The Rules Get a Makeover

Nine changes you ab­so­lutely need to know for 2019

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - BY RYAN HERRINGTON

Nine changes you ab­so­lutely need to know for 2019.

As jan. 1 ap­proaches, it’s time to con­sider what New Year’s res­o­lu­tions you’ll be mak­ing to help your golf game in 2019. For those who haven’t come up with any, here’s a sug­ges­tion: Learn the Rules

of Golf. (No, re­ally learn them this time.) Per­haps you’ve tried, only to find that by Fe­bru­ary, the copy of the rules book you picked up is cov­ered with as much dust as that Pelo­ton you bought to get into shape. Yet here’s the thing: There’s no bet­ter time than now to give it an­other shot be­cause a new, mod­ern­ized ver­sion of the rules goes into ef­fect on New Year’s Day.

In the most sweep­ing re­vi­sion in more than 60 years, of­fi­cials from the USGA and R& A, golf’s govern­ing bod­ies, have re­or­ga­nized the rules to make them eas­ier to un­der­stand and ap­ply. The num­ber has been cut to 24 from 34, and the lan­guage sim­pli­fied to make it more prac­ti­cal. Roughly 2 mil­lion copies of the Player’s Edi­tion of the Rules

of Golf were pub­lished and cir­cu­lated this fall. If you haven’t got­ten one, you can find it on­line at us­ga­pub­li­ca­, as well as with ex­plana­tory videos at The free USGA Rules of Golf app has been up­dated, too.

To help you keep this res­o­lu­tion, here are nine changes to the new rules you should know.



the con­tro­versy over Dustin Johnson’s ball mov­ing on the green dur­ing the fi­nal round of the 2016 U. S. Open ex­posed the old rules for be­ing too harsh when it came to what many con­sid­ered tick­y­tack in­frac­tions. New lan­guage, first adopted through Lo­cal Rules since 2017, states there is no penalty if you ac­ci­den­tally move your ball (or ball marker) on the green. Put the ball back, and you’re good to go. The same ap­plies if you’re search­ing for a lost ball and mis­tak­enly move it.



golfers of­ten com­plained about the silli­ness of let­ting play­ers fix a ball mark on the green, but not a spike mark. What’s the dif­fer­ence? With no good an­swer, of­fi­cials now will let you fix ev­ery­thing with­out a penalty. You can also touch the line of your putt with your hand or club so long as you’re not im­prov­ing it.



to im­prove pace of play, golfers now have just three min­utes to search for a miss­ing ball rather than five. Ad­mit it, if you hadn’t found it in three min­utes, you weren’t finding it any­way.



the process for drop­ping a ball back in play is re­vamped in the new rules. In­stead of let­ting go from shoul­der height, play­ers will drop from around their knee. This is a com­pro­mise from an orig­i­nal pro­posal that would have let golfers drop from just inches above the ground. To pre­serve some ran­dom­ness with the drop, of­fi­cials went with knee height in­stead. Why change at all? Pri­mar­ily to speed up play by in­creas­ing the chances your ball stays within the two- club-length drop area on the first try.



hit­ting a ball into a wa­ter haz­ard (now de­fined as “penalty area”) should come with con­se­quences. But golfers don’t have to be ner­vous about in­cur­ring an ad­di­tional penalty for a mi­nor rules breach while play­ing their next shot. You’re free to touch/ move loose im­ped­i­ments and ground your club, elim­i­nat­ing any un­nec­es­sary worry. The only caveat: You still can’t put your club down and use it to im­prove the con­di­tions for the stroke. You can re­move loose im­ped­i­ments in bunkers, too, al­though touch­ing the sand in a bunker in front of or be­hind the ball is still pro­hib­ited.



we all get mad on the course, and some­times that anger is taken out on an un­sus­pect­ing driver or put­ter. Pre­vi­ously, the rules were con­fus­ing on when or if you could play a club you dam­aged dur­ing a round, and it led to in­stances where some play­ers were dis­qual­i­fied for play­ing clubs with a shaft slightly bent or some other dam­age they didn’t re­al­ize the club had. Now you can play a club that has be­come dam­aged in any fash­ion. If you caused the dam­age, how­ever, you can’t re­place the club with a new one.



a dou­ble hit is al­most al­ways ac­ci­den­tal, and the out­come so ran­dom as to hardly be ben­e­fi­cial. So golfers are now spared the ig­nominy of adding a penalty for hit­ting a ball twice with one swing. It counts as only one stroke.



an­other nod to com­mon sense elim­i­nates a penalty for hit­ting a flag­stick left in the hole while putting on a green. Tak­ing out and then plac­ing back in flag­sticks can of­ten cause undo de­lay in the round, and the flag­stick is as likely to keep your ball out of the cup as it would help it fall in.



cour­ses may im­ple­ment a Lo­cal Rule (not for com­pe­ti­tion) that of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to the stroke-and­dis­tance penalty for lost balls or shots hit out- of-bounds. A player may drop a ball any­where be­tween where the orig­i­nal ball was be­lieved to come to rest (or went out-of-bounds) and just into the edge of the fair­way, but no nearer the hole. The golfer takes a two-stroke penalty and plays on in­stead of re­turn­ing to the tee. This way, the Lo­cal Rule mim­ics your score if you had played a de­cent pro­vi­sional ball.

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