The USGA and R&A have proposed a number of changes to the Rules of Golf to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, and they will have a major impact on how golfers play the game of golf.

The governing bodies are teaming up to create one set of worldwide rules that are easier to understand, and over the next six months (until Aug. 31), they will be accepting feedback/comments from golfers. To comment on the proposed rule changes, visit usga.org/rules or call 908-326-1850.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most significant proposed rule changes — the most notable omission being stroke-and-distance. Every major rule change can be found on the USGA website.

Ball moved during search

There would be no penalty for causing a ball to move during search, and the ball would be replaced to its original spot.

Moving a ball on the putting green

There would be no penalty for a player accidentally moving a ball on the putting surface, although this rule was authorized by the Committee to be enforced as a local rule starting on Jan. 1, 2017.

Standard for deciding why a ball moved

A player would have to be “virtually certain,” or 95 percent sure, that he/she caused the ball to move. Otherwise, there is no penalty.

Replacing ball when original spot is not known

When a ball is accidentally moved, the player would place the ball in its original spot or its estimated original spot, rather than dropping it.

Ball in motion accidentally deflected

A ball that’s deflected by a player, their equipment, etc., would be played from where it comes to rest with no penalty. There would be a penalty, however, if a player positions his/her own equipment to be used as a backboard or otherwise intended point of deflection.

New procedure for dropping a ball

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There would be no limitations to how high from the ground the ball must be dropped, as long as it moves through the air from some height above the ground.

Time for search before a ball is lost

The time to search for a lost ball would be reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.

Substitution of a ball always allowed when taking relief

When taking relief of any kind, a player would be allowed the option to use a new ball or to continue using the original ball.

Repairing damage on the putting surface

The new rule would allow a golfer to repair any damage on the putting surface, including spike marks, except for aeration holes and natural deformities in the surface.

Touching the line of play on a putting green

There would be no longer a penalty for touching the line of play by a player or caddie, but there will still be a penalty for improving the line of play.

Ball played from the putting green hits unattended flagstick in hole

Through the green, the player would have the option to remove the flagstick or have it attended; there would be no penalty for hitting an unattended flagstick on the green.

Expanded use of red-marked penalty areas

The term “hazard” would be eliminated, and all penalty areas would be marked with a red line and would be treated like lateral hazards.

Touching or moving loose impediments or touching the ground in a penalty area

There would be no penalty for touching the ground or removing loose impediments in a penalty area.

Moving or touching loose impediments or touching sand in a bunker

A player may remove loose impediments in the sand and touch the sand with his/her club, although the player cannot deliberately touch the sand to test its condition. Practice swings would still be prohibited.

Use of clubs damaged during round

The player would be allowed to use a damaged club throughout the round regardless of how it was damaged.

Adding clubs to replace a club damaged during round

A player will not be allowed to replace a golf club that they caused to be damaged.

Use of distance-measuring devices

The new rule would allow the use of distance-measuring devices, with an option for a Committee to implement a local rule prohibiting them.

Caddie lifting ball on the putting green

A caddie would be able to lift and clean a player’s ball at any time without authorization, as long as the caddie is the one to replace the ball.

Encouraging prompt pace of play

Among other things, a player would have only 40 seconds to hit the ball from when the player can hit without interference or distraction.

“Maximum score” form of stroke play

A maximum score can be set, whether in relation to par or just a total score, where a player who does not finish the hole would not be disqualified but rather given the maximum score.

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Reasonable judgment in estimating and measuring

As long as a player has done all that is reasonably expected through the rules, player judgement would be upheld even if later deemed to be wrong by an outside source such as video technology.

What do you think about the proposed rule changes?

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96 COMMENTS

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  1. Wow! Now all the snowflake millenials who consider themselves too good to learn the rules are happy. Grow the game? Grow maybe, but it’s not the same game anymore.

    • Millenial Snowflakes don’t like to go outside, and they do think it is a GAME – a Video Game, they would prefer to be playing this game on simulators inside lmao

  2. Some of these make sense, but some clearly don’t.

    Drop ball from any height – There should be a minimum height, say 6 inches, otherwise you’re going to get players dropping the ball from a quarter inch so effectively placing it. Either have a minimum height or allow placing the ball to stop abuse of the rule.

    20 & 80 inch drop zones – Ask most players to estimate 80 inches & you’ll get 10 feet, how are they going to measure this without carrying additional equipment. Anyway most players clubs are similar lengths anyway so I don’t see the relevance of this change.

    Reduce search time to 3 minutes – This will actually slow down play as there will be more walk backs to the original location to replay the shot. Leave it at 5 minutes, but allow a 2 shot penalty drop under the same rules as for an unplayable ball.

