A radical changes to the Rules of Golf will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, marking a significant change to a rulebook that, until recent years, had been seen as staid and perhaps too slow to respond to the modern adaptation of the game.
The USGA and R&A jointly proposed litany changes to rules and procedures for handling drops, hazards and other events that used to lead to penalty strokes. Now, many of those events that led to higher scores will now be eliminated or changed to increase pace of play and reduce the penalty for hitting particularly wayward shots.
All told, the total number of Rules in golf (which had lots of subsections, too) has been reduced from 34 to 24.
Many of the proposed rules changes announced in 2017 were adopted as originally shared, but two proposals were changed and two new rules changes were added to the end product.
- The new procedure for taking relief from something like ground under repair or a hazard (now known as a "penalty area") will means golfers drop their ball from knee height. The original proposed change called for dropping from any height above the ground. The finalized ruling creates simplicity that's easy to understand.
- Similarly, the way golfers measure out where they can take relief has been clarified in the finalized rules change. Golfers will measure using the longest club in their bag other than putter to measure one or two clublengths, depending on the situation (one clublength for free drops, two clublengths for penalty drops).
- There will no longer be a penalty for a double hit. There previously was a one-stroke penalty for the double hit, effectively making the golfer could both strikes of the ball with the club. This was an added change from the original proposal.
- A new local rule will now also be available, allowing tournament or club committees to allow golfers to drop the ball in the vicinity of where a ball is lost or hit out of bounds under a two-stroke penalty. The ball may even be dropped in the fairway. This can eliminate stroke-and-distance penalties at the club level and allow for better pace of play. This wouldn't be used in professional or elite-amateur competitions.
The other originally proposed changes were adopted as initially stated, including:
- 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 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.