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THE R&A ANNOUNCEMENT
March 1, 2017
MIKE WOODCOCK: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's teleconference. As you know, there's been a very important announcement made about the rules of golf today, and we thank you. We know we have people from different parts of the world joining us for today's call, and we very much appreciate your interest.
As you know, my name is Mike Woodcock, and I'm the head of corporate communications at the R&A, and I'm joined by my colleague Jeanine Driscoll, the director of public relations at the USGA, on today's call.
Our speakers today are Thomas Pagel, senior director of rules and amateur status at the USGA, and David Rickman, executive director of governance and chief of staff at the R&A.
I'll ask Thomas to give a few opening remarks about today's announcement, please.
THOMAS PAGEL: Thank you, Mike, and also thank you to everyone on the call. Appreciate you taking the time.
As Mike said, this is a big day for the rules of golf, and we're certainly excited to be able to share and preview all the proposed rules of golf for 2019.
Before we jump into the specifics and take questions, I did think that it would be‑‑ we should take an opportunity to review the process to review how we got to where we are, where we are today, and what the future looks like with respect to these proposed changes.
This process began about five years ago with the USGA and the R&A coming together and taking a look at the rules and recognising that, whether it be through watching outcomes, receiving queries at our respective offices, or just our standard review process, there was a recognition that the rules of golf had become complex, were written in a fairly dense form, and were not very easily understood by many golfers throughout the world.
So our two organisations came together with an objective to make the rules easier to understand and easier to apply for all golfers throughout the world, and I will underscore all golfers. That's very important as part of this initiative, and as we looked at that, we didn't just look at the outcomes. We've also addressed the delivery of the rules and how the rules are written, presenting them now in a more modern form, using plain language and language that can be easily translated and understood, again, across the world, and more generally just bringing the rules up to date to meet the needs of the game today globally.
Now, today is an important day because we're previewing the proposed rules, and moving forward, we are now entering a period of feedback and evaluation, where for the next six months we're going to be inviting golfers from all levels of the game from throughout the world to offer their feedback. We encourage them to review the resources available on our respective websites. We encourage them to go out and play under the proposed rules, and we certainly encourage them to reach out to us and let us know what they think; let us know what works and doesn't work and why.
So with that, now I'll hand it to David to make a couple of opening remarks, as well.
DAVID RICKMAN: Thank you, Thomas. This is David Rickman from the R&A. I would certainly reaffirm all that Thomas has said. The feedback and evaluation process is important, particularly given the size and scale of the changes that are being proposed. This obviously will take some time for everybody to look at and to consider properly.
I think another just important point for me to make is to say that the evaluation and feedback forms are available in seven languages, and therefore we hope that that will facilitate golfers from around the world to give us their views on the various proposals being made.
Beyond that, we've obviously issued our respective press releases. We have a huge amount of materials online at the respective websites. So I think the best thing to do now is to turn it over to yourselves, and Thomas and I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Q. Good to hear all the news this morning. Thomas, I heard you say on The Golf Channel that so far, you haven't come up with a solution to modifying the stroke‑and‑distance rule, and as we all know, anybody who plays recreational golf knows that that's probably one of the most unobserved rules in golf, and I'm wondering just a couple of thoughts here. Why would it be so difficult to apply a red stake type rule in an out‑of‑bounds situation where you have a pretty clearly defined boundary line, or even in a lot of cases in a clearly defined tree line, where a lot of courses even now have red stakes in those situations?
THOMAS PAGEL: Great question there. First of all, I am going to take this opportunity just to, again, reference all the materials that are available at USGA.org/rules as well as R&A.org, and one of the resources available is a paper that basically outlines all of the alternatives that we've considered.
With respect to your question about boundaries, you're absolutely right that in many cases it's very easy to identify margins of boundaries. However, if you were to simply just put a red line down the boundary or offer lateral relief for a boundary in all instances, you could encounter some situations where really you have safety concerns; you could have a golf course that's lined by houses and now all of a sudden people are hitting towards somebody's backyard. You could have situations where you now call into question the integrity of the golf ball from a strategic perspective, so that's one of the challenges there.
