Rules of Golf 2019 – Brief Introduction


 The R&A and USGA undertook a revision (Modernisation) of the Rules of Golf in order to make them easier to understand, be more consistent and help to improve the pace-of-play, with the intention of shortening the time it takes to play a round of golf and make the game more enjoyable.

In doing this they have reduced the number of rules of golf from 34 to 24, which is good but in so doing they have also introduced over 100 changes, not including the changes to Rule numbers and references.

No golfer can be expected to know or learn all these changes before January 2019, so I have listed here the key rule changes that I think you should be immediately aware of.

The New Rules of Golf 2019 will take effect on Midnight 31st December 2018.

Some video demonstrations can be viewed by following the link at the end of this post.

The key rule changes include:

New Definitions
Penalty Area
– an area from which relief with a 1-shot penalty is allowed (formerly ‘Water Hazard’). Still defined as either yellow or red (lateral).

General Area – anywhere on the course except Teeing area of the hole being played, Penalty areas, Bunkers and Greens (formerly ‘Through the Green’)

Temporary Water – formerly ‘Casual Water’

Natural Forces – wind, water or effects of gravity

Relief Area – area where a player must drop a ball depending on the relief rule being used

Club-length – length of the longest club in a player’s bag, excluding the putter

  • Standards of Player Conduct (Rule 1.2)

Players expected to play with integrity and in the spirit of the Game. Players are responsible for applying rules to themselves. A player must call a penalty on her/himself should another person take an action that would breach a rule if taken by the player or the player sees another person about to take an action concerning the player’s ball that s/he knows would breach the rules if taken by the player and does not take reasonable steps to object or stop the action from happening (Rule 1.3c)

  • Elimination of “Ball Moved” Penalties (Rule 13.1d)
    There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball.
  • Relaxed Putting Green Rules (Rule 13)
    There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick. Players may repair old hole plugs (but not aeration holes or natural imperfections), spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animals and maintenance procedures. There is no penalty for touching the line of putt. Interference by a ‘wrong green’ now includes the player’s stance.

If any part of a ball is in the hole below the surface of the putting green, the ball is holed

  • Relaxed Rules for Penalty Areas (Rule 17)
    Expanded 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.
  • Relaxed Bunker Rules (Rule 12)
    There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments (stones, leaves, etc.) in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club (but not directly in front of or behind the ball). An extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.
  • Pace-of-play Support (Rule 5.6)
    Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); encouragement of “ready golf” in Stroke Play (will need a Local Rule to adopt a Pace of Play Policy if this is to be enforceable). Players may also agree to play out of turn in Match Play.
  • Simplified Way of Taking Relief (Rule 14)
    A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific ‘Relief Area’; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from knee height.
  • Provisional BallIf a ball might be lost outside a penalty area or be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally under penalty of stroke and distance (see Rule 14.6). This also applies when the original ball has not been found and identified and is not yet lost. a player may walk back to where s/he last played the ball from and if still within 3-minute search time may play a provisional ball.
  • Alternative to Stroke & Distance (Rule 14.6)

An option for a Club to adopt a Local Rule permitting committees to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds under a two-stroke penalty. 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 (Model Local Rule E-5) is not intended for higher levels of play, such as professional or elite level competitions.

Other changes:

  • The honour on a hole is determined by the player with the lowest gross score in Medal Play or highest points score in Stableford on the previous hole.
  • A player no longer needs to announce to the other players in the group when s/he are lifting a ball to identify it or to determine if it is in an abnormal condition
  • A ball may be marked using any artificial object or by holding a club behind or to the side of the ball, but may not be marked with a loose impediment
  • Any object used to mark the position of a ball MUST be removed before playing the ball; if ball played with a marker still in place a 1-stroke penalty will be incurred
  • Natural objects may be moved to see if they are loose or unattached. If they are found to be attached, they must be replaced as close as possible to their original position.
  • No penalty for a multiple hit, provided the ball has been struck fairly.
  • No penalty if a ball in motion accidentally hits the player, another player, or their equipment or caddie.
  • Relief for an embedded ball is available anywhere in the General Area.
  • There is no longer “other side relief” from red penalty areas, unless revoked by a Local Rule (Model Local Rule B-2)
  • A player will be allowed to keep using and/or to repair any club damaged during the round, no matter what the damage and even if the player damaged it in anger.
  • A player is not be allowed to replace a damaged club, except when it is damaged during the round by an outside influence or by someone other than the player or caddie.


