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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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