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There they go, fussing with the rules, just when we'd got the hang of the game

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the Royal and Ancient at St. Andrews and at the U.S. Golf Association here, the committees on rules beaver away on behalf of duffers everywhere. These backroom volunteers have now published the latest result of their labors—a spate of subtle adjustments to The Rules of Golf (USGA, 25¢).

Of the world's 15 million golfers, fewer than 100 would claim to know more than 10 or 12 of the 41 rules governing the game, so many of the amendments won't make much difference to most of us. But the changes have the effect of simplifying and clarifying several bread-and-butter rules we do occasionally consult.

The section on etiquette has been refrained to put the rule that covers slow play first. As always, a clear hole between the player and the golfers ahead is the signal to allow the group waiting behind to play through. Newcomers especially seem unaware of this convention and the emphasis may help.

Another amendment now makes it clear that sand and loose soil on the greens are classified as loose impediments, and they may be brushed aside with hand or club, but not on fairways. On the other hand, if your ball finds itself in an animal burrow, or casual water, or ground under repair, the new rules allow a drop two club lengths away from the nearest edge of the unlucky area, instead of as close as possible to the spot, as before.

In the old days, it used to be perfectly legal if the ball, in being dropped over your shoulder, hit a protruding posterior and was deflected toward a favored spot. No more. Under the amended rules, if the ball strikes your person before it strikes the ground, it must be redropped. But if it hits your foot after touching the ground, it is all right to let it lie.

For the first time the rules recognize the automotive golf cart, and clarify the status of one that is shared by two players. If the person driving runs over a ball—his own or an opponent's—he incurs a one-stroke penalty.

A refinement governing tournament play now extends the authority of referees in interference calls to the putting surface. Officials have always had the right to rule that a ball had been deliberately stopped or deflected by a fan from going into a hazard between tee and green, and now that goes for similar monkeyshines on the greens. So if Arnie's Army forms ranks and saves its hero's ball from rolling off the putting surface into a lake, the referee—if he sees it and has the courage—will have to pick it up and toss it into the water.

I can't wait to see that happen.