Now, with stroke and distance in particular, we again, try and keep together balls that are hit off the golf course as well as balls that are lost. They fit well together. And the challenge is really in identifying how to provide somebody relief for a ball that is lost because when you lose a ball, you're not entirely sure where it is, and so now all of a sudden you're having to estimate where that ball may be lost, and then what's the correct penalty if we truly are having the player estimate? Is it still one stroke? Is it two strokes? What does that look like? Again, we've looked at numerous alternatives, all of which are outlined in that paper that I've referenced.
I will say this, though: Even though you don't see a specific rule that addresses stroke and distance, there are many of the proposed rules that will minimise the number of times that stroke and distance is required of the player, and one of those you referenced is this new concept of penalty areas where now under the rules of golf, if there's an area of dense trees or thick grass and a golf course operator knows players often hit their balls over there and they're not finding it, the rules of golf will now allow for them to put a red line down, to where if a player goes in there and finds it, that's great, they can play it; but if they can't find it, just take relief and play on. One of many examples that I think will minimise the number of times that a player truly does have to go back under stroke and distance.
Q. I understand your concern about a ball in the woods and if you were to apply a rule like that, where would you drop it; I think you already have in your new proposed rules more latitude allowing player judgment in situations like that.
THOMAS PAGEL: Well, we do address player judgment, but we address it in different terms, and again, I think the thought is that when your ball is lost, in most cases you really have no idea, especially if you were to hit it over into woods. If there's not a red line down, what are you doing to identify a reference point because that ball can and will bounce anywhere.
But that said, I think this is a great question, and this is a great example of an item that is still very much open for discussion, and I think this underscores the fact that this is a draft code of proposed rules. With this particular topic, we are keenly interested and committed to identifying a solution, but as I mentioned, all the alternatives we've considered, we just haven't found one that is completely workable yet. But we'll continue to look at it, and again, appreciate the feedback.
Q. David, is there a plan to modernise the decision book as well as the rules? How will that follow on?
DAVID RICKMAN: Yes. Thank you for that. We are currently working on our decisions book equivalent. We're looking to move that more towards a handbook and offer greater advice, moving away from solely doing this by direct question and answer. So this is very much work in progress. We are hopeful that a lot of the changes that we've made in the rules will remove the need for some of those distinctions that we need to call out in the decisions book.
But as the golfing world is looking at the new rules proposals, we will shift our focus on to a number of other areas, and the future of the decisions book and exactly how that will be worked through is next on our list.
Q. I'm just particularly interested in your attempts to improve the pace of play especially at a recreational level. Can you talk a little bit more about that, what sort of times you're aiming at, and especially the alternative form of stroke play with a double par maximum score. How do you envisage that working?
DAVID RICKMAN: Yeah, we think the maximum score per hole is similar in some ways to Stableford, but while the Stableford scoring system works in some parts of the world in some golfing cultures, it's less familiar and less comfortable for others, so we feel that this particular system allows players who are very used to scoring by strokes to continue to do so.
So if we couple that with a number of the other proposals, whereby for the first time we are advocating prompt play, we're actually putting in recommendations over the amount‑‑ the maximum amount of time players should take for any stroke. We're actively encouraging ready golf. We're stating that committees should introduce their own pace of play guidelines, because the situation does vary from course to course. We completely understand and recognise that.
So if we put all of that together with this potential new form of play, plus the aggregated effect of a number of these other rules proposals, whether it be reduced time for lost ball, whether it be the ability to leave the flagstick in, whether it be the new dropping procedure, we are very hopeful that when we put all of that together, we can create not just an environment that advocates faster play, but we can actually really deliver on that.
Q. Quick question on the drop rule: Was that mainly also a pace‑of‑play move, to just allow a drop as well as an inch from the ground, because it seems like, I guess, rub of the green would probably not come into play as much as it would from a drop say from shoulder level where you're not sure what kind of lie you're going to get.
