January 15, 2020

Rules of Golf - A Year With the New Rules

A flashback to the Rules changes.

Written by: Darin Green, Director of Rules and Competitions

We have gone a full year with the new modified Rules of Golf and the feedback was mostly positive. Below we will discuss some of the changes.

New Procedure

If play golf like me then you have certainly had plenty of opportunities to perfect dropping from knee height. While this felt and looked odd at the beginning of 2019, golfers quickly adjusted to the new dropping procedure. If you are one of the rare golfers that actually start a timer when you begin searching for a ball you probably were surprised how fast three minutes goes by. The change from five minutes to three minutes for a ball search has made a small impact on pace of play.

Friendlier Rules

Many Rules were modified to be less penal and below are some examples.

If you were one of the unfortunate golfers that had a double-hit, or hit a shot and the ball struck yourself or your equipment, you were awarded with no penalty and the stroke counts. Before 2019, there was a penalty for these unfortunate shots.

We have all witnessed a ball rolling towards the hole and the ball being deflected offline by a spike mark or other damage on the putting green. Now we are allowed to fix most damage on the putting green no matter where your ball lies. Some people were concerned that this new allowance would greatly slow play down, but there is no evidence of that happening.

I am sure you have heard the debate on whether leaving the flagstick in the hole helps or hurts your chances of a ball going in the hole. While I do not have an answer to that debate, I do know that most competitive golfers have reverted to removing the flagstick once they are on the putting green and recreational golfers tend to prefer leaving the flagstick in the hole. What is your preference?

Before 2019, golfers were easily confused with what they were allowed to do when their ball was playable in a red or yellow marked area (now called penalty areas). Could you ground your club, or take practice swing? Could I move that stick or leaf? The new friendlier Rules allow you to do all of those in a penalty area provided you do not move your ball or improve your lie.

Have you ever accidentally moved your ball while it was rest? Maybe when addressing the ball with your putter or dropping something on your ball? If you accidentally move your ball while it lies on the putting green, there is no penalty and you just put the ball back where it was. Unfortunately, there is still a one-stroke penalty if you accidentally move your ball anywhere else on the course except the teeing area or during search.

What Changed Mid-Year

Overhauling the complex Rules of Golf was a difficult task and it was not a surprise that some Rules needed modifying during the past year. Here are two examples:

Early in 2019, there were a few issues where professional golfers were caught on television with their caddies standing behind the player’s line of play as the player began taking their stance. Some of these instances the player was just analyzing the shot with no intent to make the stroke yet. The Rule was written without an exception for this example. The USGA felt this was not correct and issued a clarification early in 2019 that absolved players from penalty if they back off the ball and their caddie (or partner) is no longer standing behind the player’s line of play.

An optional change to the Rules that came straight from professional golf involves damaged clubs. The Rules of Golf state if you start a round 14 clubs and a club is damaged for any reason during the round you are not allowed to replace it. It is common for professionals with high swing speeds to crack a driver face or break a club on a follow-through against a tree. Professionals were accustomed to replacing damaged clubs during the round and they did not like this new Rule. The USGA released an optional Local Rule that allows damaged clubs to be replaced during the round.

I hope you enjoyed the past year playing golf with the new Rules and continue to enjoy this great game in 2020.


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