Rules of the game

Change is coming, but will it be good or bad for the average club golfer?

It has been a busy few months for The R&A’s rules team as the revisions to The Rules of Golf for 2019 have been unveiled following nearly a year of consultation.

Many of the changes proposed in the draft of the new rules in March 2017 remain the same and will be implemented on January 1, 2019 with a new, easier to use format for the rule book.

The big changes include:

Dropping the ball – this will be from knee height (the draft rules had proposed dropping from any height to much criticism)

Time for ball search – this has been cut to three minutes

Repairing the green – you will be allowed to repair any damage caused by a person, animal or maintenance practice (so no more spike marks!)

Relaxed rules in penalty areas – you will be able to ground your club and move loose impediments in a penalty area (which used to be a water hazard). You will also be able to move loose impediments in bunkers – though you will not be allowed to ground your club next to the ball in the sand

Leaving the flagstick in the hole – you will be able to putt with the flag in the hole should that take your fancy

Accidentally moving the ball – this applies on the putting green and when searching for a ball and means you will no longer suffer a penalty for accidentally causing the ball to move – unless it is “virtually certain” you caused it to move

Embedded ball – you will be able to take relief from anywhere in the general area (which used to be referred to as through the green) should your ball be embedded. This does not apply in sand

A big part of the new rule book also aims to improve pace of play. There is guidance on how long a player should take to hit a shot (40 seconds), Ready Golf – which we should all be using anyway, and a new strokeplay format in which committees can set a maximum score for a hole.

The R&A and the USGA have also added in that, so long as you do all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement, your reasonable judgement will be accepted even if later shown to be wrong by other means – so no more home video referees!

There was one very interesting addition which turned up – a new local rule which creates an alternative to stroke-and-distance penalties allowing players to: determine the spot at which their ball crossed an out of bounds line or hazard or where they deem it to have been lost; find the nearest fairway edge no closer to the hole; and drop their ball within two club lengths of this point for a two stroke penalty.

That’s the major changes, though there are a few more which you’ll need to look up ahead of next year.

So what will this mean for us? I hope it means faster rounds and fewer cases of despair as we watch the ridiculous ‘rulings’ from those who couldn’t pick out a rule book in a line-up never mind use the thing. I think the replacement of stroke-and-distance penalties for lost balls is bonkers mind. I’m looking forward to seeing where some of our less trustworthy peers deem their ball to have crossed the out of bounds fence – ‘no it wasn’t 300 yards from the tee Trevor, it was still rising as it went over the back gardens over the road’.

But, barring any problems with that optional local rule, the game’s governing bodies may well have got a hell of a lot right with this rules update. Good on them.