Thursday, January 17, 2019

Western Gailes Golf Club - Course Profile

Western Gailes Golf Club
Irvine, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

7014 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Fred Morris (1897)
LAST PLAYED: August 12, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 89 (+18)

- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #100
- Britain and Ireland Top 100 2018: #34

"I had heard so much praise about Western Gailes over the years that it was high on my list of must play courses. It didn’t disappoint. Beautiful holes, on great land make it endlessly interesting and challenging. I look forward to my next chance to play."
Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open Champion

Western Gailes Golf Club will always hold a special place in my memories of the game, as it was the first stop on our epic 2017 Scottish adventure and perhaps more significantly, my first-ever round of golf outside North America.

The history at Western Gailes dates back to the late 1800's, when four prominent members of golf clubs in the city of Glasgow had a vision to create a course on the Ayrshire coast, a getaway far from their workplaces where they would be free from the winter frost that allowed the game to be played year-round.

They were able to come to a lease agreement with the Sixth Duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck, for a parcel of land near Irvine hard on the coast and as a result, the club was officially formed in 1897. The parcel of land is a long but narrow strip that sits near the Firth of Clyde, between the sea and a railway line. That railway has been a significant part of the history at Western Gailes, as it provided members and guests who lived in Glasgow easy access to the Ayrshire coast. A train station would be built right at the club and was in use from the early days right through the 1950's, with the last train leaving the Gailes station in 1966.

The first nine holes were ready for play early in 1898 and the second nine was opened in May the same year. Golf Digest is of the belief that Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion and golf course architect who designed the famous "Postage Stamp" hole at Royal Troon also designed Western Gailes. However, the club insists that their first greenskeeper, Fred Morris, routed and designed the golf course.

The course regularly hosts Open Championship qualifying events, was the site of the 1972 Curtis Cup matches and has also hosted the Scottish Amateur nine times, most recently in 2011. Western Gailes tips out at just over 7000 yards and it's a supreme test of golf, especially when the wind blows, as it did when we played.

The course has an "out and back" routing, something that is relatively standard with links golf but Western Gailes is very unique in comparison due to where its clubhouse is situated. The first four holes run inland away from the clubhouse to the northeast before turning around for a thrilling jaunt along the coast. The next eight holes, from #5 through #13, head southwest with the sea hard on the right side the whole way. It's a magnificent stretch of holes but the golf remains compelling as you make the "turn" once again on the long par five 14th, heading northeast for the last five holes before hitting the centrally-located clubhouse.

The first hole, a 310 yard par four named "Station", is a gentle handshake of an opener but I quickly would find out how much wind affects ball flight over in Scotland, as my wedge approach from about 90 yards climbed in the air and then started coming back towards me!

The fun truly begins on the second, named "Railway", as it features a very unique green set below fairway grade in a bit of a hollow. Strategy off the par four 3rd hole, named "Arran", is paramount. You need a tee shot that hugs the left side of the fairway in order to have a full view of the green, which is completely blind if you are over near the three pot bunkers on the right hand side, situated behind a large dune.

You make the turn after the 4th and the 5th hole is an absolute stunner - named "Bunker's Hill", this massive par four stimulates all your senses, with the sea and sand hard to your right and rollicking dunes to your left. This hole, along with the following seven along the sea, play into the prevailing wind so at 500 yards from the tips, you'll often need three well-struck shots just to reach the putting surface.

This is just an appetizer though, as the 6th and 7th holes, in this author's humble opinion, are world-class in every respect.

The 6th, named "Lappock", is a 498 yard par five with a forced carry required off the tee to a slightly diagonal fairway. You can elect to layup short of the well-placed fairway bunker cut into a dune on the left side or hit a hybrid or metal wood and give it a go. The punchbowl shaped green is set in behind that dune and a shot that is played well out to the right can hit a large slope and funnel to the left and onto the putting surface if struck well. The green is very long and quite narrow so despite the fact that the slopes seem to help, it's incredibly difficult to place your ball close to the hole, even with a wedge. The design and the setting is tremendous and most will walk off this green, take a look back at the incredible landscape and know they've played one of the best holes in golf.

