By Nick Miller
Every four years the USGA and the R&A publish additions and changes to the rules of golf, and starting January 1, 2016, there are a few that may significantly impact your game, including key revisions to the USGA Handicap System affecting how official scores can be posted.
The USGA has provided many resources to help understand these, including this great graphic highlighting the four primary changes, but let’s take a look at additional details so you’re fully armed and up-to-date once the calendar turns to 2016.
Rule 14-1b: Anchored club while making a stroke
The most discussed rule change to date, Rule 14-1b prohibits making a stroke with an anchored club, whether it is anchored “directly” or by the use of an “anchor point.”
This new sanction is most directly attributed to putting, where examples of an “anchor point” are holding your arm tightly against your side throughout the entire putting stroke or resting the club anywhere on your body – but the change does apply to every stroke around the course and club in the bag. If a player violates this rule, the result is loss of hole in match play or a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.
It’s also important to note that while this rule change has been commonly applied to “belly putters” or any others that can be anchored into the chest or stomach, it does NOT prohibit the use of any type of equipment. So, you still CAN use these putters, just not anchor them against your body.
A few years ago when this new rule was originally announced, GolfTEC’s Andy Hilts specifically looked at its impact and offered ways to legally use a longer putter under the newly-adopted format. See his thoughts below:
Rule 18-2b: Withdrawal of rule on ball moving after address
Revised in 2012 to assess a one-stroke penalty and replacing of the ball if it moves after address and the movement was deemed to be caused by anything EXCEPT the wind, the USGA has loosed the reigns on this further to only assess a penalty if the facts show the golfer caused the ball to move from his or her actions.
If it’s deemed the golfer did NOT cause the ball to move, then the ball will be played from its new location, with no penalty assessed.
Rule 6-6d: Incorrect scorecard and limited exception to disqualification
Rule 6-6d addresses the recording of a lower score than actually taken as a result of failing to include penalty strokes the player did not know were incurred.
The current rule calls for disqualification if the player signs and turns in a scorecard for any score recorded lower than was actually taken, regardless if it reflects a pure misreporting of strokes or if a penalty was inaccurately assessed (i.e. penalty assessed should be two strokes, but only one was added to the score).
The update to this rule downgrades the sanction for misreporting of penalty strokes in this manner, replacing a disqualification with a two-stroke penalty (in addition to the misreported penalty assessed on the hole) for the scorecard error.
Rule 14-3: Single impermissible use of artificial devices or equipment
Rule 14-3 elaborates on the use of artificial devices and unusual equipment, as well as the abnormal use of equipment.
While using impermissible devices or equipment currently results in disqualification from an initial breach of the rule, Rule 14-3 will change to result in a loss of hole in match play or two-stroke penalty in stroke play before disqualification for breaching the rule a second time.
Common impermissible devices or equipment are items such as training aids or range finders, with slope reading capabilities.
USGA Handicap System Changes
According to a press release from the USGA, there will be six significant changes in the upcoming year that will impact approximately 10 million golfers who hold a Handicap Index throughout the U.S. and 32 licensed associations, federations, and unions around the world.
Here are three of the six key changes, as stated by the USGA, that may affect you the most:
(To see all six, check out the press release from the USGA.)
1. Playing alone and necessary peer review:
“To further support the key System premise of peer review, scores made while playing alone will no longer be acceptable for handicap purposes. This change underscores the importance of providing full and accurate information regarding a player’s potential scoring ability, and the ability of other players to form a reasonable basis for supporting or disputing a posted score. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores).”
Likely the change that will impact the largest number of people, this revision won’t allow you to use your rounds playing alone towards your handicap index. This revision has generated a lot of conversation and has seen mixed reviews from golfers thus far, and Golf Canada has already decided to reject the change to their upcoming handicap revisions:
Our Handicap & Course Rating Committee has voted not to adopt Section 5-1e vi of the USGA Handicap System Manual. (1/2)
— Golf Canada (@TheGolfCanada) November 24, 2015
Scores made while playing alone will continue to count for handicap purposes.(2/2) — Golf Canada (@TheGolfCanada) November 24, 2015
2. Anchoring and posting:
“A new reference concerns a player who anchors the club while making a stroke during a round and fails to apply the appropriate penalty or an adjust hole score (Section 4-2). Since the score would not be reflected as playing under the Rules of Golf, it would be unacceptable for handicap purposes. (Section 5-1: Acceptability of Scores).”
A direct result of the new ban on anchored strokes, this change doesn’t allow scores to be posted if you take an anchored stroke without the necessary penalty.
3. Definition of a tournament score:
“Additional guidance is provided to Committees conducting competitions regarding the definition of a tournament score, placing greater emphasis on “significant events.” The definition excludes fundraising events and regular league play, in favor of designated competitions such as a member/guest or club championship, local amateur tournament or national qualifying and competition. (Section 2: Definitions).”
The bottom line
The rules of golf can often be confusing and hard to digest, considering the almost constitutional language from which they’re written. But, golf is a complex game by nature, and its governing bodies continually assert to portray what they feel is most fair and integrity-maintaining to the roots of a constantly-evolving sport.
So, talk to your local GolfTEC Certified Personal Coach who can help make sense of these upcoming changes, and become prepared on the rules AND your game as you’re working this offseason to come out firing in 2016.