Code One Conclusions

When we set out to rewrite the Rules of Golf to see how a simple code would look, we used the current Rules as the basis for our work. Having worked on part of the evolution of the current Rules during our time with the USGA, we're biased in that we think they are pretty darn good. We believed that there was a fair chance that our project would reveal that it would be undesirable in many cases to make drastic changes to the Rules because the philosophical compromises required would be too great (i.e., that a more complicated set of Rules that provided for desirable results would be preferable to a simpler code that yielded the occasional strange result.

Well, we were wrong. As we dug into the current Rules of Golf with an eye devoted to the single goal of simplification, we quickly realized that there are in fact many opportunities to simplify the code without dramatically changing the way the game is played. Many of the complications in the current code exist for the purpose of addressing situations at one or both ends of the extremes. For example, current Rule 26 provides for two additional relief procedures for a ball in a lateral water hazard. We believe that relatively few golfers know the difference in relief options for a water hazard (yellow stakes) and lateral water hazard (red stakes). The distinction exists mainly to protect the way certain holes are played (e.g., 12 and 15 at Augusta National, 17 at TPC-Sawgrass). To date, the argument against eliminating the distinction and, primarily, allowing a player to drop within two club-lengths of where his ball last crossed the hazard margin has been that the holes referenced (and holes similar to them) would play too differently. It would be an outrage, went the argument, to allow a player on the 12th at Augusta National whose ball clears the water hazard and rolls back into to it to be able to drop on the green side of the hazard, allowing him a good chance to get away with a bogey. Likewise, think how differently the island-green 17th at TPC-Sawgrass would play if a player whose ball last crossed the hazard margin at the green (e.g., with a tee shot that goes over the green) could drop on the fringe (or even the green itself if some cases) and two-putt for bogey. However, is the confusion among most golfers as to the relief options worth ensuring that these holes play the way they do? Sure, there are similar holes around the world, but they make up a very small percentage of the world's golf holes. We thought the reason for the distinction not to be strong enough to warrant the complication and confusion.

We must emphasize that several of the ideas contained in the draft of Code One are not original (e.g., the elimination of dropping, the elimination of the distinction between the two types of water hazards, the elimination of the ability to replace or repair a club that becomes damaged in the normal course of play). Over the years a number of ideas have been suggested for specific Rules, and we used the ones that we believed were positive changes towards the goal of simplification.

The elimination of dropping provides perhaps the best example of the debate towards a simpler code. The Rules of Golf have incorporated the concept of dropping a ball (e.g., when taking relief from a cart path) on the philosophical grounds that luck is, and should be, a part of the game. Unpredictable results (both good and bad) can occur when a ball is dropped, just as when a ball is struck. The R&A and USGA have liked that element of chance that dropping ensures. However, at what price? Consider the many complications that dropping introduces to the Rules: how is the ball to be dropped; when must it be re-dropped; when does a player keep dropping until the drop satisfies the Rule he is using; when must a player drop twice and then place? While we agree that luck should be part of the game, we believe that the value of significant simplification in this one area outweighs the philosophical reasoning behind it. Hence, the change (and good-bye to current Rule 20-2).

We are convinced that a major source of confusion lies with Local Rules - what is a Rule of Golf and what is just an optional Local Rule that is occasionally in effect? Take, for example, the Local Rule treating stones in bunkers as movable obstructions. (Ordinarily a loose impediment, a stone could not be removed from a bunker in which the player's ball lies, but this Local Rule allows the removal of stones for safety reasons.) The European PGA Tour usually adopts this Local Rule, while other tours, including the U.S. PGA Tour, often do not unless the condition of a course's bunkers demands it. In 1994 Nick Faldo had a sizable lead in the final round in an event in Asia when he was suddenly disqualified because he had removed a stone from a bunker in the previous round and had not included the penalty in his score for that hole (the Local Rule for stones in bunkers was not in effect for that tournament). While ignorance of the Rules (including Local Rules) is not an excuse for breaching them, the variability of the Local Rules from week to week can sow the seeds of confusion and fuel the perception of complexity. Perhaps the best example comes when referees themselves are confused. The British Open is the one significant competition that does not adopt the Local Rule providing relief for an embedded ball in the rough, yet several times referees themselves, accustomed to officiating at events with that Local Rule in effect, have mistakenly granted relief in that championship.

While on the subject of Local Rules, let's address one of the most confusing and complicated aspects of the Rules today - the use of a distance-measuring device (DMD). In 2006 when a Local Rule authorizing the use of a distance-measuring device was adopted, the R&A and USGA wanted to do so in a manner that would not inevitably force further relaxation of the Rules. The two bodies developed a tortured interpretation that prohibited a player from using a DMD during the round if the DMD was capable of measuring other conditions that might help the player (e.g., gradient), even if that function is not used. The result is the chart developed by the R&A ( The fact that a question needs such a chart is a good indicator that there is room for improvement. Why not just say (as we have done in the revisions to Appendix IV) that there is a breach only if the player actually uses the prohibited function?

While we believe that those familiar with the Rules of Golf will see significant simplification and, hopefully, improvement with Code One, we believe that those not familiar with the current Rules (e.g., those who have hardly ever opened a Rules book) may not see Code One as a big improvement. The language and style are the same as the current Rules, and that alone will turn some people off. The length is not significantly less (and, as we stated before the project, we do not believe that brevity always leads to simplicity), and there is still a lot to wade through. For example, we are concerned that Rule 13-4 (the current Rule 1-2, which saw significant work for 2012) is still not readily understandable (and we are at a loss for a simple fix). For these reasons we will next turn our attention to a complete re-write of the Rules - as if the game had just been invented. We suspect there will be a need for even greater philosophical compromises and are interested to see the results.

Note: The authors were involved in the Rules revision project for a number of years, so they readily acknowledge that in some cases they are disagreeing with their previous work!