You can only shake your head in delight as you make your way to the elevated 7th tee. The first par three at Western Gailes, named "Sea", is another standout. Measuring 198 yards from the back tees, this hole plays downhill slightly but is all carry to a very well-protected green nestled in the dunes and with bunkers short right and long left. Anything but the most precise shot will likely mean a best. Simply gorgeous!

The mid-length par four 8th hole and the shorter par four 10th holes feature burns that wind directly in front of the greens, making distance control vital with your approach on both holes. I also enjoyed the very difficult test presented at the long par four 11th, named "Plateau", which presents an angled fairway that is slightly offset from the green, which is tucked off to the right and requires a big fade approach or the more risky shot on a direct line over the deep rough and dunes to the right.

The short par three 13th hole is at the far southwest end of the property and the final hole at Western Gailes with the sea on your right. Named "Barassie", it's only 154 yards from the back tees but is almost completely surrounded by seven bunkers, while any shots that come up short will fall back down the slope and into another burn. Play for the middle of the generous green here and be happy with a two-putt par!

The last five holes play inland and back toward the clubhouse, with the railway running down the right hand side the whole way. At 592 yards, the par five 14th is the longest hole at Western Gailes but the prevailing wind should help somewhat. Birdies and pars are possible but you need to hit a long and accurate drive to give yourself any chance at a good score here.

The 15th hole, called "Heather", is the last of the one shotters at Western Gailes and it's another stunner both visually and from a design perspective. A long iron or fairway metal will likely be required, as you have a long forced carry over the long rough and then two very well-placed pot bunkers about twenty yards short of the green. If you clear those particular traps, you have some room to run the ball up to a green surrounded by two bunkers left and three more to the right. Anything offline will likely result in a bogey or worse.

The long par four 17th hole, named "Ridge", is yet another standout. Measuring 470 yards from the back tees, your drive needs to avoid a bunker on the left side and the railroad to the right but enhancing the difficulty is the fact that the fairway narrows considerably the further you hit it off the tee. The second shot is unique, as the fairway splits and you need to hit over the ridge to a green set behind a series of bumps and hollows, with a small, deep pot bunker cut into the front right of the putting surface.

The "Home" hole, a 407 yard par four, is reasonably straightforward but hitting into the widest portion of the fairway will leave an approach of approximately 200 yards, which isn't ideal. The approach shot is tested by a series of three bunkers that are between 30 and 50 yards short of the green on the left, ready to thwart any shot not well struck.

Make no mistake about it - Western Gailes is a very demanding test of golf. The fairways are pretty narrow and the targets seem even smaller due to the dunes lining most of the holes, the very long and challenging rough and 106 bunkers that are dotted throughout the design. The course certainly prevailed on this day, as I shot an unsightly 89 (+18) overall, with zero birdies and quite a few round crushing double bogeys!

That all said, I think this was the perfect course for us to begin our journey and a great choice for anyone who is looking for a proper introduction to true links golf. It's not called Western Gailes for nothing - the wind out here is always a factor and your shotmaking skills will be supremely tested throughout the day.

The course was in fantastic condition, with very firm and fast fairways and greens despite a wetter than average season back in 2017. We were also very fortunate to experience perfect weather on our first day in Scotland, with mild temperatures and glorious sunshine throughout the day, as seen in the photos below.

Western Gailes has always been considered to be somewhat of a hidden gem, perhaps due to the fact that it isn't part of the Open rota. However, Golf Digest recently named it as one of the 100 best golf courses in the world outside of the United States and I was told it's a popular choice of tourists coming to the Ayrshire coast. Based on the incredibly warm hospitality we were shown by the club's staff and members, I can definitely see why that's the case.

We finished our day with a couple of drinks in the clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th green and offers long views of the course and sea.

It was a perfect way to conclude our first day in Scotland.

