The new Rules of Golf first revealed back in the spring of 2018 have become effective from January 1st and I’m sure that most golfers are now getting to grips with them, perhaps applying them for the first time in early new year competitions … at least for those of you who find winter golf particularly attractive. There appear to be 20 changes which are receiving the most publicity and promotion, with the R&A posting a short video on their website. It is well worth a watch although you might find the accompanying ditty music somewhat annoying. The R&A have also published their ‘Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf’. This abridged version of the Rules of Golf highlights the reduction from 34 Rules down to a more manageable 24 Rules … although I note it still takes the same 134 pages of explanation that the previous 'pocket edition' rules took to explain.

Rather than reviewing all of the changes I thought I’d take the perspective of a key issue in golf that is particularly close to my heart – Pace of Play – and one that the new rules are said by the R&A to be more aligned to.

Before looking at any individual amendment it strikes me that a one word adjustment is of some significance, that is the change from ‘playing at a good pace’ to ‘playing at a prompt pace’. Prompt – it’s a good word isn’t it? Meaning ‘done without delay; timely; in time’ - words that have been core to the ETIQUS values ever since we launched the brand.

The ‘Etiquette’ section has largely been renamed ‘Player Conduct’ with the line ‘playing at a prompt pace’ featuring in the paragraph on ‘Showing consideration to others’. ‘Prompt’ is in my opinion a stronger word than ‘good’ and is entirely consistent with our own research that most golfers want to play a round of golf promptly - any round in any format – in under 4 hours.

In ‘Rule 5.6b – Prompt Pace of Play’ it defines what the R&A believe are the key elements, of shall we say ‘mindset’, in order to play a round of golf at a prompt pace. Specifically they refer to making a stroke in no more than 40 secs – the shot clock - and recommending the adoption of ‘ready golf’ in stroke play competitions (and in match play by agreement of the players) to save time.

I’m not sure that this important section and specific time related points have been captured well enough in either the publicity I have seen direct from the R&A or indeed the golfing press - an unfortunate oversight in my opinion.

Specifically within the 20 main changes the obvious Rule Change to quantifiably speed up play is the reduction in time in looking for a lost ball from 5 minutes down to 3 minutes.

Being able to leave the flag in whilst putting is an obvious time saver on long putts especially if your playing partners are also some distance away from the hole. However, perhaps largely due to the comments by Bryson Dechambeau, leaving the pin in on shorter putts might be statistically better for holing out as any impact of the ball on the pin slows it down and makes it more likely to drop into the hole. I can see some faffing about when some players choose to leave the pin in whilst others want the pin out. So perhaps the time saved may not be as much as originally intended.

The much discussed drop from knee height instead of shoulder height might save some time if the ball is more likely to remain in the relief area thus avoiding the time to re-drop.

If bunkers are your nemesis being able to drop out under a two shot penalty instead of having to keep going until you’re out – the so called ‘cigar moment’ after the famous ad in the 70s – might again speed up play, providing of course you’re confident enough to chip the ball back over the bunker and not duff it straight back in!

Particularly in the professional game, being allowed to repair the green surface might lead to an over indulgence in ‘green-keeping’ and attention to spike marks by some players, but not being allowed to use a caddie to line up putts on the other hand might compensate on time.

So having reviewed the new rules I still think that ‘playing at a prompt pace’ will rely as much on the mindset and integrity of the golfer as well as the adoption of them.

Enjoy playing under the new Rules of Golf and if your playing partners aren’t playing at a prompt pace be sure to prompt them to do so!

Yours in Golf

Gary Butler