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New 2019 damage-repair rule will not slow play, says R&A top official

Golfweek logo Golfweek 9/12/2018 Alistair Tait
a man holding a frisbee: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

The controversial decision to allow repair of all damages on putting greens under the new Rules of Golf starting on January 1, 2019 will not slow down play, according to David Rickman, the R&A's Executive Director of Governance.

Rickman spoke to Golfweek Wednesday, the same day the R&A and USGA unveiled the new 2019 Rules of Golf book for players. The current 34 rules will be reduced to 24. The USGA will distribute two million copies in the United States and Mexico, while the R&A will distribute the same number around the rest of the world.

The slimmed down Rules of Golf are intended to help speed up the game and make the rules easier to understand. Among the new laws from 2019 are putting with the flagstick in the hole, no penalty for accidentally moving a ball at rest, reducing searches for lost balls from five to three minutes and allowing the repair of any damage on greens.

Many in the game think the last rule change will only slow the game down, but Rickman believes allowing players to repair spike marks as well as pitch marks will make no difference to pace of play.

"Our indications so far are that this is not going to have an overly detrimental effect on pace of play," Rickman said.

Rickman admitted that allowing the repair of all damages on a player's line of putt was debated intensely during the review period.

"It was an area in the extensive discussions that we talked about for some time because in all of this we were interested in speeding the game up, and this change in particular could potentially even go the other way. But what I would say is that it does present a completely different dynamic," he said.

"I think we'll see people repairing damage as a collective at different times. I think what you will also see is that the putting green surfaces will generally be maintained throughout the day through the actions of all the players at different times in a much higher standard. So those players at the end of the are only repairing the minimal damage that hasn't already been repaired. I think in reality it will work."

The European Tour allowed players to repair spike marks for a brief spell in the late 1970s, but stopped the practice because players were taking too long on the greens.

"Much has changed in the last 40 years," Rickman said. "Other measures they have in place to deal with pace of play issues on the European now are more extensive and sophisticated. The tour is alive to the fact that these permissions allow players to take longer than they should, but we do have pace of play regulations that will apply."

Rickman says the new rules should be looked at in their entirety, and believes pace of play will improve as a result.

"For the first time, we're really encouraging players to play promptly. The rules have never really suggested that.

"If you are able to shave 15-30 seconds off everyone's play in a four-ball through 18 holes, and if they all take 80 strokes, it's amazing how much time you can save. I think it will make a difference."

A new Official Guide to the Rules of Golf in digital, website and app form is available from today.

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