THOMAS PAGEL: To answer your question directly, no, a primary motive in addressing that was not pace of play. What I'll tell you the motive was addressing the height of drop was simply from a complexity situation. If you look at it, dropping the ball from shoulder height is a very simple thing to do, but where the complexities are introduced is when that ball hits the ground and all of a sudden there's nine times that you have to re‑drop, and then if it happens again, you're going to have to play where it first struck the course a second time. So it's really all about let's get away from this prescriptive thought of focusing on the procedure. Let's focus on identifying the relief area, where we want the player to play the ball from, and then give them the ability to get the ball on the ground, and all they need to know is you need to drop in this area and then play from this area. So it was really about eliminating those complexities, and I would tell you, one of the great things about dropping and one of the things we wanted to maintain is the randomness that comes with dropping, and when that ball leaves your hand, especially when you're in the rough, you're not sure what kind of lie you're going to get, and I'll tell you what, that even if you're able to drop the ball from just above grass height, that ball still settles and you are not guaranteed a good lie by any stretch of the word.
So that randomness still exists, which we think is a good thing, but the complexities of the procedures that come with re‑drops have been removed, which we think is a really good thing.
Q. Would you agree, though, that it does help pace of play because you just talked about the re‑dropping and the re‑dropping to get it in the proper spot?
THOMAS PAGEL: Absolutely. Sorry, I should have circled back to that, so thank you for reminding me. As I was saying, it was not an objective. When we stood there and started talking about this procedure, pace was not a consideration, but I'll tell you, by simplifying that procedure, it absolutely will have a positive impact on pace.
Q. Just in a general sense about the historic rules of golf, do you see these proposals as revolutionary or evolutionary? What description would you use?
THOMAS PAGEL: I would tell you that as you look at the rules of golf and you look at the game of golf, it has evolved over the years, and the rules have evolved from 1744 when we had that first code that was really intended for a single competition on a single golf course. As the game has grown worldwide and as the R&A and USGA have come together to issue this single worldwide code, the rules have to evolve with it.
So you think back to the last fundamental review, which was in 1984, which was really a massive reorganisation of the book, even in the 30 plus years that have gone by since, the game has evolved. The game is now being played in corners of the globe that it was not before. Course maintenance has improved. And so, again, the game evolved, and it's just important that the rules evolve and are brought up to date to meet the changing needs.
Q. Just wanted to get a little bit of a better understanding what's taken so long, five years, to put this together. What were kind of the no‑brainers, and which of these changes required the most debate?
DAVID RICKMAN: I think we often describe the rules of golf as a jigsaw puzzle, so it's not just a case of trying to identify the answers to single questions, it's making sure that they then work with the other pieces of the jigsaw around them. So we've got a lengthy code. Our starting point was our current rules, which are 34 rules and 1,200 decisions, so we need to try and make sure that we have the same coverage as we have at the moment, and that just takes time.
So in rules world we feel as though we've worked pretty quickly on this, and to be honest, the worst thing we can do is to rush it and somehow find that we've got huge gaps in what we're doing or clear errors.
To be honest, we're a bit unapologetic about taking our time. This has been a thorough review. We feel that this is the appropriate time to launch these proposals, and then again, given that it's a self‑regulating game played in over 200 countries around the world, it's going to take us a little while to get from this stage to the implementation time of 1st of January.
So it's a complex process, and we need to get it right.
Q. Can you guys address which of the changes were no‑brainers and which required the most debate?
DAVID RICKMAN: Let me have a go. Apologies for missing the second point. I would say the ones that we looked at very quickly were a number of the penalties that we were looking to remove, and I think the ideas around the putting green, particularly repair of damage and flagstick. In some ways those are areas that have been looked at and talked about for a long time.
I think Thomas has rightly identified possible alternatives for stroke and distance as something that we've spent a lot of time trying to find solutions for, and that work needs to continue.