The tee shot on "Station", the opening hole at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

That's me hitting my second shot on the par four 4th hole
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

There are sod-walled bunkers aplenty at Western Gailes, including the front left of the 4th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Yours truly ripping one off the 5th tee at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A look from the fairway on "Bunker's Hill", the 5th hole at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The gorgeous surroundings beyond the 5th green at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back down the 5th fairway from the 6th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Stephen paces off the yardage on the par five 6th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The wonderful par five 6th hole at Western Gailes, named "Lappock"
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The rollicking 6th fairway, with the green in the distance set in a punchbowl behind a dune on the left
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Looking back up the fairway from just behind the pin on the 6th green at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Another look back down the thrilling par five 6th, as seen from the 7th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The glorious par three 7th, appropriately named "Sea"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Chris deftly handles an almost impossible pitch from the dunes left of the 7th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

That's me attempting to navigate the difficult tee shot on the par four 8th hole, named "Burn"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The beautiful but difficult par three 15th, called "Heather"
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A split fairway awaits on the very cool 17th hole, named "Ridge"
(Both Photos by Now on the Tee)

The approach shot into the "Home" hole at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A look at the locker room at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Scotland 2017 Trip Recap - Preface

Our itinerant group at the famous Dunvegan Hotel in August 2017 (from left: Chris H, Matt S, Andrew L, Dan G, Howard R, Ed M, yours truly and Stephen S)
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Over the next nine weeks, I will be posting detailed profiles of all nine golf courses I visited in Scotland in August 2017.

I've already written about the genesis of this particular trip so instead of rehashing all of that, I'll just direct you to this post, entitled How Quickly Things Can Change. I was lucky enough to join seven others for #AuldSod2017, better known as the Trip of a Lifetime, with twelve rounds on nine different Scottish golf courses, spread across an eight day period.

I will be uploading new course profiles from this trip every Thursday at 10:00am for the next nine weeks as I continue to keep my promise of providing fresh content on a weekly basis throughout 2019 here at Now on the Tee. The course write-ups will come in the same order that we played them on our trip.

So, without further ado, here is a look at our itinerary from our 2017 trip:


Day 1: Western Gailes Golf Club - to be posted January 17th
Day 2: Prestwick Golf Club X 2 - to be posted January 24th
Day 3: Trump Turnberry - Ailsa Course - to be posted January 31st
Day 4: Muirfield Golf Club - The Honourable Club of Edinburgh Golfers X 2 - to be posted February 7th
Day 5: North Berwick Golf Club - West Links X 2 - to be posted February 14th
Day 6: Carnoustie Golf Club - Championship Course - to be posted February 21st
Day 7: The Old Course at St. Andrews - to be posted February 28th
            Elie - The Golf House Club - to be posted March 7th
Day 8: Kingsbarns Golf Links - to be posted March 14th

I'll also write a Postscript and upload that on March 21st, with some discussion on the hotels we stayed in during the trip and any "off course" stuff like restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, etc. I'll conclude the postscript by sharing details of our follow-up trip, #auldsod2019, which will be taking place in early August 2019 and may prove to be even more exhaustive than our 2017 adventure!

As these profiles are updated to the site, I'll be sure to link them up above so feel free to use this post as a reference if you'd like.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

2018 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead

The thrilling tee shot on the opening hole at Lookout Point Country Club in Fonthill, Ontario
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

For the first time in three years, I actually have a golf trip planned well in advance and it's looking like it will be something special.

There is quite a lot to look forward to in 2019. Lets get to it!

Looking Ahead

I've alluded to this in previous posts but after over 30 years of membership at St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, I resigned in October 2018 and decided to join Lookout Point Country Club (shown above) in nearby Fonthill for the 2019 season and beyond.

This Walter Travis designed gem opened for play in 1922 and features stunning vistas of neighbouring Niagara Falls, excellent rolling topography and phenomenal green complexes, a Travis trademark. I couldn't be more excited about this big change in my life and I'm looking forward to playing in a ton of club events and getting integrated into the membership at Lookout.

If any of my readers find themselves in Niagara and want to see what Lookout Point is all about, reach out to me and I'll be happy to host if the timing works.

As far as golf trips go, I have one planned and it looks like it will be absolutely epic.

In early August, I'll be heading back to Scotland for the second time in three years, with an incredible 15 rounds of golf scheduled over a ten day period.

