You may well have read that the R&A and USPGA have undertaken a major review and modernization of the rules of golf. From 1st January 2019, we will be playing under a new set of rules which will bring some significant changes to how we play. In particular, there have been some substantial simplifications designed to help the rules be more easily understandable and easier to play to. Together with the simplifications, there is a far improved level of communication to help with the understanding and interpretation of these rules. A Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf has been produced to make the rules easier to understand (see below on how to get your copy).

 What are the highlights of the changes?

There are a large number of changes only some of which are shown below as key highlights:

  • Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties
    There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball.

In practice: If, for example, you nudge your ball while lining up a putt or when looking for it you accidentally move your ball with club or foot, you simply place it back where it was without penalty (place not drop).

  • 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 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.

In practice: The putter can putt with the flagstick in and there is no penalty if the ball hits the flagstick or, if the flagstick is removed and the ball accidentally hits it, there is no penalty and the ball is played as it lies.

Also: Any damage to the green in the line of the putt can be repaired.

  • Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (formerly water hazards)
    Expanded use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed; and there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.

In practice: In all (formerly red and yellow) hazards, you can now remove stones, leaves, mud, old divots, twigs, bird poo etc before playing your shot.

Also: In a penalty area, you can now touch the water or ground when addressing the ball without penalty, so long as you are not improving the lie of the ball.

  • 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. An extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.

In practice: You no longer need to check the local rules for removal of stones – you can remove stones, leaves, mud, old divots, twigs, bird poo etc. before playing your shot and, if you use your club to do so and touch the sand, you will not incur a penalty so long as you are not testing the sand or improving your lie. Neither will you be penalized if you use your club to aid you in descending into or exiting a steep bunker – however, there remains a penalty for touching the sand if you do so on addressing the ball or in your backswing.

Also: If you deem your ball unplayable – e.g. plugged in the bunker or you are perched 3 feet above and outside the bunker in order to address the ball and are fearful of falling in – you may take the ball and drop it behind outside the bunker in line with the flag with a two-shot penalty.

  • Pace-of-play support
    Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

In practice: You can use your 3 minutes to look for the ball and/or return to the place from which you played it while your playing partner(s) continue to look. ‘Ready golf’ is not generally applicable in match play.

  • Simplified way of taking relief
    A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific relief area; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from knee height.

In practice: You can drop the ball from the height of your knee whilst standing – you cannot kneel on the ground and then claim you are dropping from the height of the knee on the ground!

Also: You can always use your longest club – usually the driver – but not the putter to measure relief distance.

 Other changes include:

  • There is no longer a penalty for a double hit during a stroke.
  • There is no longer a penalty for your ball, whilst in motion, accidentally hitting something like another player, golf bag or buggy or hitting yourself – e.g. hitting the face of a bunker and rebounding into your body.
  • You can no longer take lateral relief on the other side of a ‘penalty area’ (hazard) – e.g. on the 9th if you are in the water over the red posts you were able to take relief on the 13th hole side of the water. Not anymore.
  • Out of Bounds

One rule you may have heard about, involving changes to the Out of Bounds and lost ball rules (to allow a drop on the edge of the fairway the same distance from the pin as the point where the ball went OOB or lost), are optional and not recommended for high-level competition. WGC have decided not to implement this for the time being in competition play although you may do so at your discretion in your social golf.

  1. Where can I learn more?

As part of the changes, the R&A have generated new publications:

  • The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf – a copy is available for you from the Pro Shop; please pick it up as soon as you can as long as stocks last
  • The Rules of Golf (which is the full rules book). And, as ever, the R & A website contains all you ever want to know about golf rules. They have also produced a new website rules.golf which has all the detail on the new rules together with more than 30 instructional “how to apply” videos, quizzes and other materials. It is well worth a look if you can.
  • The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf – which provides information and interpretations on the rules for committees and officials
  1. Additional help from WGC …

In the weekly newsletter, we have had a weekly rules quiz and at Finals Day and at the Captains Putt Out/Drive-In we have had short 5 question quizzes.  Thank you for your participation in these.

We shall be putting other helpful references on the website.

We intend to hold an open evening regarding the new rules early in the new year, continue with the quizzes and expect to share further communication as we go into next year.

If you would like further information, please feel free to contact Tiku Patel at tikupatel@btinternet.com.