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The new golf rules: What’s changing in 2019?

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On 1st January 2019, new golf rules will be implemented around the world.

Last month golf’s two governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, unveiled new rules and there are some significant changes set to come into play, in an attempt to ‘modernise’ the game and speed up the pace of play. They were finalised this month after an extensive review involving feedback from professionals and amateurs.

What’s changing?

The four changes to the original proposals announced in 2017 are as follows:

Dropping procedure: When taking relief (from an abnormal course condition or penalty area, for example), players, at all levels, must drop the ball from knee height. This helps to ensure consistency and simplicity in the dropping process, while also preserving the uncertainty of where the ball will drop. The proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested dropping from “any height”.

Measuring in taking relief: The golfer’s relief area will be measured by using the longest clubs in their bag, excluding a putter, to measure one club-length or two club-lengths, depending on the situation, providing a consistent process for golfers to establish their area. The proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested a 20-inch or 80-inch standard measurement.

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Removing the penalty for a double hit: The penalty for unintentionally hitting the ball more than once in the course of a stroke has been removed. Golfers will simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball, however the proposed Rules released in 2017 included the existing one-stroke penalty.

Balls Lost or Out of Bounds (Alternative to Stroke and Distance): A new Local Rule will be available in January 2019, permitting committees to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area), under a two-stroke penalty to encourage a faster pace of play. It addresses concerns raised at the club level about the negative impact on pace of play when a player is required to go back under stroke and distance. The Local Rule is not intended for higher levels of play, such as professional or elite level competitions.

Other significant proposals that have been incorporated into the modernised Rules include:

Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties: There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball next year; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that the golfer 100% did so.

Relaxed putting green rules: There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole. Players may now putt the ball without having the flagstick attended to, or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage and other damage on the putting green and there is no penalty for touching the line of putt.

Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”): In addition to areas of water, red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc. There is set to be increase in the use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed; and there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments, or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.

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Relaxed bunker rules: There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker, or for generally touching the sand with a hand and clubs, such as these golf drivers. However, there are some restrictions, such as not grounding the club right next to the ball, to maintain the challenge of playing from the sand. However, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.

Relying on player integrity: A player’s “reasonable judgement” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will stand, even if video evidence shows it to be wrong. In addition, players do not have to announce they are lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.

Pace-of-play support: Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

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