My trip begins with a red-eye out of Toronto and an early, next morning arrival in Glasgow. I'll meet up with three friends for the "Pre-Trip" portion of the trip and we'll immediately depart for Royal Troon Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

A shot of the clubhouse and 18th green at Royal Troon Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

In 2017, our group stayed at the Marine Hotel in Troon right alongside the 18th fairway but we did not play the course on that trip. The Old Course at Troon has hosted The Open Championship nine times, most recently in 2016 when Henrik Stenson came out on top in a thrilling final round shootout over Phil Mickelson. The par three eighth hole, known as "The Postage Stamp", is one of the most famous and notorious holes in the game.

From there, our foursome will head north into the Scottish Highlands, where 36 holes await us at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Old Tom Morris is given credit for overhauling the original nine hole design and converting it into the 18 hole Championship Course in the late 1880s. It is known as one of the greatest golf courses in the world, currently sitting 15th on Golf Magazine's 2017 list of the world's best and I've been desperately hoping to experience the course and the town of Dornoch ever since reading Lorne Rubenstein's wonderful book, "A Season in Dornoch", which gets my highest recommendation.

The next day, we will head about a half hour north to Brora Golf Club.

James Braid laid out the links at Brora in 1891 and I'm a big fan of his after our round in 2017 at Elie, another charming Braid design just outside of St. Andrews. Brora is known for the sheep that roam and graze on the property and the electric fences that surround many of the putting surfaces to keep them off the greens. The club is a bit off the beaten path, so to speak but I'm a big fan of hidden gems and I'm guessing that our day at Brora will be one of the highlights of the trip.

We plan on doing a distillery tour after our round at Brora and we will then wrap up our time in the Highlands with a round on the modern masterpiece, Castle Stuart Golf Club.

The brainchild of developer Mark Parsinen, who also brought Kingsbarns Golf Links to life, Castle Stuart overlooks the Moray Firth and was co-designed by Gil Hanse, a noted American architect, with the course opening for play in 2009. Castle Stuart already sits within the top 100 courses in the world and has hosted the Scottish Open an incredible four times.

From there, we will head four hours south and meet up with the other four members of our group in East Lothian. Their trip begins with a round at Gullane #1 but us "Pre-Trippers" will miss out on that while making the trek from the Highlands. The eight of us will all meet up for the first time after their round and the next day, we'll be playing 36 holes at the phenomenal North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

The Children's Course runs alongside the famous West Links at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland, as seen from the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

We enjoyed a 36 hole day at North Berwick back in 2017 so this is the first course that we felt compelled to see again on this trip - simply put, it's that good!

North Berwick has long been a "hidden gem" on Scottish golf itineraries and is a favourite of pretty much anyone who visits, with great template holes in a spectacular, seaside setting. It's awesome, it's on great land in a great location, it's a charming, quaint town and it's fun personified. I absolutely loved North Berwick and can't wait to see it again this year.

We have our second and final repeat viewing the next day, as the group once again heads back to one of the greatest clubs in the world, the famed Honourable Club of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

The gorgeous clubhouse at Muirfield provides the backdrop as you approach the 18th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013. Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and once again, we will be lucky enough to play our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory!) and then head back out for a boozy alternate shot match in the afternoon.

I'm especially excited to get back to Muirfield due to the fact I played one of my finest rounds of golf ever there in my first trip, making an eagle and four birdies, including the 17th and 18th holes, to shoot an incredible 72. A day I'll never forget...

Our final day in East Lothian sees us visit Tom Doak's only Scottish design, The Renaissance Club.

Jerry Sarvadi, an American businessman, played a lead role in developing the course and would eventually move to North Berwick with his family to run the day-to-day operations of the club, which opened for play in 2008. We will be playing Renaissance only three days after the conclusion of the Ladies Scottish Open, one of the premier events on the LPGA Tour so I'm guessing the course will be in magnificent shape. The 2019 Mens Scottish Open is also taking place at Renaissance in early July so it's a big year for the club - two major world tour events and hosting our itinerant group of eight golf fanatics. Not bad!

