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Opinion & Analysis

2019 Rule Changes: What’s in it for you?

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Recently the USGA and R&A revealed the results of their review of the feedback the public provided to the original proposals to modernize the Rules of Golf:  The final text of the 2019 Rules is now available.

There’s a lot going on there, and the first thing you’ll note is the clear indication that the “new” Rules are in many ways “your” Rules.  The two Ruling Bodies took the feedback of ordinary players to heart. Major changes between the original proposals and the final results include changing the dropping height from “any height” above the ground to “knee height,” changing relief measurement from the proposed 20/40/80 inches back to the traditional one or two club lengths (the club used to measure will need to be your longest club other than your putter), the elimination of the double-hit penalty, and perhaps most profoundly, moving from a long-standing resistance to change the Stroke and Distance penalty to providing an optional Local Rule that will permit you to drop at a location near your lost or OB ball rather than walk back to the spot from which your previous shot was made. 

Those are just changes to the original proposals. The changes between the 2019 Rules and the current Rules are vast. For decades, the Rules have been presented in two publications: the Rules of Golf (which currently presents the 34 base Rules) and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf (which interprets the base Rules). Starting in 2019, and for the foreseeable future, we’ll instead be working with three publications: 

  • The revised Rules of Golf
  • The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf
  • The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf. 

The new Rules of Golf differs significantly from the previous book, and not only in that it obviously holds revised Rules. It’s now written in a more reader-friendly way, and will soon have supporting illustrations. The number of Rules presented has been decreased from today’s 34 to 24 (in part since some Rules addressing the Committee’s behavior have been moved elsewhere), the Definitions section (now at the end of the book instead of up front) has been expanded, and some of the information previously only available in the Decisions book has been worked into this main Rulebook.

In September, we will see the illustrations added to the new Rules of Golf, along with our first view of the other two new books. The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf will be a user-friendly, abridged version of the main Rulebook intended for use by the average player, and the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf will be a replacement for today’s Decisions book and particularly useful to officials and Committees.

While you can get a head start by reading the text for the main 2019 Rulebook now, and while there is already a significant amount of information (including videos) on the USGA’s website contrasting the old and new Rules, the USGA says it doesn’t plan to officially start its “education” process until September. 

Beyond the fact that players had a significant role in defining the new Rules, what else is in it for you? Well, following are some tantalizing new freedoms you’ll have come January 1, 2019. If you’re inspired to take a more detailed look at the new Rulebook available online, for your reference each comment below is followed by the new Rule number:

  • Repair almost any damage on putting green, including spike marks. (R 13.1c)
  • Accidentally move your ball on the green. (R 13.1d — no longer just a Local Rule)
  • Touch what used to be called your “line of putt.”  (Elimination of old R 16-1a)
  • While on the green, allow your ball to strike the unattended flagstick left in the hole, or accidentally strike the flagstick randomly left on the ground. (R 13.2)
  • Accidentally deflect your ball off any player or equipment (even off yourself or your own equipment). (R 11.1)
  • Accidentally hit your ball more than once during a stroke. (R 10.1a)
  • Accidentally move your ball during a search.  (R 7.4)
  • Move Loose Impediments in what are now called Hazards (and will be called either Penalty Areas or Bunkers). Just make sure you don’t accidentally move your ball while doing so.  (R 15.1a) 
  • Ground your club in a Penalty Area or Bunker (though not right in front of or right behind your ball in a Bunker). (R 8.1b)
  • Drop your ball from knee height instead of shoulder height (a big benefit in bunkers). (R 14.3b)
  • Ignore the complicated list of requirements as to when to re-drop your ball detailed in old Rule 20-2c — just make sure your ball doesn’t hit you or your equipment before it hits the ground, and comes to rest within the margins of the relief area, and you’re good to go.  (R 14.3c)
  • If necessary, mark and lift your ball to see if it is damaged, to identify it, or to see if it is in a condition where relief is allowed without having to first alert others. (R 4.2c, 7.3, 16.4)
  • Get a two club-length wide leeway (one CL either side/no closer) when dropping on a spot, an estimated spot, or on a line from the hole.  (R 14.6b, 16.3b, 17.1d, 19.2b)
  • Use “reasonable judgement” in estimating and measuring drop locations and that will be good enough. (R 1.3b)
  • Generally be able to drop in the fairway (with a 2 stroke penalty) if a ball is lost or OB. (Optional new Local Rule)

So, a whole lot to ponder. Maybe take a peek now and make things a little easier to adjust to come January. In the meantime, take care and play well!

