Local professional Mark Spooner well prepared as new laws of golf come into operation

Mark Spooner, right, who finished third in the Norfolk PGA Order of Merit, pictured with champion Ja

Mark Spooner, right, who finished third in the Norfolk PGA Order of Merit, pictured with champion Jason Groat and third placed Nic Cains Picture: NorfolK PGA - Credit: Archant

Mark Spooner has been a golf professional for over 30 years - but even he will be watching his step over the next few months as he gets used to the new game's new rules.

A wide-ranging raft of changes drawn up by the R&A and the USGA officially came into play on New Year's Day, with the key words being simplication and modernisation.

The ruling bodies have attempted to make the laws easier to understand for those who already play the game, and more attractive and accessible for potential newcomers, and Spooner feels they have done a decent job.

'Anything that makes the game simpler and can help speed up play is no bad thing,' said the man from Bawburgh, who is kicking off his 2019 campaign in a senior event in Portugal this week.

'I have been playing for a long time and this is the most radical shake-up I can ever recall. There are lots of new things to remember and I have certainly been reading up on it to ensure I don't make any mistakes in a tournament!

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'Professionals will need to be well prepared, as will amateurs playing in competitions, but if you are playing with your mates I wouldn't worry too much about all the new technicalities. The main thing is that you enjoy your round!'

Spooner feels most of the new rules make sense - although he isn't a big fan of the change regarding an accidental double-hit, which will no longer be punished by a penalty stroke.

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'I can't see that one - it's a mistake and the player will get away with it - but I think most of the changes are for the best.

'I particularly like the new rule on playing out of bunker. In the past you could only remove stones but now if there are leaves or any other impediment in there they can go too, which makes sense.

'It's also a good thing that a caddy can no longer line up a putt. I always thought it was strange that a player had to take his or her own aim for every shot except when they got on the greens. That should also help speed up play too.'

Other changes include the way a ball is dropped when taking relief (it's now from knee height) and a number of tweaks to simplify play on the greens. Players can now take aim on the putting surface with the flag still in the hole while the rule regarding 'gardening' has now been changed to allow spike marks to be repaired rather than just pitch marks, as was the case pre-2019.

Here are some of the main rule changes, as explained by the R&A:

Measuring in taking relief: The golfer's relief area will be measured by using the longest club in his/her bag (other than a putter) to measure one club-length or two club-lengths, depending on the situation, providing a consistent process for golfers to establish his/her relief area.

Relaxed putting green rules: There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole; players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage and other damage on the putting green and there is no penalty for merely touching the line of putt.

Relaxed bunker rules: There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions (such as not grounding the club right next to the ball) is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from sand; however, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball, allowing it to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.

Dropping procedure: When taking relief golfers will now drop from knee height. This will ensure consistency and simplicity in the dropping process while also preserving the randomness of the drop.

Pace-of-play support: Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); encouragement of 'ready golf' in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

Balls lost or hit out of bounds: A new local rule will now be available, permitting committees to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area), under a two-stroke penalty. It addresses concerns raised at the club level about the negative impact on pace of play when a player is required to go back under stroke and distance. The local rule is not intended for higher levels of play,

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