After our round, we head north for the final leg of our amazing trip, setting our anchor in the city of Aberdeen. Our first round the next morning is at Murcar Golf Club, another hidden gem from what I'm told.

Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson in 1909 and revised by James Braid in the 1930s. The course is located on a classic stretch of links land with massive sand dunes, undulating fairways and is covered in whins and heather with some magnificent views across the North Sea.

Later that afternoon, we will head a few miles south for a game at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club's Balgownie Course.

Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is considered to be the 6th oldest club in the world. The club relocated in the late 1800s and the Balgownie Course, designed by Archie and Robert Simpson, opened for play in 1888. The club has hosted many great events over the years and is well known for their immense dunes, among the largest in the country, that must be navigated during the round.

I'm also very excited about the following day, where we will play two rounds at Cruden Bay Golf Club.

Long known as one of the great hidden gems in Scotland, wide acclaim over recent years has propelled Cruden Bay on to many World Top 100 lists and as a result, the course is a preferred stop on most Scottish itineraries. A few guys in the group played Cruden Bay in 2017 but I wasn't one of them so I'm greatly looking forward to the day. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson designed the course in 1899 and like Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay features massive dunes and a glorious seaside setting. This is one of the most anticipated days of the trip for yours truly.

We conclude this epic adventure with a round at the controversial Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen.

The course was designed by Martin Hawtree and opened for play in 2012 but the development was heavily scrutinized by many conservationists throughout the process and that scrutiny continues to this day, with the fires fanned even more due to Trump's time in the White House. As a result, I will admit this is the course I'm least looking forward to on our trip but perhaps that's not entirely fair - I've heard plenty of accolades from people I greatly respect about the experience and even those who aren't effusive in their praise say they respect the course quite a bit. The landscape is supposed to be as dramatic as any in the world of golf so I will give it a fair chance. That said, it's the last course we see on our trip and for the sake of comparison, I came away feeling lukewarm about Kingsbarns in 2017 when it was the last course on that vacation so perhaps there will be some parallels in 2019.

15 rounds in 10 days...I may not be able to walk when I get back to Canada! I literally can't wait for this trip.

I don't have any other trips planned but hope to take some days off work here and there to see some courses in Ontario and in Western New York.

On my radar in Ontario would be hopeful first time visits to Redtail Golf Course near St. Thomas, Toronto Golf Club, the nine holes at Toronto Hunt Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club and Summit Golf Club, among many others.

As far as Western New York, I've long wanted to play Country Club of Buffalo and also hope to visit Park Country Club and Crag Burn Golf Club.

The great thing about golf is that surprises seem to come every year. There is absolutely no chance I get to see all of those courses this year but I guarantee there will be other places I get the chance to visit that will surprise and delight. Hopefully I get the chance to play with some of my readers next year.

As for Now on the Tee, you can expect to see much more content in 2019, with my goal being an article every week.

That's right - I plan on writing 52 different pieces in 2019!

Despite my lack of output in 2018, pageviews were up almost 10% over 2017, our first increase since 2013. That said, we used to drive much more traffic to the site between 2007 and 2015, back when I posted more frequently.

The bulk of the content I have planned in 2019 will come in the form of golf course profiles. I have thousands of golf course photos in my archives that haven't seen the light of day and it's time to share them with my readers. I haven't profiled any of the Scottish courses I visited in 2017 so I'm going to start there, writing about my first-ever overseas round that took place at Western Gailes Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

From there, I plan on going to my readers to ask what you want to see - I'll likely put up polls on the Now on the Tee Twitter page so keep your eye out for that in the coming days.

I recently bought Luminar 3, the new photo editing software from Skylum that was on sale over Christmas. It's a very sophisticated program but pretty "newb" friendly, which is why I went in that direction over the seemingly more complex and robust Affinity Photo. The picture at the top of the page of Lookout Point was one of my first efforts using the new software and I think that photo came out looking pretty damn good! I'm really looking forward to going through my extensive library of photos and touching them all up before uploading them here for my course profiles.

