New rule change could have exonerated Tiger Woods at the BMW
By Stephanie Wei under R&A


On Tuesday the USGA and R&A announced 87 changes — three new Decisions, 59 revised Decisions, one re-numbered Decision and 24 Decisions withdrawn — to the Rules of Golf that will be effective January 1, 2014, but there were four significant ones, with the most notable involving the use of high-definition or slow-motion video and other visual evidence in enforcing the game’s rules.

Golf’s governing bodies may have been prompted to make this new decision as a result of several controversies during the 2013 season, particularly the Oscillate-gate incident with Tiger Woods receiving a two-shot penalty for his ball moving at the BMW Championship. 

Rule 18/4  stipulates that when there’s enhanced technological evidence — i.e. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc. —  showing that “a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

In other words, the game of golf will fall back on a player’s word or his/her honor at the time, which, had the rule been in effect at the time, would have also prevented Woods from being slapped with a two-shot penalty on the first hole in the second round of the BMW Championship in September. The world no. 1 player was also involved in several other incidents in the 2013 season — several that resulted in two-stroke penalties — which happened at the Abu Dhabi Championship, the Masters and the Players Championship and caused his honor to be questioned in some cases.

The rule change on video stops short of preventing viewer call-ins, though, so armchair officials (aka rules officials not on-site, players not in the field, and other industry insiders) may continue to call that non-existent hotline number! It also doesn’t limit the timeframe for potential infractions to be brought to the player’s attention before he/she signs his scorecard, which leaves disqualification for signing an incorrect one on the table — something Woods said in the past he’d like to see.

“The Rules of Golf are constantly evolving,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf, in a statement. “The Decisions review process is an opportunity for The R&A and the USGA to continue to help make the game more understandable and accessible for players, officials and others who participate in the game.”

David Rickman, The R&A’s executive  director – Rules and Equipment Standards, added, “It is important to consider carefully new developments in the game and that is reflected in the new Decisions on the Rules which give greater clarity on the use of smart phones and advanced video technology.”

Among the changes for 2014-2015, here are the three other that are noteworthy:

  • New Decision 14-3/18 confirms that players can access reports on weather conditions on a smartphone during a round without breaching the Rules. Importantly, this new Decision also clarifies that players are permitted to access information on the threat of an impending storm in order to protect their own safety.
  • Revised Decision 25-2/0.5 helps to clarify when a golf ball is considered to be embedded in the ground through the use of illustrations.
  • Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5 allows a player to go forward up to approximately 50 yards without forfeiting his or her right to go back and play a provisional ball.

Here’s a bunch of legal jargon to further explain the new decision 18/4 (in case you need any help falling asleep tonight)…


Far Hills, N.J., USA and St Andrews, Scotland (November 19, 2013) – The United States Golf Association (USGA) and R&A Rules Ltd (“The R&A”) today released the following statement concerning their ongoing review of the use of video and other visual evidence in administering the Rules of Golf:

In recent years, the rapid development of video technology, such as HDTV, digital recording and on-line visual media, has brought a new level of scrutiny to Rules issues arising in elite golf tournaments. This has led to an increasing number of inquiries to officials from television viewers and others about whether a breach of the Rules has occurred, sometimes resulting in breaches of the Rules being identified (and penalties being applied)  after the incident itself occurred. Occasionally, the identification of the breach has been after the player has returned his or her score card, which has therefore resulted in disqualification under Rule 6-6d. These developments have generated considerable discussion concerning whether, how and when such video evidence should be used.

The Rules of Golf Committees of the USGA and The R&A have been reviewing the operation of the Rules in the light of these continuing technological developments in order to determine whether any changes to the Rules are appropriate. In April 2011, the USGA and The R&A adopted Decision 33-7/4.5, which authorizes Committees to waive the disqualification penalty for a breach of Rule 6-6d in narrow circumstances in which the player could not reasonably have been aware of a breach of the Rules that later was identified only through video evidence.

Since adopting Decision 33-7/4.5, the USGA and The R&A have continued to review the impact of video technology on the game. With input and assistance from representatives of the professional tours who serve as consulting members of the Rules of Golf Committees, the USGA and The R&A are now introducing a further modification of the Rules, with effect fromJanuary 1, 2014, to address the use of video technology in determining whether a ball at rest has “moved” within the meaning of the Rules. New Decision 18/4 will provide that, where enhanced technological evidence shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time. The Decision ensures that a player is not penalized under Rule 18-2 in circumstances where the fact that the ball had changed location could not reasonably have been seen without the use of enhanced technology.

Beyond these Decisions, as part of the 2016 Rules review,  the Rules of Golf Committees will be discussing other issues concerning the possible effect of video technology on the application of the Rules to the playing of the game, such as the necessary degree of precision in marking, lifting and replacing a ball, the estimation of a reference point for taking relief, and the overall question of the appropriate penalty for returning an incorrect score card where the player was unaware that a penalty had been incurred. As is true of the rules in many other televised sports, adapting to developments in technology and video evidence is an important ongoing topic in making and applying the Rules of Golf.

In pursuing this continuing review, the USGA and The R&A will be guided by their longstanding position that a Committee should consider all evidence, regardless of the source, that may be relevant in determining the facts to which the Rules must be applied. As reflected in the interpretations contained in the Decisions, for questions of fact, the resolution of doubt must be made in the light of all relevant circumstances and be based on the weight of the evidence. To reach a correct ruling, all evidence from witnesses concerning a possible breach of the Rules should be considered, whether those witnesses are participants in the competition, non-participants such as spectators, or persons who have reviewed television footage and the like. Additionally, the Decisions provide that a Committee may make or revise a ruling at a later time if further information becomes available before the competition has closed.

In many other sports, there are good and understandable reasons for imposing a strict time limit on the review and correction of rules decisions. In golf, however, even at the elite level, players often apply the Rules to themselves without the assistance of a referee and, in stroke play, are responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole. Moreover, competitions are often played over more than one day and, in stroke play, the outcome typically is based on total score, making it possible to correct errors significantly after the fact and, indeed, at any time before the competition is closed by virtue of the result being officially announced. For these reasons, disregarding relevant evidence of a breach of the Rules, obtained before the competition has ended, could lead to uncertainty and to unhealthy debate and disagreement about the fairness of a result that was influenced by an incorrect set of facts and failure to apply the Rules properly. If a player has breached a Rule, but this is not discovered until a later time, whether through video evidence or otherwise, such evidence must be considered so that the correct ruling can be applied and the player’s score can be recorded accurately. In their ongoing review of the use of video and other enhanced technology, the USGA and The R&A will continue to be guided by the view that, regardless of the timing or the type of evidence used, the integrity of the game is best served by getting the ruling right.

Agree or disagree with the new rules changes, particularly 18/4? What do you think the USGA missed and what else would you like to have seen amended?

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