With new rules coming out about the FedExCup Playoff format, we wanted to take a step back and simplify the changes that will matter for all golfers. The new, modernized Rules of Golf were finalized and released by the USGA and R&A earlier this month, and are now set to go into effect January 1, 2019. The number of rules shrunk considerably – from 34 to 24 and just that’s cause for celebration! Thankfully they’re also easier to understand and more in tune with common sense.

Some rules are kinder and gentler, embracing the views of and feedback from the golf community. Others sadly were not changed at all (no relief from a fairway divot). Here are the most significant rules changes that you’ll be using in the New Year, as well as some that would have changed the outcomes of tournaments that were mired by ruled controversies.

Pace of Play Improvements

Spending forever to line up short putts, tossing grass in the air to gauge the wind on 100-yard pitch shots, and going through obsessively long pre-shot routines are clear issues that produce slow play. The USGA and R&A are finally reeling in these behaviors.

2019 Rules of Golf Pace of Play
2019 Rules of Golf Pace of Play

Among other things the new rules state:

  • You have to make each stroke in 40 seconds or less
  • You can and should play out of turn instead of spending unnecessary amounts of time deciding if your playing partner’s ball is one inch closer to the hole than yours (ready golf)
  • The time allowed to find missing balls is now three minutes instead of five (be honest, you never find your missing ball in five minutes anyway)
  • You can leave the flagstick in while putting without incurring a penalty (yes, some putts will hit the flagstick and fall in when they otherwise would have run past the cup; but you’re also going to have some putts hit the flagstick and bounce out when the ball would have otherwise dropped in)

Pace of play is the fourth most important factor in contributing to the overall enjoyment of the game behind course conditioning, who you play with, and tee-time availability. Sure, golfers with poor skills and a lack of policy enforcement are going to slow the game down, but these new rules are a big step in the right direction.

Relaxed Rules for Unintentional Acts

Golf has been a treasure trove of quirky rules completely out of touch with the spirit of the game, and one of the underlying concepts in the new modernized rules addresses some of those quirks. In particular is the principle that a player shouldn’t be penalized for unintentional acts that result in no benefit to them.

Here are some significant applications:

  • No penalty for a double-hit (known as a “T.C. Chen” in recognition of the golfer who struck his ball twice at the 1985 U.S. Open and came undone after a penalty stroke), but you still have to count the second hit as a second stroke
  • No penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball (a direct response to the penalty assessed to Dustin Johnson on the fifth hole of the final round at the 2016 U.S. Open) 
  • No penalty for grounding your club or moving loose impediments in a penalty area (although you still can’t ground your club directly in front of or behind the ball to preserve the challenge of playing from a bunker – you won’t be penalized if you slam your club in the sand after a poor shot… Sergio)
  • No penalty for tapping down spike marks or other damage on the green, or touching the line of your putt – unless it’s with the intention of improving it

Common sense changes like these will resonate with all golfers – especially those of us who’ve suffered the indignity of being penalized for an absurd occurrence – like say, hitting from a bunker and having our ball hit the lip and ricochet back and hit us in the chest. No longer a penalty!

One Rule Specifically for You and Me

One new modernized rule does not apply to professional golf or golf during elite competitions but instead applies to recreational golfers. It concerns lost balls or balls hit out of bounds:

Alternate Rule to Stroke and Distance
Alternate Rule to Stroke and Distance
  • Instead of a stroke and distance penalty, you’re allowed the option of dropping the ball in the vicinity of where your original ball was lost or hit out of bounds and take a two-stroke penalty (so for example, if you hook your drive into the woods and can’t find it – rather than going back to hit your drive from the tee, you can drop in the fairway near the area where your ball was lost)

This Local Rule was created to address pace of play, but in many instances, it’s also going to be your best case scenario to salvage a hole that became problematic with a poor shot.

Other new rules include taking a drop from knee-height as opposed to shoulder-length, being allowed to take relief for an embedded ball anywhere in the general area of the course (except the sand), and returning to a one or two club-length standard for measuring relief as opposed to inches. For a complete list of all the new modernized rules, including videos about common rules situations check out the USGA home page, and let us know if you think the governing bodies fresh new directives are a hit or miss.