Golf: Radical plans to speed up and simplify golf

British golfer Ian Poulter (above) welcomed the rule review in a series of tweets.
British golfer Ian Poulter (above) welcomed the rule review in a series of tweets.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Golf's rule-makers unveiled on Wednesday (March 1) a radical set of proposals they hope will simplify and speed up the game, with Tiger Woods quick to give his high-profile backing.

The R&A and United States Golf Association (USGA) want to eliminate many penalties, including for accidentally moving your ball marker on the green, and reduce the total number of rules from 34 to 24.

The R&A is seeking feedback on the plans until the end of August, with any amendments to be made before the new rules come into effect from Jan 1, 2019.

"We are really about modernising the rules of golf and, in very simple terms, trying to make them easier to understand and apply," said David Rickman, the R&A's executive director of governance.

"The concern was that, over time and despite our best efforts, the rules have grown in length and complexity and therefore have become confusing and intimidating."

The proposals include cutting the search time for lost balls from five minutes to three and allowing players to drop a ball from any height when taking relief, rather than shoulder-height as is the case now.

Former world number one Woods praised the move, tweeting: "Lots of thought and hard work by USGA and RandA to modernise our rules. Great work to benefit the game."

Britain's Ian Poulter also backed the plans, but called on the game's governing bodies to also ban detailed maps of greens that players are allowed to consult prior to putting.

"The tour greens books should be banned," Poulter said on Twitter. "The art of putting has been lost. If you can't read a green that's your fault."

One idea that may provoke heated debate - especially on the LPGA Tour, where it is most prevalent - is forbidding caddies to help players line up putts.

"Even though it may be unpopular in some parts of the game, a reinforcement of player skill and judgment was important," Rickman told Britain's Press Association.

Other measures include no longer obliging professionals to repair spike marks made by their shoes and scrapping the rule that penalises players who are struck by their own ball.

The end of the shoulder-height ball drop would mean no repeat of the scene at last year's US PGA Championship when Jordan Spieth endured a 10-minute delay.

"That took longer because of the intricacy involved and the ability for players to be more precise means this can be sped up," Rickman added.

"The dropping process can be quite lengthy. You can have a very small dropping area and every time you miss it, that drop doesn't count and you need to re-drop if it rolls to any of nine specific places."

Video reviews will still be used to determine if rules have been breached, but not to "second-guess" players who need to estimate where a ball may have entered or last crossed a hazard.

"We expect players to use all reasonable judgment and in those circumstances, if that proves to be wrong, as long as they acted reasonably we would not be seeking to punish based on later evidence," Rickman said.