As of January 6th, 2020 the R&A and USGA have issued three new “Clarifications” to the Rules of Golf, namely concerning “alignment devices”, about “backstopping” and about attachments to the flagstick.
1) Rule 4.3a: Alignment device.
This Clarification states that:
“If a player places an “alignment device” (see Definition in Equipment Rules to see when a ball-marker meets this Definition) to show the line of play and then orients his or her ball based on the direction of that alignment device, the player is in breach of Rule 4.3a.”
This is an example from the Clarification:
For example, a player’s ball comes to rest on the putting green and the player marks the spot of his or her ball with an “alignment device.” When doing so, the alignment device is placed to show the line of play. If the player then lifts and replaces his or her ball (which includes rotating it) so that a marking on the ball is lined up with the alignment device, the player is in breach of Rule 4.3a.
An “alignment device” is defined in the “Equipment Rules”:
The following criteria are used to determine when an object manufactured to mark the spot of a ball is an alignment device. Features include, but are not limited to:
- The object incorporates features designed to measure, gauge or interpret slope, green speed or other conditions, or includes optical or electronic components or,
- The vertical height of the object, in any configuration, is greater than 1.0” or,
- The maximum dimension in any horizontal direction exceeds 2.0” and incorporates any of the features noted below (or similar features):
- the object incorporates painted, etched or inscribed line(s) or similar features greater than or equal to 2.0” in length (“line” includes any line, arrow or other straight marking that could be solid or broken, but has a defined start, a defined end and whose length can be measured),
- the object has an appendage(s) or an extended feature(s) greater than 2.0” in length or that extends a feature of the object to a length greater than 2.0”.
Note 1: An object is an alignment device if it exceeds the dimensional specifications listed above and advertising, marketing or intellectual property descriptions or claims related to the object indicates that it is primarily for the purpose of showing the line of play.
Note 2: An object is an alignment device if it is modified in any manner that would satisfy any of the above provisions.
2) Rule 15.3: Backstopping.
Under Rule 15.3a, two (or more) players are not allowed to agree to leave one of the players’ ball on the putting green to help the other player. As long as there is no agreement, however, it is not against the Rules to leave your ball in a position to help another. This is the so-called “backstopping”-discussion.
In a new Clarification, USGA and R&A have now underlined that, although such a non-agreed backstopping is not contrary to the Rules, players should not do it. The USGA and R&A have now issued a kind of a “best practice” in stroke play, which states:
“… if there is a reasonable possibility that a player’s ball close to the hole could help another player who is about to play from off the green, both players should ensure that the player whose ball is close to the hole marks and lifts that ball before the other player plays.”
The reason that this “best practice” is only for a ball played from off the Putting Green most likely is that in stroke play, players incur two penalty strokes, if they strike another ball at rest on the putting green if playing their ball also from the putting green..
There is no penalty statement for breach of this Clarification, but my guess is that upholding this best practice will be considered a part of good player conduct under Rule 1.2a.
Read more about this Clarification here.
3) Attachments on flagsticks below ground allowed.
A new Clarification about flagsticks has also been issued:
Attachments may be permitted more than 3 inches (76.2 mm) below the putting green surface but must be constrained to this area.
An “attachment” could be something that catches the ball:
Please find all Clarifications (including the three above mentioned) here (USGA’s website).