The Rules of Golf will undergo massive changes in 2019, the next time the Rules of Golf are jointly published by the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A.
All told, 30 proposed changes to the Rules of Golf will reduce the number of rules in the rule book from 34 to 24, and the Rules of Golf changes will eliminate a number of issues that are annoying to amateurs and recreational players (while also creating some headaches for professionals).
So, let's take a look at the full list of Rules of Golf changes, made in 2017 and set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, in accordance with golf's four-year rules cycle.
Rules of Golf changes proposed by USGA and R&A
- No penalty for moving ball while searching for it: Under new Rule 7.4, if a player accidentally moves the ball while searching for it, they can replace it with no penalty as close to the original spot as possible
- No penalty for moving ball or ball marker accidentally while on the green: Under new Rule 13.1 there will be no penalty if a player or their opponent accidentally causes the ball or ball marker to move while on the green. This is already a local rule approved to begin in 2017 and continue through until official adoption in 2019. It's the Dustin Johnson rule.
- You'll always replace a ball that moved on the putting green back to the original spot, no matter the reason why it moved
- You'll be allowed to repair almost any damage to a green, including spike marks and animal-caused damage
- There will be no penalty for touching the line of your putt on the putting green unless it improves your line and conditions to putt.
- There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole.
- The standard for why a ball moved becomes "known or virtually certain" (95 percent certainty) in almost all cases
- When your ball is accidentally lifted by yourself or another player, you or that player can replace the ball at the estimated original spot without penalty under new Rule 14.2c
- No penalty if the golf ball accidentally deflects off of you or your equipment while in motion. Under new Rule 11.1, the ball will then be played from where it lands. There would be a penalty assessed if it is deemed a player tried to get themselves or their equipment in the way of a ball in motion.
- The way a player defines the relief area and drops the ball into relief changes: Under Rule 14.3, a player can now drop the ball at least 1 inch off the ground, and that ball must be dropped into a 20-inch-square (from immovable object) or 80-inch-square (lateral relief or penalty drop) space from the point where relief is determined. The ball must land and remain in that area when it rests or the drop doesn't count.
- The time allotted to search for a lost ball is cut from 5 minutes to 3 minutes to speed things up.
- A player can substitute a golf ball (take one out of play and replace it) at any time when taking relief.
- You'll be able to take relief for an embedded ball through the green (anywhere on a hole but teeing ground, putting surface and hazards) except in a bunker.
- Golf courses and tournament organizers will be able to deem more areas, like desert, jungle and lava rocks, as red and yellow hazards (or "penalty areas"). Any area can be marked a lateral hazard for rapid relief.
- Players will not be allowed to take relief from a lateral hazard on the opposite side of where the ball last entered the hazard/penalty area.
- You'll be able to remove loose impediments from bunkers.
- There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments, touching the ground or grounding your club in what's deemed a penalty area.
- You'll be allowed to continue to play with a club damaged during the round, even if in frustartion or anger, and you won't be allowed to replace the club if you're responsible for the damage to it.
- You'll be able to use distance measurement devices, like a GPS or laser rangefinder, unless a tournament or facility adopts a local rule banning it.
- A caddie will no longer be allowed to stand behind a player and line them up.
- A caddie will be allowed to lift and replace a player's ball on the green without needing the player to tell them to do so.
- A player's judgment will not be second guessed on distance measurement and estimation, particularly for hazard issues.
We didn't include every proposed rule change here (because some are kind of wonky) and we also combined some rule changes together to make them part of an obvious string of connected changes.