    Putting on the green with the flagstick in – Definitely not, many flagsticks kill the ball so players will just rap it at the stick on short puts!

    Being allowed to touch and move natural objects – Only if they directly interfere with the path of the club.

    Being allowed to touch the ground in a penalty area – Not at address, but ok on the backswing as sometimes it’s impossible not to. This doesn’t apply to bunkers where as far as I can tell the rules wil remain the same as they are.

    Etc…

    It’s great that there are plans to modernise the rules, but care needs to be taken to ensure that the any rule changes are easily enforceable and not open to abuse. Far too many players nowadays appear to have a blatant disregard for the rules.

    Andrew

  3. Most if not all of these seem pretty logical, easy to apply and should make it quicker- I can see these working well. I would like to see something to address the impact of landing on a sprinkler head around a green. I’ve seen plenty of shots that are either great, or at worst marginally off target, that have shot off the side of a sprinkler head, sometimes ending v unfairly, inc out of bounds, into the woods, into the water etc. I won a hole in a tight match last weekend because my friend shot off into the trees from what looked like a really good approach shot. I would love to see the option to drop next door to the sprinkler head. It wouldn’t be hard to police, it would be hard to cheat on, and it would remove unfair penalties.

  4. All rules of golf are there to help the player not penalize them. Tee it up hit it until your in the hole, what’s the problem . Bunkers and lakes have a purpose they penalize you that’s golf. If individuals did not drag their feet ,and put back divots that issue would not exist . It does not take anytime to replace a divot fix your ball mark or rake a bunker mabey just try to leave the golf coarse in a little better condition than you found it. It’s called respect for a great game.

  5. Here is my email to USGA, per their request for comments(rules@usga.org):
    USGA Team,
    “The USGA promotes and conserves the true spirit of the game of golf as embodied in its ancient and honorable traditions. It acts in the best interests of the game for the continued enjoyment of those who love and play it.”

    Congratulations on recognizing golf rules complexity and offering changes. Thanks for encouraging feedback.

    It appears to me, a 62 year old, that the game emphasizes tradition at the expense of enjoyment. Price of the round, 6 hour rounds and a rules book that would make the Internal Revenue Service jealous are barriers to our great game.

    1. Do you have any idea what large percentage of the general golfing public makes up their own rules? If you interviewed 100 Wednesday night league players, you would have a handle on the rules that they use and need. Yes, their USGA rules scores would likely be approx 2 to 5 or more strokes higher per nine holes. But, they are not out to please the rules gods. They are trying to have fun.

    2. Though rules “bifurcation” is not recognized by the USGA, it exists, de facto. Encourage local clubs to set up their own local rules. Casual lies, any lost ball played = lateral hazard, etc. Local clubs could have their local rule for casual rounds and USGA or modified USGA rules for their club championships.

    Geewillikers, that’s why so many local charity tournaments encourage mulligans, a string and other oddities to maximize the fun.

    The game’s rules on 1 sheet of paper would grow the game. Many 1 page rules of golf exist(example).

    Best wishes and thanks for your hard work.

        • I disagree. Anna was penalised for making contact with the sand (grounding her club) in the bunker prior to making her shot. DJ thought he was in a waste area but it was actually considered a bunker. Therefore he was also penalised for making contact with the ground.

          “A player may remove loose impediments in the sand and touch the sand with his/her club, although the player cannot deliberately touch the sand to test its condition. Practice swings would still be prohibited.”

          Definitely applies.

          • No, they don’t.
            In Ana’s case, she touched it DURING her stroke BEHIND the ball which improved the lie.
            In DJ’s case, it was a local rule to which he forgot to check and pay attention.

  6. Most people who play don’t even know or abide by the current rules… There are some good changes and other some are so so. One that I would like to see is the fairway divot, you should have relief. You can fix pitch marks on the green why not the fairway…

  7. OK, great prospective changes and yes feedback from golfers and the golf communities is a must – however why wait until 2019 to be published? The first reaction will be that’s when the Rules and Decisions are published. Well why is that a rule? Why can’t that be changed? Who determines the timing? Oh it’s their scheduled update imposed by themselves. Wake up, if it’s OK to establish a Local Rule until 2019 for a ball accidentally being moved on the green, then if any of these proposals warrant change, then they too should be allowed either a Local Rule covering the change, or just simply publish The Rules of Golf in Jan 1, 2018. The date isn’t set in stone, an unchangeable schedule. The golf community is questioning the logic of many Rules and certainly will question, if these are valid updates, why wait?

