Golf’s new rules: An analysis
Golf Biz

Golf’s new rules: An analysis

A new day may be dawning in golf: a kinder, gentler rule book, beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

However, as I digest the new rules, some of them work; others don’t. Some of the rules will make the game more fair and equitable; some rules will speed up the game; and some rules only truly affect Tour players. But most interestingly, some new rules open the door for creative cheating and the “you did, I didn’t” arguments that will naturally result. Why? Because suddenly the question has transformed from “Did you do this?” to “Did you mean to do it?”

And that opens a door that this writer thinks should remain shut.

Let's look at the good, the bad, the “meh” and the confusing changes that may be coming in two years.


  1. If the wind blows your ball, you can put it back with no penalty. THANK YOU! Never again will we have to hear arguments over “oscillating” golf balls.
  2. You can putt with the flag in. (Anyone who plays by themselves does this all the time anyway…) Fine, no problem, and if you’re game enough to try to let it play backstop on a severe downhill putt, that’s your decision, as long as a guy can’t lay his club on the ground and “accidentally” using it to funnel the ball to the hole.
  3. You can remove a loose impediment in a bunker. That’s sensible.
  4. You can also take free relief from an embedded ball anywhere. That’s fair too. It’s nice not having to take a penalty or gouge it out.
  5. You can fix spike marks in your line. Again, thank you. What took you so long?
  6. Lost ball? You get three minutes to look, not five. Personally, I’d prefer four, but this sure beats dealing with your friend who spends all day searching like he’s trying to find Private Ryan, the Roanoke Colony, Dr. Livingston, the Marie Celeste and Amelia Earhardt (they actually just found her, by the way…)
  7. You don’t have to play the provisional from the tee, but must announce it within 3 minutes. OK, I guess it’s fair, but it will actually slow down the game for a player to search and then go back to the tee.
  8. READY GOLF! This needs no explanation. Now can we please stop with the 3 minute pre-shot routines? People look like baseball players, fidgeting and swinging and waggling.


  1. You can use a damaged club, even if you broke it in anger. A question – why would you want to use a damaged club?
  2. Caddies can stand behind a player’s line. They can also mark the ball. That does save time.
  3. You can’t be second guessed by video replay concerning a drop or a distance. This makes sense as it will keep players in the tournament if the discrepancy is discovered much later than when the player signed his card.


  1. It’s not a penalty to accidentally move your ball on the green. That’s fine, but what’s “accidentally?” My guess is we got the original rule banning moving the ball at all because people would – oops – bump into their ball and see what break there was on the green. (By the way, how does this speed up the game?) According to the proposed new rules, “You are only considered to have caused your ball to move if it is virtually certain (at least 95 percent likely) that you were the cause.” What, do you have a machine to quantify it? Can you see the arguments? “I was only 94 percent sure, well I was 96!” Quick! Ian Clarke! We need you to invent a quanti-ficator!
  2. There’s no penalty if you accidentally move your ball while searching for it. You get to replace it, recreating the lie…but, again, what’s accidentally? And how do you police the replacement when the movement was only seen by the guy moving it?
  3. There's no penalty if you ACCIDENTALLY hit your caddie, bag or any equipment. Again, the idea is great, but the implementation could lead to problems. As long as guys can’t set their spare clubs on a green in a place where it might stop a wayward putt – sort of use them as a backstop – it’s fine, but some players will get some really good breaks from this one.
  4. You can ground your club in a hazard. Of all the rules changes, I hate this one the most. Remember when Bond played Goldfinger in golf, and Goldfinger would mash down rough with his 3-wood, saying, "Can I get a 3-wood to this lie?” And by the time he got done gardening, of course he could get a 3-wood to that lie! I thought you were supposed to suffer some sort of penalty if you hit it in a hazard?
  5. You can use distance finders. This just made the game more expensive, because everyone will need one. Plus it took a skill out of the game – distance analysis

With the new rules, I have a feeling we’re still gong to get arguments, just different ones from before. But we also need at least two years of data to see how players are dealing with the changes. Just like anything else, there’s no point to rushing to judgment. Let’s stop talking about what they say, and see how they pla

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf,, GolfObserver, and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.

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