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Howard Meditz is a member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association and author of the book, How to Love the Rules of Golf, available on Amazon. He holds “The Highest Level of Rating” in knowledge of the Rules of Golf, a designation awarded by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association. He's a member of the Rules & Competitions Committee and a rules official for New York’s Metropolitan Golf Association; a member of the Executive Committee and a rules official for New York’s Westchester Golf Association; a rules official for the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association; and holds a seat on the Board of Governors and is Rules Chairman at Connecticut’s busiest golf facility. (He really loves the Rules of Golf.)

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Lovejoy

    Jul 12, 2018 at 6:01 am

    Te,you’re right,we have ob tight on the right side of 4 of our opening 5 holes,I’ve seen multiple reloads before a ball is put into play which is an appropriate penalty and reward for the golfer who can find the fairway.

  2. One Day At A Time

    Jul 11, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Whilst intentions seem to be in the right place, too much reform too quickly has generally had a negative effect in all arenas. I do not support these changes.

  3. Till

    Jul 11, 2018 at 8:17 am

    I had to learn rules and decisions for my teaching pro exams and I have to say that simplifying a lot of stuff is the way to go.

    Reading the rule book was a torture.

    And if nobody wants to read those rules, they are basically obsolete.
    I love the fact that they are putting images in it, too.

  4. Alan R

    Jul 10, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Howard wrote “Major changes between the original proposals and the final results include changing the dropping height from “any height” above the ground to “knee height,” changing relief measurement from the proposed 20/40/80 inches back to the traditional one or two club lengths (the club used to measure will need to be your longest club other than your putter), the elimination of the double-hit penalty, and perhaps most profoundly, moving from a long-standing resistance to change the Stroke and Distance penalty to providing an optional Local Rule that will permit you to drop at a location near your lost or OB ball rather than walk back to the spot from which your previous shot was made”

    From “any height to knew height” AND “20/40/80 inches to 2 club lengths ARE changes from the original proposal.

    BUT, weren’t the “elimination of the double-hit penalty” AND the “optional local rule to drop at a location NEAR the OB” actually PART OF the original proposal ???

  5. ogo

    Jul 10, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    The Rules of Golf only applies to low handicap ams and tour pros. The rest of us just use common sense like carrying a spare ball to be dropped in the fairway and in the vicinity of where your lost ball last entered the rough…. to keep up the pace of play and avoid mosquito and tick infested areas.

    • Draw down

      Jul 11, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      So so wrong.

      The “rest of us”? You don’t speak for the rest of us.

  6. Te

    Jul 10, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Sad. Strict rules are what makes the game, and now they are letting most of it go for the sake of low-scoring and pace of play – neither of which is had ever been the point of the game but now with so many lazy hackers on the courses that feed the industry, this is what we have come to. Might as well introduce the ability to record every shot and every situation with our smartphones on record all day during competition rounds pointed at each other so we can determine exactly what happened when there are no officials on the courses, and waste more time playing with technology

    • dat

      Jul 10, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      You can play whatever rules you like. If you want you can stop playing altogether.

      • ogo

        Jul 10, 2018 at 3:45 pm

        The Rules of Golf make golf a mockery and no fun to play.

        • Draw down

          Jul 11, 2018 at 1:47 pm

          Sorry dude, but the only mockery is you. I don’t know what game you are playing, but it isn’t golf.

      • Te

        Jul 10, 2018 at 4:53 pm

        Yup, that’s almost what the new rules are going to be – dropping near the point where the ball may have crossed the OB line? That’s the worst decision ever.

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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