  8. The current rules seem to me as if they had been written by an old law school professor, bitter from a lifetime of being overlooked for a promotion to a tenured position. Oh yes, and just to add to his anger, he had a rancid, unholy case shingles and a swollen, red boil in the crease of his behind.

    The new proposals are a breath of fresh air and are welcomed and applauded by this golfer. And, it’s about time!

  9. Wow, totally shocked by this but in a good way. Releif for an embedded ball through the green, finally! The pros have had it for years. Loose impediments in a bunker, a set destance for a drop rather than 2 club lengths. If they can enforce the 40 second rule and stop people using the line on the ball for aiming their putts (I wish this was one of the proposed rule changes)…. Some very sensible stuff suggested.

  10. The main reason I play golf with my attorney friend is so he can interpret the rules for me… so much “legalese” in the rule book. I am happy to hear they’re going to re-write the rules in “user friendly” terms.

    Also, love all the other changes. Can’t come soon enough. Looking to try to qualify for the U.S. Open in May but still won’t be allowed to use a rangefinder.

  11. I thought April fool’s day was April 1st, not March 1st. Wow. Looks like I am in the minority. I don’t mind some changes, but an overhaul of the rules book, in my opinion, would add more confusion about the rules of golf.

  12. Very nice changes.

    It seems to me they still need to revamp the Lost Ball rules. Reducing the time to search doesn’t do a lot of good without addressing the stroke-and-distance penalty. Shorter search time means more lost balls, which means more provisional shots will have to be taken (time consuming both to hit & to retrieve) and if provisionals aren’t hit, more time spent returning & rehitting from previous spot. These are among the biggest time wasters in the game.

    I’m sure we all realize that it’s generally not practical on a crowded weekend course to return 270 yards to the teebox to rehit when another group is waiting if one has an unexpected lost ball. Most casual players, even those that play mostly strictly by the rules, will take a drop “somewhere” w/ a penalty and continue the hole. That “somewhere” should be specified under the rules.

    True, it isn’t easy to come up with a perfectly fair solution. By definition in the case of dropping for a lost ball, there’s a lot of ambiguity & player judgement involved and hence those who are more objective & fair are at a disadvantage.

    My suggestion would be to do away with all the definitions and simply say that on ANY shot a player may, w/ a penalty of 1-stroke, take a drop ANYWHERE along the known-or-estimated path of the previous shot, no closer to the hole than the actual-or-estimated finishing position of the ball. This would apply to hazards, out-of-bounds, lost balls, unplayable lies or any other ball the player doesn’t wish to play from where it lies.

    This isn’t perfect. Definitely a big change and would significantly lower scores especially for high-handicappers. Scores from before-and-after the rule wouldn’t be perfectly comparable. It does take away the power of some of the biggest risk/reward designs such as out-of-bounds near a high-value target. You could simply go for it, and if you miss, still drop in a good location with only 1-shot penalty. It favors long-and-erratic over short-and-accurate. There may have to be more detailed specifications on or around the green, though the “no closer to the hole” takes care of most of that. But overall, I think this is a decent & fair solution which really speeds & simplifies the game.

    • Amen! I can’t say that I’m a true stickler for the rules (the USGA would never have me), but I do try to follow them, including pulling the pin on the greens even when I’m by myself), but in the nearly 30 years I’ve played golf, not once have I or a playing partner ever walked back to the tee box after we discovered that we unexpectedly lost a ball. I know it’s rule, but it has always felt wrong and rude, especially when you have a group behind you.

    • Nothing has changed. These are simply being discussed. Most of them listed here will not change, that’s almost guaranteed. But they’re looking into the interpretations and some wording will be changed to clarify certain situations

  13. Wow. Lots of opportunities for rules-bending here. How much gardening on the greens or in hazards? There’s so much cheating in junior golf right now. This is going to make it much worse.

    • I believe that is a personal ‘ethics’ problem, not a rules of golf problem. Their parents should have done a better job instilling good values. If they are going to cheat, they will no matter what the rules state.

  14. Wow. Shank!
    They cannot be serious? I hope these don’t change.
    Hazard rules must be kept. You should never be allowed to touch anything with a club in a hazard, especially if the object is on the ground. I would understand during a swing you might come into contact with a living tree limb or tall grasses, but loose impediments should never be allowed to be touched in a Hazard. It’s a Hazard for a reason.
    Damaged club?! No way would this be allowed. It is already allowed to be replaced, and that’s enough. You just shouldn’t be allowed to replace the one you broke intentionally.
    Spike Marks and say that they might be deformities? That’s hilarious.
    No more shoulder-high drop? That’s ridiculous.

