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A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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Howard J. Meditz is the author of "Get a Grip on the 2019 Rules of Golf," available on Amazon. He has been a referee for the United States Golf Association, the Metropolitan Golf Association, the Woman’s Metropolitan Golf Association, the Westchester Golf Association, and the American Junior Golf Association. He is a member of the Metropolitan Golf Association’s Rules and Competitions Committee and has been awarded “the highest level of rating” in knowledge of the Rules of Golf by the PGA of America and the USGA, and holds their “Expert” Rules Certification for the 2019 Rules of Golf. He writes a regular rules column for the Connecticut State Golf Association’s "CSGA Links" magazine, is a Featured Writer for GolfWRX.com, and a member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. He is also the author of "How to Love the Rules of Golf." He can be reached at [email protected]

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Mad-Mex

    Jun 23, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    How about just PLACING the ball ? Would also speed up play!

  2. logan

    Jun 22, 2019 at 1:53 am

    zero chance those are mens pants

  3. TobyFark McGeezax

    Jun 21, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Horribly boring article. No wonder golf is dying.

  4. CrashTestDummy

    Jun 21, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Can’t stand the new drop rule. They should amend it to where you can’t drop the ball lower than your knee, but allow you to drop it from any height above that legally. There is no advantage from dropping it higher. The penalties on players dropping it the old way was ridiculous.

    • 15th Club

      Jun 22, 2019 at 8:11 am

      You clearly don’t understand why the Rule was changed. The height of a drop was mandatorily lowered, so that dropped balls are less likely to bounce out of the relief area upon hitting the ground. Or to plug, when dropped in a bunker.

      And the USGA took the time to explain this Rule to Dummy’s like you, HERE:

      https://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/rules-hub/rules-modernization/major-changes/new-procedure-for-dropping-a-ball.html

      • Tiger Noods

        Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 am

        That’s completely bogus, because as you likely recall, the USGA was originally going to be ok with “dropping” from 1 inch.

        Either the drop should be able to finish its drop within the defined relief area, or the rule should be that the ball may be PLACED instead of dropped.

        The 12″ arbitrary limit / knee height was borne of people saying that a one inch drop amounted to placing. Well, it’s one or another. I’m happy that you could place after a penalty, but it’s just flatly dumb to penalizing a ball dropped from higher than the required amount. And there’s no “dummy” explanation; they backtracked and still got it wrong.

        Placing, or a drop from a MINIMUM height. Dropping from a height above a maximum of knee height will go away as soon as the USGA has enough time to wipe the egg off their faces.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft review and a big golf week for me!

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This week is a big golf week — playing in a member invitational! Got the bag sorted out and there are 14 clubs that I am going to live or die on the course with. I have been hitting the new VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft and am very impressed. A great counterbalanced option with a mid-low launch and low spin.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book review: The Golf Lover’s Guide To England

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There is this notion in the British isles, completely foreign to America, that states that visitors shall have access to all but a smallish passel of private clubs. In abject contrast, the finest clubs of the USA do their level best to keep their gates closed to both the riff and the raff, neither of which is nearly as detrimental to their continuity as some fearful members might believe. In this era of the database, would it be that hard to allow a visitor access once in her/his/their lifetime to Cypress Point, or Friar’s Head, or Prairie Dunes? Into the database their GHIN number would go, and if said individual were fortunate enough to win the lottery for a coveted golden ticket, err, tee time, that would be it for all time. I digress, however, as that rant is not the purpose of this book review.

The Golf Lover’s Guide To England, written and compiled by Michael Whitehead, lists 33 elite golf clubs across that country, divided into four regions, which are further divided into nine districts. Each of these clubs would be identified as unlikely in the USA, but is certainly accessible in England. The short story is: this nearly-pocket-sized compendium should accompany any traveler of golfing purpose, as it is invaluable for understanding the ins and outs of making contact, locating courses, and learning of their nature and history. The long story goes quite a bit deeper.

Michael Whitehead has the forethought to organize his works (Scotland was his first TGLGT volume) in meticulous fashion. The volume opens with a colorful map of the targeted country, complete with numbered flags to identify each of the courses reviewed within. The entire book explodes with wondrous colors, both in page background and course photography, and heightens the sensory experience of its study.

A delightful touch is the location of the Acknowledgements section in the front of the book. Typically relegated to one of the final pages that we skip past, before closing the cover, this is not the case here. Whitehead recognizes the invaluable assistance of his supporting cast, and situates them front and center. Good for you, Mr. Whitehead.

A brief history of the game in England is followed by the first of the four (North, Midlands & East Anglia, South East, South West) regions. The most populous of these is the South East, and we will use it to break down the districts. Five courses occupy an unnamed, scattered district. Five more are situated in the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt, and four of those sites offer 36 holes on property. A final three fit into the Kent Coast district, and one of them has 27 holes within its confines. Thus it goes throughout the other three regions, albeit at a less-frenetic pace.

Moving along, each of the 33 seminal courses is granted six pages for description and assessment. Whitehead assigns color-coded price guides to each course, ranging from the up-to-49-British-Pounds entry point to the over-200-British-Pounds stratum. He also offers seasonal stratification, identifying the High (expensive) season, the Shoulder (mid-range) seasons, and the Low (economic) season. To facilitate contact with the club, Whitehead does his level best to provide online, email, and telephone booking options for each of the clubs. He adds in area courses of interest, in case the reader/traveler is confined to a specific locale. What more could one need, in advance of the golf trip of a lifetime?

For starters, one might wish to know a bit more about the course. Mr. Whitehead goes into the distances of teeing grounds, the need (or not) for a handicap certificate, the availability of caddies and rentals (push cart, electric push cart, clubs and motorized carts), the dress code, and (if any) tee time restrictions. In other words, any botched planning falls squarely on the shoulders of the golfer. Michael Whitehead has led the horse to the trough, filled it with water, and essentially dunked the equine mouth in the aqueous substance.

I’ve a friend who hates to know anything about a course he has yet to play. Attempt to mention any facet of the course and his response is a loud and grating LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, ad infinitum or until you cease your attempt at enlightenment. For the rest of us sane travelers, a bit of back story about the property, the architect, and the laying out of the course adds to the anticipation. As an architecture aficionado, I base the majority of my trips around the works of the golden-age architects, here in the USA. If afforded the opportunity to travel to England, I would seek out the works of Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, Herbert Fowler, and their contemporaries. Thankfully, all of this information is listed in Whitehead’s thorough volume.

The old carpenter’s motto of measure twice and cut once can certainly be applied when considering a purchase of this volume. Abandon its opportunity and you risk a return trip to the lumber yard, at considerable expense. Take advantage of what it has to offer, and your trip’s chances at success are doubled at the very least.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: What’s your target score?

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Without a target score, you are just wandering in the field like a feather in the wind. The North Star for your mindset starts with a target score!

 

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