I'm also planning to put a lot more work into my personal fitness, diet and my golf game in 2019. I'm turning 46 in April so improving flexibility, strength and endurance is going to be vital going forward. My handicap index is sitting at 4.8 right now and I want to start working on that - I'm thinking of signing up for lessons at my new club and taking advantage of the great practice facility at Lookout Point as well. I'm going to be getting fit for a new driver this year (special thanks to my old crew at St. Catharines G&CC for the amazing going away gift!) and may look into some other clubs, specifically a driving iron.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. As indicated, you can look forward to seeing new content weekly here at Now on the Tee and I hope you come back often to read about my exploits.

I can't wait to see what 2019 brings!

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Golf's New Rules - Summary of Major Changes in 2019

In March 2017, the two major governing bodies in golf, the R&A and the USGA, unveiled a preview of a proposed set of new rules for the game. This was the first fundamental review of the rules of golf since 1984 and it was established to ensure the rules fit the needs of today's game and the way it's played around the world.

A six-month feedback and evaluation period commenced and the rules were finalized in early 2018 and are officially in effect as of January 1, 2019.

The changes are wide-spread and are primarily meant to help simplify things for amateur and "weekend" golfers. That said, there are a number of changes that will also affect the tournament player, both at the amateur and professional levels.

The following is a detailed summary of the major changes to the Rules of Golf for 2019 and beyond. These are the changes expected to have the most impact on the game and to be of most interest to golfers and those who follow the game.

Ball at Rest

1. Ball moved: Player accidentally moves his or her ball during search
Old Rule: 1-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No Penalty

2. Ball moved: Player accidentally moves his or her ball or ball-marker on the putting green
Old Rule: 1-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No Penalty

3. Ball moved: Standard for deciding whether the player caused his or her ball to move
Old Rule: Weight of the evidence/more likely than not
NEW RULE: The player will be found to be the cause only when it is known or virtually certain (at least 95%) to be the case

4. Ball replaced: How to replace a ball lying off the putting green when it moves and its exact original spot isn't known
Old Rule: Drop the ball as near as possible to the estimated spot
NEW RULE: Replace the ball on its estimated spot; if that spot was on, under or against attached natural objects, replace the ball on that spot on, under or against those objects

Ball in Motion

1. Accidental deflection: Player's ball in motion accidentally hits the player, his or her caddy, the person attending the flagstick or the attended or removed flagstick
Old Rule: 1-stroke penalty (2-stroke penalty when the accidental deflection relates to the flagstick or attendant)
NEW RULE: No Penalty

2. Double hit: Player accidentally hits the ball more than once during a stroke (ie: the "TC Chen")
Old Rule: 1-stroke penalty
NEW RULE: No Penalty

Taking Relief

1. Dropping procedure: Where a ball must be dropped
Old Rule: Sometimes the drop is in a specific area, sometimes it is on or near as possible to a spot or line
NEW RULE: Drop in a defined relief area

2. Dropping procedure: Where a dropped ball must come to rest
Old Rule: The ball must be re-dropped if it rolls to any of the nine specified areas (Rule 20-2c), such as rolling more than two club-lengths from where the dropped ball struck the ground
NEW RULE: The ball must come to rest in the relief area where it was dropped. If the ball comes to rest outside of the relief area, the player will drop a second time in the relief area. If the ball again comes to rest outside of the relief area, the player will place it where the ball first touched the ground on the second drop

3. Dropping procedure: Measuring the size of the relief area where a ball must be dropped and played
Old Rule: Measured by using 1 or 2 club-lengths (with any club the player selects)
NEW RULE: The relief area is measured by measuring 1 or 2 club-lengths (which is defined as the longest club the player has during the round, other than a putter)

4. Dropping procedure: How to drop a ball
Old Rule: Stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm's length
NEW RULE: The ball must be dropped straight down from knee height (the height of the player's knee when in a standing position)

5. Lost ball: Time allowed for a ball search
Old Rule: A ball is lost if not found in five minutes
NEW RULE: A ball is lost if not found in three minutes

6. Substituting ball: Substituting ball when taking relief
Old Rule: The player must use the original ball when taking free relief (with exceptions); a substituted ball is allowed only when taking penalty relief
NEW RULE: A player may always substitute a ball when taking relief

7. Embedded ball: Taking relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch mark
Old Rule: Relief is allowed only in areas cut to fairway height or less, unless a Local Rule has been adopted allowing relief anywhere (except in sand) through the green
NEW RULE: A player may take relief without penalty for an embedded ball anywhere in the "general area" (new term for "through the green"), unless a Local Rule has been adopted restricting relief only to areas cut to fairway height or less.

