It would be fair to say that the Rules of Golf have not changed a great deal since I took up the game back in the mid-1960s.

Since that time the R&A and USGA have made subtle modifications to the Rules but nothing as dramatic as in rugby union which is a now a hugely different game to the one I used to play, and certainly not like in Formula 1 which seems to reinvent itself on an almost annual basis.

Golf’s administrators have always seemed reluctant to sanction change or at least they have until now.

Within the next year we are about to experience the biggest change to the Rules of Golf any of us have witnessed in our lifetimes.

A new unified World Handicap System will be introduced in 2020 and there are signs the authorities are also considering new legislation governing the equipment we use.

I admit I never understood why the game of golf should have one set of Rules but six different handicap systems and so for that reason alone I applaud the fact the latter are about to be unified.

Under the new system our handicaps will be calculated from the average of the best eight of our last 20 eligible rounds.

The USGA Course Rating System has been adopted as an important part of the new package which will improve portability from course to course and country to country and a new feature taking account of abnormal course and weather conditions sounds like another sound addition too.   

worldwide handicap

There is much to commend in the new handicap system and the same can be said for the new Rules of Golf.

There will be some traditionalists who view significant change with distaste but what is not to like about an attempt to simplify the Rules and speed up pace of play?

It also makes sense that the language used in the new Rules book is to be modernised and the use of graphics extended because the current Rule book can be a minefield even for those players who purport to know the contents well.

From January the total number of Rules is to be cut from 34 to 24 with sweeping changes being made in all sorts of areas.

I like the idea that in the future you will be able to take relief if your ball is embedded anywhere (except in sand) in the general area (which is the new term for through the green).

The decision to scrap the penalty for accidentally moving your ball while searching for it is also welcome as is the decision to reduce the time you can look for a lost ball from five minutes to three.

The latter is one of a number of new Rules designed specifically to improve pace of play.

The Honda Classic

Another is the decision to remove the penalty if a ball played from a putting green hits an unattended flagstick but in contrast I do wonder if the new Rule allowing us to repair almost all damage (spike marks, shoe marks, animal damage etc) on a putting green will have exactly the opposite effect.

To my mind perhaps the most intriguing change of the lot is the introduction of a Local Rule permitting Committees to allow golfers who lose their ball or hit it out of bounds to drop another ball in the vicinity of where it was lost under a penalty of two shots.

The ruling itself has already sparked controversy but what makes it even more significant as far as I am concerned is what it might lead to.

The authorities have stated this Local Rule is intended for club golf but not for “higher levels of play” such as professional or elite amateur competitions.

Hitherto the R&A and the USGA have been careful to steer clear of distinguishing between the pro and amateur games but obviously they believe bifurcation is the best option in this instance.

That is an important development and makes me wonder whether it will be repeated if in the future the authorities elect to introduce new legislation governing clubs and balls.

We shall have to wait and see.

Click here for more on the changes to the Rules of Golf