second ball in match play.  Well, if you read the Rules we all know you can’t play a second ball in match play AND there is still a specific Decision that covers that (3-3/9).
            One thing that was slightly disappointing about today’s announcement was that there was no link to the new Decisions text available from the News link.  We had to find it through several links and pathways.  I, however, will link them for you HERE.  ENJOY!

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