Q. A question on the distance‑measuring devices. Is there any worry that using range finders on a professional tour would reduce some of the human skill or ability of a caddie, especially in a pressure situation?
THOMAS PAGEL: I would just say, again, as you look at the rules of golf, we write them for golfers at all levels across the world, and under the current rules today, DNDs are very prevalent in the game, but you need a local rule in order for them to be used. So again, as we look‑‑ the primary change here was as we looked at the game and the landscape of the game globally, we identified that there were golfers and golfing countries throughout the world that really had a heavy use of DNDs, so why is it that they would have to invoke a local rule. So really all we've done here is reversed that to where DNDs are now permitted under the rules of golf. You can use a device to measure distance.
However, what's changed is that if a committee were to want to not allow those or disallow them, excuse me, they would introduce a local rule.
So you know, it would be inappropriate for me to speculated what the professional tours will do with this change, but certainly if they were to want to not permit them, they would have the ability to do that through a local rule.
Q. One of the most popular questions I get asked about the proposed changes is why isn't a fairway treated as ground under repair because someone ahead of you as altered the nature of the golf course?
DAVID RICKMAN: Yeah, thank you for that. Probably two aspects to it. One philosophical one is practical. Philosophically, one of the general tenets of the game, one of the great principles is to play the ball as it lies, and I think even the great player Bobby Jones made the good point that you can get some bad outcomes from good shots, and you can get some good outcomes from bad shots. It's part of golf. And then if you look at the practical side of this, we are concerned that while some divots and divot holes are very obvious, as time goes by and that divot hole becomes older, the difference between an old divot hole and a general imperfection of the ground can become increasingly difficult.
It is not part of the proposals. We have no immediate plans to change this particular rule.
Q. Outside of the change for unplayable lies in bunkers, I didn't see anything about modifying the unplayable ball rule in general. Have you given any consideration to allowing a more user‑friendly option to the two‑club‑length rule, other than going back to the tee or playing the rule that's often not workable about going back on a line, for example? And this is probably a stretch, but could you consider something like casual water, nearest point of relief, and leave it in the judgment of the player?
THOMAS PAGEL: Another good question there. I will tell you that as David mentioned, the rules are like a jigsaw puzzle, and as we pulled everything apart, we absolutely looked at every component, every outcome. An unplayable is no different.
We recognise that there are situations where players may not appreciate the relief that they get under that particular rule, but as we looked at alternatives, we just didn't find one that we thought was workable and consistent with the application of other rules.
You know, as far as identifying the nearest point of relief, that would become extremely arbitrary and subjective. I think when you start talking about subjectivity, you immediately interject complexity into the rules, and that is something that certainly we're wanting to avoid. So from an unplayable standpoint, again, I think the introduction of penalty areas I think will help in this regard where players are now hopefully going to find themselves in areas that have been marked as opposed to tree‑lined areas currently that they're having to play from, so it'll minimise that, but that's where we are with unplayable.
We're pleased with the options that are currently available. Obviously the new option that was introduced for play out of a bunker we think will have a tremendous impact on the recreational game, and we're really excited about that.
Q. I just wanted to kind of go back to the previous question about range finders. You had mentioned the professional tours, and I was wondering what if any discussions have been held with both the PGA Tour and the European Tour leadership about any bifurcation discussions and if there are still any avenues where the professional game could still create their‑‑ not their entire own set of rules, but is there anything other than just creating a local rule that, hey, they might disagree with something in these changes, that they could have another way to handle it?
THOMAS PAGEL: Thanks for that question. I'll jump in. I would just let you know that the professional game has been represented in this process since day one, both the PGA Tour and European Tour. I know that as the USGA and the R&A, we are committed to the fact that a single set of rules really benefits the game worldwide. You would create tremendous complexities and confusion if you were to have multiple sets of rules, and I don't want to speak for the professional game, but certainly given their involvement and their continued involvement in the process, I would say that they think very similarly.
