New rules for a New Year

New rules for a New Year

Text: Brad Steffen, PGA, head golf professional at The Mines in Grand Rapids, Michigan

The R&A, the governing body for the game worldwide excepting the United States and Mexico, and the United States Golf Association, or USGA, have made major changes in the Rules of Golf effective as of January 1, 2019. 

These major changes cover a variety of topics to modernize the game and are intended to help speed up pace of play. The R&A and the USGA have made about 37 changes to the rules, but not all of them will affect the weekly golfer. We will highlight rules that will have the most effect on the weekly golfer, but for all of the rule changes please visit the USGA website.   

Taking relief:

In terms of dropping the ball procedure, as a golfer takes a drop the player can take a drop at knee height instead of the old procedure at shoulder height.

Search time has also been reduced from five minutes to only three minutes. When searching for a golf ball the player has three minutes to find the ball or it is deemed a lost ball. The rule change will help speed up pace of play, while also encouraging the player to hit a provisional ball. 

Areas of the course:

The new rule change will not penalize golfers for a ball played from the green that hits an unattended flagstick in the hole. Players will also not be required to putt with the flagstick in the hole, but they will have the option to have it removed or left in. 

The R&A and the USGA have simplified rule changes on touching loose impediments or ground in the penalty area. Now, there will be no penalty given for touching or moving loose impediment and touching the ground with hand or club. This simplifies the rule; penalty areas can now be treated as general areas, given the player is not improving the condition of the lie. 

When to play during round:

Ready golf is a concept we’ve heard often during the last few years. The new rule is encouraging a prompt pace of play and allowing the golfer to make a stroke in no more than 40 seconds. Reaching agreement within the group that it is okay to play out of turn in stroke play is also intended to speed up the game. 


The use of a distance measuring device will be permitted too, unless a local rule has been adopted prohibiting its use. The reason for the change is to clarify the old rule—and the R&A and the USGA state distance is public knowledge and yardages can be found on sprinkler heads, markers, and posts. 

Playing a ball:

The R&A and the USGA have changed the double hit rule. A golf ball accidently struck more than once during a stroke will no longer be a penalty and can be played where it lay. Under the old rule, players would receive a penalty for the second hit, but was considered unfair since the players’ intention were not to hit the ball twice under a single stroke. 

Local rule:

The last rule that will be covered obtains to a committee or local rule that allows golfers to play stroke and distance. For a lost ball off the tee or out of bounds, the player can take a two-stroke penalty. From there, they may take a drop between where the ball was lost or went out, and two club lengths in the fairway. The local rule the club must be adopted.