Areas of the Course

1. Putting green: Replacing a ball on the putting green when it moves from its spot after it already had been lifted and replaced
Old Rule: The ball is replaced only if a player or outside agency caused it to move; otherwise, the ball is played from its new location
NEW RULE: The ball must always be replaced on its original spot, even if it was blown by the wind or moved for no clear reason

2. Putting green: Repairing damage on the putting green
Old Rule: A player may only repair ball-marks or old hole plugs on the putting green
NEW RULE: A player may repair almost any damage (including spike marks and animal damage but not including natural imperfections) on the putting green

3. Putting green: Player touches the line of putt or touches the putting green in pointing out a target
Old Rule: Loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No penalty, as long as doing so does not improve the conditions for the player's stroke

4. Putting green: Putting with an unattended flagstick left in the hole
Old Rule: Loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty if the ball is played from the putting green and hits the unattended flagstick in the hole
NEW RULE: No penalty if a ball played from the putting green (or anywhere else) hits the unattended flagstick in a hole

5. Penalty areas: Areas the Committee may mark as a penalty area (where relief with 1-stroke penalty is allowed)
Old Rule: The Committee may only mark an area of water as a "water hazard"
NEW RULE: Red and yellow marked "penalty areas" may now cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc, in addition to areas of water

6. Penalty areas: Player moves loose impediments, touches the ground with hand or club or grounds the club in a penalty areas when the ball is in the penalty area
Old Rule: Loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No penalty

7. Penalty areas: Expanded use of red-marked penalty areas
Old Rule: All water hazards should be marked yellow, except where their location on the course makes it impossible or unreasonable to drop behind the hazard; only when this is the case may these water hazards be marked red as lateral water hazards
NEW RULE: Committees are given the discretion to mark all penalty areas as red so that lateral relief is always allowed (but they may still mark penalty areas as yellow where they consider it appropriate)

8. Penalty areas: Elimination of the opposite side relief option for red penalty areas
Old Rule: A player is always allowed to take relief from the opposite side of a red-marked lateral water hazard
NEW RULE: A player is no longer allowed to take relief from a red penalty area on the opposite side from where the ball last entered the penalty area, unless the Committee adopts a Local Rule allowing it

9. Bunkers: Player moves or touches a loose impediment in a bunker when the ball is in the bunker
Old Rule: Loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No penalty

10. Bunkers: Player touches sand in a bunker with his or her hand or a club when the ball is in the bunker
Old Rule: Any touching of sand with hand or club results in loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty (with exceptions)
NEW RULE: No penalty except when a player touches sand 1) with his or her hand or club to test the conditions of the bunker, 2) in making a practice swing, 3) with the club in the area right behind or in front of the ball or 4) in making the backswing for the stroke

11. Bunkers: Unplayable ball relief options
Old Rule: No relief outside the bunker (other than in playing from where the player's last stroke was made)
NEW RULE: A player may take relief outside the bunker back on the line from the hole through where ball was at rest for 2 penalty strokes


1. Damaged clubs: Use of clubs damaged during a round
Old Rule: A player may use the damaged club only if it was damaged in the "normal course of play"
NEW RULE: A player may keep using any damaged club, no matter the nature or cause of the damage, even if the player damaged it in anger

2. Damaged clubs: Adding clubs to replace a club damaged during a round
Old Rule: A player may replace a damaged club if it is "unfit for play" and was damaged in the "normal course of play"
NEW RULE: A player may not replace a damaged club, unless the player was not responsible for the damage

