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USGA, R&A release “modernized” Rules of Golf



The USGA and R&A announced today the modernized Rules of Golf that will go into effect at the beginning of January, 2019, ending a six-year process of discussion (and year-long period of review).

As part of the most sweeping reform to the Rules in decades, the overall number of rules will be reduced from 34 to 24, and simpler language abounds throughout. Indeed, this represents the most comprehensive change to the Rules since the guidelines’ initial publication in 1744. Additionally, “The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf” replaces the nearly 1,300 examples in the Decisions text.

The more than 30,000 pieces of feedback the governing bodies received during the review period have led to some key changes to the proposed Rules of Golf presented last summer.

Per the USGA:

Dropping procedure: When taking relief (from an abnormal course condition or penalty area, for example), 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. (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: A new Local Rule will now 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 level competitions. (Key change: this is a new addition to support pace of play)

Surely, bifurcation advocates will be intrigued by the language of the Balls Lost or Out of Bounds Local Rule.

“This addresses the issue you hear at the club level about the practical nature of going back and playing under stroke and distance just doesn’t work. It has a negative impact on pace of play, and so how can we introduce something to resolve that. That’s what this local rule is about,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of Rules & Amateur Status. “You simply estimate where it’s out of bounds or where you ball is likely to be lost, you can go all the way out to the fairway and drop anywhere behind. … But the primary objective here is to keep the player moving forward, and we think that’s the real benefit of this.”

Additionally contained in the modernized Rules: Caddies can no longer line up their players. Penalties for accidentally moving a ball on the green or while searching for a lost ball have been eliminated. The time limit for searching for a lost ball has been reduced from five minutes to three. Players are now permitted to repair shoe prints and spike marks on the putting green; they may also remove loose impediments in a bunker and touch the sand with hand of club, provided they don’t ground the club.

David Rickman, the executive director of governance at the R&A, said:

“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.”

The tours are expected to provide training and seminars to familiarize players before the Rules go into effect next year with similar efforts at the amateur level as well.

The modern rules are available at or at .

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  1. RG

    Mar 12, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    I was really hoping they were going to declare divots as ground under repair, especially in the fairway.

  2. David

    Mar 12, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Why bother with a drop. Just place the ball. The drop is stupid. Why should one person be penalized if they get a bad lie after a drop vs someone who gets a good lie.

    • Dcweather

      Mar 15, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Because that same rub of the green would have applied to where the original shot landed. If you applied your logic you should be always allowed to place your ball!

  3. Daniel

    Mar 12, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Why would anyone want to putt with the pin in. Balls that would normally lip in will hit the flag and probably bounce out. Plus if you are a social person the group will generally get to the green at the same time so how is it really saving time, a few seconds tops. Dont like the oob either. If i hit it oob 50m ahead with a bad shot its 1 shot penalty and go back. If i smoke it 240 oob i can take a 2 shot penalty remove any risk of doing it again, and guarantee perfect position in middle of fairway.. otherwise the rest of the rules are smart, except for the missing relief from divot rule that we will never see in golf.

    • Ron

      Mar 13, 2018 at 11:46 am

      For the avg golfers, allowing to putt with the pin in will be nice to go tap in the 1 footers before pulling the pin out for everyone else, without having to hear the obligatory “penalty for putting with the pin in”. It will also be nice for the 50 footer so someone doesn’t HAVE to go tend the pin. For the pros, not much of anything is going to change, as they will always want the pin out. Except maybe if they are chipping from the green, like Reed had to do this past weekend. I don’t think we will ever see anyone, pro or not, have the pin put back in for a normal 10 foot putt. So I think this rule change is pretty good.

    • Dcweather

      Mar 15, 2018 at 9:26 am

      So can I really estimate where it went into the unplayable and then walk out, step back a yard and choose the best angle from the fairway to the pin? Great, I will now be on a level playing field with my cheating partners!

  4. Big Wally

    Mar 12, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    So the stroke and distance rule is a two stroke penalty now? Hit one, 2 and 3 are penalty strokes and you’re hitting 4? Do you have the option of reteeing and hitting 3? If it is as a bad snap hook and goes out at 80 yards it may be advantageous to retee. Can you hit a provisional?

    • Devilsadvocate

      Mar 12, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      You can always take stoke and distance, even if your first ball is A-ok in the fairway

    • Frank Gifford

      Mar 13, 2018 at 7:35 am

      No, it would be: drop 2, hit 3. Or, you could drop ball at entry, play as second shot. Finish out the hole then add 2. Either way works.

      • GMC

        Mar 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

        Um, no. It would be drop 2/3, hit 4th.

        • Frank Gifford

          Mar 14, 2018 at 7:21 am

          My mistake. I interpreted it to be a lateral hazard drop type penalty.

  5. John

    Mar 12, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Never mentioned in any article on the New Rules is the one about leaving the flag stick in the hole ( no penalty for hitting the stick from a stroke on the green.). One of our late afternoon groups has used this concept for years in a “speed golf” back nine to beat the sunset. Saves a lot of time. Especially if you speed up even more by taking one putt and if you miss pick up, count two and GO.

