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

Equipment

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.



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