Again, our objective was to make the rules easier to understand and apply for golfers at all levels, and in doing that, we had representation and expertise from both the amateur game and the professional game, and worked very collaboratively along the way.
Q. Just going back to the pace of play, how do you get club golfers to play faster, because you can't have them with their stop watches saying you've taken more than 40 seconds for a shot.
DAVID RICKMAN: Yeah, it's a good point. I think that pace of play is a big issue for the game, and what we're doing today or what we're planning to do is but one component in a multifaceted problem. So we're trying to, within the rules, do what we can to encourage prompt play in a variety of ways that I talked about earlier. But as both organisations have done in the past, we've both looked at the subject. We've both identified that there are player aspects. Of course there are, but there are also management practices, and there are golf course setup issues, and therefore to truly improve pace of play, you need to look at all of these features, and the rules can help with some of them, but we need input from others.
From an R&A perspective, we would refer people to the manual that we produced, which has a range of solutions, a range of options, and it's through that sort of approach and a long‑term kind of educational programme that I think that we have the best chance to succeed here.
Q. I was quite impressed with your time span, that five years is not really too long to go through this complex subject.
DAVID RICKMAN: Yeah, not sure everybody agrees with that; that's fine, but there's quite a lot of moving parts to this particular exercise. So yeah, we move on as expeditiously as we can.
Q. I wondered about the rule changes regarding loose impediments in bunkers, and if you guys could clarify whether or not that would have impacted the penalty we saw Anna Nordqvist incur last year at the U.S. Women's Open or even going further back regarding Dustin Johnson at Whistling Straits in 2010.
THOMAS PAGEL: Thanks for the question. So the changes to loose impediments, there are two changes in particular, both in penalty areas and in bunkers where you're now allowed to remove loose impediments or these natural objects anywhere on the golf course. So if you think about these natural objects and playing out of a bunker, the challenge is really playing out of the sand, playing from the bunker, and not having to hit through a twig or a leaf that's behind your ball or having to worry about avoiding that twig on your backswing. So we just felt it was appropriate to permit players to be able to move those natural objects throughout the golf course. So that's the change with respect to loose impediments.
Relative to the Anna Nordqvist question last year, the proposed rules, they've relaxed the prohibitions about touching the sand, but they have maintained the prohibition that you cannot test the sand in a bunker, that you can't take practice swings, you can't test that, and you still cannot ground your club in the immediate area around your ball. And so Anna Nordqvist, which is a fact‑based ruling, did the player touch or not touch the sand, that would continue to be a penalty.
And I'll be honest; we looked at that. But again, if you start getting into this concept of incidental or accidental versus intentional, again, things start to become subjective, and subjectivity breeds complexity. So this is all about the fact‑based issues, the challenge is playing from the sand. You're not permitted to touch the sand before playing the stroke, and that's the way the rule will continue.
JEANINE DRISCOLL: Thank you to everybody that's joined in on the call today and took the time out of your busy schedules to be with us. We want to remind you of two things. Number one, that the words "proposed" and "preview" are both very important to us. We want to make it very clear to the public that we are inviting comments, and as you'll be able to see through R&A.org and USGA.org/rules, we have a variety of materials, including the new players' edition, videos, etcetera, but also a direct button on both of those websites that goes back to the feedback survey tool, and we highly encourage you to encourage your readers, your viewers, listeners, to please provide us feedback. That feedback period will end on August the 31st. I know on behalf of the USGA, we're also accepting emails and voice calls into our rules department. So if you have any questions at any time, please feel free to send them both to Mike Woodcock and myself, and we'll be happy to get those answered for you in quick order.
I might also share with you that this entire call has been recorded and a transcript will be provided to you very shortly via email. If you have any other questions for us or comments that you'd like to provide, we will be available all day to you.
Thank you very much for your time, to David and to Thomas, to my good friend Mike Woodcock at the R&A. Thank you for today. We appreciate it, and we look forward to talking to you soon.
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