  6. Tom54

    Mar 12, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    As far as leaving flagstick in while putting I cannot see even why this was changed. Maybe if you and your partners are all 45 ft away and wait till first one up leaves it in till he gets up near hole then removes it for the rest of group, sounds ok to me. But has anyone tested whether shorter puts with stick in helps the ball stay in the hole better than no stick at all. I usually never like to firm short putts but may feel like I can slap em against the flagstick and not fear dying them in like normal. Still a dumb rule I believe

    • Hoganben

      Mar 12, 2018 at 6:06 pm

      Your buddies are not going to hit the holes from outside two feet anyway… ps…didn’t Peltz say that on chips anyway the flag usually repells the ball?

    • Ron

      Mar 13, 2018 at 11:51 am

      I think you are missing the point on WHY this rule was changed. I don’t think it was changed to be more advantageous for someone trying to hit a 5 foot putt. Obviously everyone would want the pin removed. It will speed up play for us average golfers not having to have someone tend a 75 footer that you aren’t going to hit anywhere near the hole anyway. Or tapping in a 5 incher..

  7. Andrew

    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Is this a joke? Is this trust fund snowflake golf now?

    • Boyo

      Mar 12, 2018 at 1:54 pm

      No it’s drumpf golf. Oh, wait, this doesn’t include cheating…

      • George

        Mar 12, 2018 at 3:24 pm

        Pipe down you loser liberal

        • Don

          Mar 13, 2018 at 10:31 am

          Yeah, what George said. Hope he didn’t trigger you into your safe space.

      • ken young

        Mar 12, 2018 at 4:39 pm

        I think these changes are necessary to speed play.
        There are rules which make no sense. Many of these rules were in place to prevent players from doing things that would result in an advantage.
        Such as:…Accidentally moving ball. if one is removing loose impediments. The ball moves a quarter inch. It should be procedure to mark the ball. Remove the offending items, replace the ball, same lie as before and play on.
        If on the green, lets say I move my marker and accidentally cause the ball to move. I should just be able to replace the ball and play on.
        The rules when playing in a hazard are complicated and silly. As long as a player is not moving or affecting the condition of the hazard while making a stroke, all is well.
        For example, if in my backswing I touch a plant that is connected to the hazard, there should be no penalty. I’m not attempting to do anything to gain an advantage. Same applies for “loose” things in a hazard. If in a backswing, the club contacts a stick laying on the ground, no penalty.
        Through the green. Under the current rules, if a player in his normal swing strikes a tree with his club and a leaf falls to the ground, i am penalized. That needs to go away.
        Out of Bounds. Should be treated as a lateral hazard. Stroke and distance is slowing down play. There is STILL a penalty. One just does not need to go back to the spot of the previous shot.

        Just replace the thing and move on. TThe

        • Ron

          Mar 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

          I agree. USGA really needed to look at what is actually affecting the outcome of shots and create the rules accordingly. Here’s one I could never understand. If the ball moves during your backswing and you stop, you can replace it without penalty, but if the ball moves during your downswing (say from wing) and you physically can’t stop and you take your stroke, you’re penalized.

          By the way, one thing that’s not correct in your comment, there is currently no penalty for striking a tree and a leaf falling “during your swing”. Only if you do it on a practice swing. Then there’s a penalty for improving your lie.

      • RG

        Mar 12, 2018 at 7:51 pm

        The President in Cheat.

  8. Bob

    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I still say a ball in the fairway shouldn’t be penalized by being in a former divot. The divot is man made and you should get relief from that. Just saying>

    • Jason

      Mar 12, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      My buddies and I all play this rule. Especially in courses with poor agro. You bomb a drive down the pipe to a divot some idiot left and the course doesnt have the funds to fix correctly you shouldn’t be penalized.

    • Brad

      Mar 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      Rub of the grain, sorry that’s just the way it is sometimes. Life lessons….teaches resiliency.

      Some of the most memorable shots I’ve ever hit have been out of divots in the middle of the fairway.

      • Hoganben

        Mar 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

        Kick your ball into the bunker to make it more of a challenge then…lol To me these changes are coming to effect because the old geezers who took 5 hours to play are finally too old to golf. You know the groups of old geezers who play at a turtle pace, but always hustle to the next tee so you can’t play through. Ps…my new rule would be that in a foursome of two couples the ladies would have to tee off first…easy to do because they are almost always in a cart so they can move out of the way after teeing off. The way it is now there macho husbands who think they are Dustin Johnson wait until the foursome ahead is 450 yards up the fairway to off. Then their wives go up to their tee and take 20 minutes to tee off (“How is your daughter doing?”) and hit the ball 75 yards on a good day.