  15. About time – seems common sense for the rest of us isn’t so obvious to the USGA/R&A – now if they can start eliminating and simplifying the rule book (or publish a short set of rules) then it will make a difference. There are so many changes here that I can see average golfers arguing or what is and what isn’t a rule. It is one thing to change a rule – quite another to get it actually in play on the course by most.

  16. I agree with the rules changes. They will go a long way in simplifying the game and decreasing pace of play. I do believe that as a rules official the drop rules is a tough one to monitor and can give rise to too much unnecessary controversy. What is wrong with staying with the current dropping rule and liberalizing the clean and place rule. Finally, I fully endorse the idea of being able to us GUR to remove a ball from a divot. This is necessary because most courses lack the grooming of the courses the pros play on and give the players on lesser maintained courses a fairer golf experience plus speed up play.

  17. Are the R&A and USGA allowing rangefinders with slope detection, too? The use of rangefinders will surely speed up play, but if the slope detection function is disallowed we will still get the same old problem of tour players resorting to their books to get a true yardage. The important point is to decrease the amount of time wasted in preparing to play a shot – every tour pro wants the fullest amount of data and they will get it any way they can.

    • I’m not entirely sure that it would speed up the play. Watch these guys, after they get the yardage they talk, shuffle about, scratch their head, look in a book, talk some more, look up, grab a club, take two practice swings, look up again, look at each other, fart, talk about it, go back and get another club, take two practice swings, step away from the ball, look up, talk…..

  18. I hope they do not implement the no penalty for hitting the stick from the green. Can you imagine all of the flag in/flag out that will be going on in a foursome? I for one would leave it in for every shot while I know a lot of people will disagree with me. But I am just going off of data.

    • I absolutely agree that there might be a lot of “I want it in” and “I want it out” which could be a disaster for time, as well as a lot of eye rolling, because yes, I do disagree with you in that I want the flag out.

      • This will definitely be an interesting one to see play out. I play by myself a lot and usually pull the pin, so I appreciate that this might save me a bit of time on the greens, but you’re definitely right. It could quickly get out of hand.

      • Not sure; one golfer that frequents my group desires the Flag-stick attended when their ball is within 8-10 feet of the hole. After 3-4 minutes of aligning the line on their ball with the hole, they want the Flag-stick attended. Crazy, poor etiquette, and not one I wish in my group. But other than causing me misery, it’s not against the Rules.

        • Somebody should say no and tell him to stop being an idiot. The only reason for the flagstick to be attended is if you’re too far away to see the hole. Otherwise, you’re wasting everybody’s time.

      • Sorry, meant to comment, not report. I could see wanting the pin in on a steep downhill putt of any length on a fast green. The pin could stop the ball. Also would allow hitting the ball harder so it doesn’t break much and the pin would stop it.

  19. Don’t see anything about fairway divots being GUR. That needs to be changed. Not fair if the golfer ahead of me digs a trench and my ball falls in it. I’m not playing the same course as he was!!!

    • Have a look at the new Player’s Rules of Golf Draft: “Rule #1: Play the course as you find it and play your ball as it lies.” This is the central tenet of the golf rules – so there will never be free relief from divots.

  20. Finally you can slightly ground your club in a bunker. And move a big dead limb or rock or whatever is restricting your swing in a hazard area. And it does sound like they are doing away with OB. I’ve had a few rounds just utterly ruined by OB penalties, including day two of a tournament where I hit two OB on the third hole and for all intents and purposes my day was done.

    • Nope – still can’t ground your club in a bunker. This article doesn’t give you the details. Read below.

      Player touches sand in a bunker with his or her hand or a club when the ball is in the bunker
      Current rule: Any touching of sand with hand or club results in loss of hole/2-stroke penalty (with exceptions).
      New rule: No penalty except when a player touches sand (1) with his or her hand or club to test the conditions of the bunker or (2) with the club in the area right behind or in front of the ball, in making a practice swing or in making the backswing for the stroke.

  21. Out of all of these rules, I pray to God they allow rangefinders in competitive play. That alone would speed up play on the PGA Tour…

    I agree with an above question about OB. Does that make it similar to just hitting it in the water? Also, if it’s played as a lateral hazard, then technically could you just play your ball out of OB then?

  22. Wow that’s a lot of changes, I can’t imagine they will all be ratified. There are a number that just makes sense and frankly it’s about time they addressed them ie measuring devices, moving a ball during a search, accidentally brushing something during a backswing in a hazard, changing all hazards to red.
    One question, does that mean out of bounds is no linger stroke and distance?
    Cheers,
    Tim

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