Beginning in 2012, the U.S. Golf Association and R&A started a process to modernize the Rules of the Golf and make the rules easier to understand and apply while making the game more attractive and accessible for newcomers. On Monday the two governing bodies released the new Rules of Golf, which are set to debut on Jan. 1, 2019.
Last March several proposed changes were released with the USGA and R&A asking for feedback from the golf community. The majority of those proposed rules made the final version, the USGA and R&A stated.
However, some of the proposed rules were tweaked or further clarified. Here are the most significant ones:
Dropping procedure: When taking relief (from an abnormal course condition or penalty area, for example), golfers will drop from knee height. The ruling bodies say this will ensure consistency and simplicity in the dropping process while also preserving the randomness of the drop. (Key change: The proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested dropping from any height.)
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. (Key change: The proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested a 20-inch or 80-inch standard measurement.)
Removing the penalty for a double hit: The penalty stroke for accidentally striking the ball more than once in the course of a stroke has been removed. Golfers will simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball. (Key change: The proposed Rules released in 2017 retained the existing one-stroke penalty.)
Balls lost or out of bounds: Alternative to stroke-and-distance penalties: A new local rule will be available in January 2019, 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, such as professional or elite competitions. (Key change: This is a new addition to support pace of play.)
“We’re thankful for the golfers, administrators and everyone in the game who took the time to provide us with great insight and thoughtful feedback,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of rules & amateur status. “We couldn’t be more excited to introduce the new Rules ahead of the education process and their implementation.”
Said David Rickman, executive director of governance at The R&A: “We are pleased to be introducing the new Rules of Golf after a collaborative and wide-ranging review process which has embraced the views of golfers, Rules experts and administrators worldwide. We believe that the new Rules are more in tune with what golfers would like and are easier to understand and apply for everyone who enjoys playing this great game.”
Here is a look at other rule changes for 2019 that were included in the 2017 proposal:
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, and a player will not be responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.
Relaxed putting green rules: There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole, and 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 rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”): Red- and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water. 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.
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 the sand. However, 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.
Relying on player integrity: A player’s “reasonable judgment” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong, and there is an elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.
Pace-of-play support: The ruling bodies will reduce the time spent searching for a lost ball from five minutes to three; there is an affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; the ruling bodies are recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke; and there are other changes intended to help with pace of play.
The updated Rules of Golf is available now on usga.com, and three publications will be released this fall: The Rules of Golf, The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf (abbreviated version) and the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf (guidebook).