        • Devilsadvocate

          Mar 12, 2018 at 7:31 pm

          Further tee boxes tee off first because they arrive at the tee first and so they don’t hit their playing partners while they stand on the tee… sorry but that’s just nonsensical … Like the part about those idiots hustling to the next tee box tho.. very tru and so damn annoying

    • ken young

      Mar 12, 2018 at 4:43 pm

      I agree. Unfilled divots should be deemed “abnormal ground condition”. Use the “nearest point of relief” procedure and move on.
      The emphasis on UNFILLED divots. Also, NO relief should be permitted if the ball lies in any area except “closely mown” In the rough or other area off the fairway, then play the ball as it lies.

  9. Ron

    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    Overall great changes for golf. I’m a little skeptical on the revision to OB/Lost ball in being able to place a ball in the middle of the fairway with a 2 stroke penalty. So this just assumes you take a stroke/distance penalty and your re-teed shot was dead down the middle. Seems odd. Personally I think they should get rid of stroke and distance and replace it all with a one stroke penalty and drop at point of entry (or estimated area of lost ball). Stroke and distance is too penalizing. You can drown a ball in a lake and take a 1 shot penalty, but god forbid it crosses a white line into someone’s backyard, and that’s more penalizing…

    • GMC

      Mar 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm

      Once again, I agree with you Ron. I’ve been telling my buddies this exact idea for years. Make OB a lateral hazard with the caveat that you must drop it on the hole side of the marked area (basically, eliminate the other drop options for lateral hazard, as well as the option to play from within). Make the stakes red and white like a candy cane if you need to. This way, you never need to ever hit a provisional. Just go to where it went in, add one shot, take two clubs no closer to the hole, take a drop, and play on. Same procedure we now use for a red stake lateral when taking the option to drop on the “hole” or “near” side of the lateral hazard.

      You could almost take this one step further by eliminating the option to go back to the tee if it’s a better chance than dropping. This is rare, but sometimes is the case. If you eliminate this option, the time to go all the back is now eliminated. Something to consider.

  10. JasonHolmes

    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    I hate everything the USGA has done in the last 5 years or so. But I find myself agreeing with most of these. Keep people moving. Most people that hit it OB will just drop a ball anyway instead of going back to the tee, so this lets them do that and keeps the pace up.

    And I’m more than fine with fixing spike marks. If you’ve ever played late in the day on a muni you know how dragged up the green can get. And if you say “too bad, its rub of the green” – well, no, I can fix all the ball marks I want. So its good to finally make the rule consistent.

  11. Brad

    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Putting green repair and leaving the flagstick in while putting….epic fails.

    • Axel

      Mar 12, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      How are these “epic” fails?

      • Eric

        Mar 12, 2018 at 2:03 pm

        I love these melodramatic comments they’re freaking hilarious…every.single.time

    • Jon

      Mar 12, 2018 at 12:16 pm

      Epic fails! Haha when did you start golfing? A year ago? Try again. You won’t find any golfers having a problem with those rule changes

    • Acemandrake

      Mar 12, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      “leaving the flagstick in while putting”…I’m also concerned about this.

      Does this mean it’s players’ choice? If so, then it will take time to remove/put back the pin based on choice (4 choices per foursome ????).

      • Bob Jones

        Mar 12, 2018 at 2:43 pm

        It won’t take any more time at all if the person holding the flagstick stands nearby the hole and asks each player if it should be in or out.

        • Brad

          Mar 12, 2018 at 4:12 pm

          Care to volunteer for that position instead of reading your putt or focusing on your shot? That’s what I thought…..

        • Acemandrake

          Mar 12, 2018 at 4:22 pm

          I may just be imagining worst case scenarios but the pin in/out decision for every putt based on player preference could add time rather than save it.

          In practical application, I can see where it may help as everyone can play without concern for the pin.

  12. John A

    Mar 12, 2018 at 11:58 am

    The last sentence of your article states that you may move loose impediments in a bunker and may also touch the sand with “hand of club” as long as you do not ground the club. Should that be “hand OR club”? And can you describe a situation where you would touch the sand with a club without grounding it? I was a little confused by the wording.

    • Ron

      Mar 12, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      I don’t think the article is correct on this. Just read Section 12.2,b,(1). It’s clear you still cannot deliberately touch the sand with your hand or club.

    • GMC

      Mar 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      Yeah, this one I’m not so sure about either. To me, giving the option to remove loose impediments from a hazard is absolutely not going to help pace of play. And it’s debatable as to whether or not this one will “simplify” the rules. IMO, when in a hazard, don’t touch anything. Simple. That’s a rule that is fine as is. That said, I don’t agree that Brian Davis deserved a penalty at Harbor Town in 2010 as well as Anna Nordqvist in the 2016 US Open. If you brush something without “grounding” (and especially without knowing, as neither knew until watching HD video zoomed in to “ant view”), then it shouldn’t be a penalty IMO. Could be a tough one to police, if I go my way with this rule. But I think common sense would prevail…hopefully.

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10 interesting photos from Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play



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