3. Other equipment: Use of distance-measuring devices (DMDs)
Old Rule: DMD use is prohibited, unless a Local Rule has been adopted allowing their use
NEW RULE: The use of DMDs is allowed, unless a Local Rule has been adopted prohibiting their use

Playing a ball

1. Advice and help: Caddie standing behind a player to help with that player's alignment
Old Rule: A caddie is allowed to stand on a line behind a player while the player is taking a stance and preparing to play, but must not stand there while the player makes the stroke
NEW RULE: A caddie is not allowed to deliberately stand on or close to the extended line of play behind a player while the player is taking his or her stance until the stroke is made

2. Advice and help: Caddie lifts and replaces the player's ball on the putting green
Old Rule: 1-stroke penalty if done without the player's specific authorization
NEW RULE: A caddie may lift and replace the player's ball on the putting green without the player's specific authorization to do so

When to Play During a Round

1. Pace of play: Recommendations on how to play promptly
Old Rule: No recommendations given
NEW RULE: Recommends that players make each stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually in less time

2. Pace of play: Playing out of turn in stroke play
Old Rule: No penalty, but the current Rule is written in a way that may imply that playing out of turn is wrong or is not allowed
NEW RULE: No penalty (as today), and "ready golf" is encouraged when it can be done in a safe and responsible way

3. Pace of play: Other changes to help pace of play
OTHER NEW RULES: Reduced time for search, allowing more areas to be marked as penalty areas, expanded use of red penalty areas, the simplified dropping procedure and allowing a player to putt with the flagstick in the hole

4. Pace of play: New alternative form of stroke play
Old Rule: In standard individual stroke play, players must hole out at every hole; the only recognized alternative forms of stroke play where holing out is not required are Stableford, Par and Bogey
NEW RULE: A new "Maximum Score" form of stroke play is recognized, where a player's score for a hole is capped at a maximum score (such as two times par, a fixed number or net double bogey) that is set by the Committee

Player Behaviour

1. Standards of conduct: Playing in the spirit of the game
Old Rule: The Rules set out no standards of conduct, except indirectly in giving Committees discretion to disqualify players for a serious breach of etiquette
NEW RULE: Explains and reinforces the high standards of conduct expected from players and gives Committees the discretion to disqualify players for serious misconduct

2. Standards of conduct: Code of player conduct
Old Rule: Committees may disqualify players for a serious breach of etiquette, but are not allowed to impose lesser penalties such as a 1-stroke penalty or a loss of hole or 2-stroke penalty
NEW RULE: Committees are given authority to adopt their own code of player conduct and to set penalties for the breach of the standards in that code

3. Integrity: Eliminating announcement requirements before lifting a ball under certain Rules
Old Rule: Before lifting in these cases, the player must announce to another player or the marker that he or she is doing so and allow that person to observe the process
NEW RULE: When a player has good reason to mark and lift a ball to identify it, check for damage or see if it lies in a condition where relief is allowed (such as to see whether it is embedded), the player is no longer required first to announce to another player or his or her marker the intent to do so or to give that person an opportunity to observe the process

4. Integrity: Player's reasonable judgment in estimating and measuring under a Rule
Old Rule: A player's judgment is given no particular weight or deference; the Committee decides any issue about the accuracy of the estimation or measurement based on a review of all facts
NEW RULE: When determining a spot, point, line, area or other location under a Rule, a player's reasonable judgment will not be second-guessed based on later evidence (such as video review) if the player did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement

There is an awful lot to digest here.

I'm a big fan of doing everything possible to speed up the game so any of the changes made in that regard are welcomed by yours truly. I'm still not sold on a few of the changes being made, such as the ability to keep the flagstick in the hole when putting from the green - studies have shown that there is an advantage to players using the flagstick so I'm likely going to try to use this option in certain situations this coming year. But I'll feel guilty doing it!

Same thing with grounding a club and removing loose impediments in a "penalty area" - it just seems so wrong and this will be a hard one for me to adapt to mentally.

At the end of the day, I think the R&A and USGA have made some bold moves but time will tell if these changes help simplify the rules for the average golfer and help facilitate growth of this incredible game, something that is sorely needed to help sustain golf's business model.