Click HERE to go to the Rules of Golf Modernisation website which contains detailed descriptions, documents and videos about the changes, as well as a link to download a 2019 Rules app for iOS and Android devices

I will look at the Rules of Golf in more detail in future posts

Enjoy your game!


R&A and USGA Rules of Golf 2019 – Publications

R&A and USGA Rules Publications

The R&A and USGA ‘Official Guide to the Rules of Golf 2019‘ is now available in a Flexi-bound hard-copy from

Contains everything you need to know, including ‘Interpretations’, (which was the old ‘Decisions’) and ‘Committee Procedures’

Click here to go to the Amazon webpage

If you do not wish to possess a Hard-copy then the Mobile Apps for iOS or Android devices are excellent, and can be downloaded from here.


Are you 2019 Rules of Golf Ready?

Are you 2019 Rules of Golf Ready?

Preparation by Clubs or Committees for 2019 Changes to the Rules of Golf

The R&A and the USGA have announced many changes to the Rules of Golf to come into effect on 1 January 2019.

They represent the most substantial Rules overhaul since 1984. Because of the amount of reform, this modernisation of the Rules of Golf is likely to require at least some degree of change by every Golf Club.

I will consider the categories of information that I think golf clubs should be considering to ensure they are 2019 Rules-ready and would encourage the appropriate person or committee within a club to consider this information as a part of their planning for the transition to the new Rules. I hope to provide further information and updates between now and 1st January 2019 as it becomes available.

Matters for a club to consider or be aware of are:

1. Scorecard ordering

  • When ordering scorecards clubs should be mindful that at least some of their local rules will change on 1st January 2019. Note: There will be no requirement for clubs to stop using any pre-2019 scorecards come 1st January 2019. Supplies of old scorecards can continue to be used until they have been exhausted (provided players in competitions operate under 2019-compliant local rules).

The R&A “Committee Toolkit” feature will include a Local Rules “creator” which will allow committees to select the Model Local Rules they need to create the Local Rules sheet for their course and to pass on to their score card printer. [The R&A advised this would be at least partially functional by the week of 10-14 September.2

2. Whether to use the new stroke-and-distance local rule

  • Significant issues with pace of play can result from players needing to take stroke-and- distance relief for a ball that is out of bounds or cannot be found when a provisional ball has not been played. As a result, The R&A has made available a new stroke-and- distance Local Rule. The purpose of this new Local Rule is to allow a Committee to provide an extra relief option that will allow a player to play on without returning to the location of the previous stroke.
  • This option allows the player to drop in a large area between the point where the ball is estimated to have come to rest or gone out of bounds and the edge of the fairway that is not nearer the hole.
  • The player gets two penalty strokes when using this relief option, so the relief is comparable to what could have been achieved if the player had taken stroke-and- distance relief.
  • The Local Rule is appropriate for general play where golfers are playing casual rounds or playing their own competitions. The Local Rule is not appropriate for competitions limited to highly-skilled players (that is, professional competitions and elite amateur competitions). Clubs may choose to operate it only on a specific hole or holes. For holes with features that make it unusually difficult to establish a relief option, a club may choose to use dropping zones in addition to the new stroke-and-distance local rule option.
  • Events such as corporate days will generally be well-suited to this new Local Rule option. However, it would be permissible for it to be adopted for use in any club competition.

More detailed guidance on the new stroke-and-distance Local Rule will be available upon the release of the Committee Procedures resource.

3. Whether to mark any new ‘penalty areas’

  • The Rules for ‘penalty areas’ (currently called ‘water hazards’) will be relaxed.
  • Under the new Rules, red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, rough that is deep and thick, etc.
  • As is currently the case with red and yellow hazards, penalty areas under the new Rules must still be clearly and accurately marked or defined.
  • Committees will now have 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). Under the 2019 Rules The R&A encourages committees to mark most penalty areas red to give players the additional option of lateral relief. However, where part of the challenge of the hole is to carry over a penalty area such as a stream that crosses the front of the putting green and there is a good chance that a ball that carries over the stream could fall back into it, the committee can decide to mark the penalty area as yellow.

4. Whether to bring in a local rule permitting lateral relief on opposite side of penalty area

  • The new Rules of golf give a player, the option to take lateral relief or back-on-the-line relief based on where his or her ball last crossed the edge of a red penalty area. But in some cases (for example, due to the location of the red penalty area right next to a course boundary), those options may leave the player with no reasonable option other than to take stroke-and-distance relief.
  • A Committee can introduce a Local Rule to allow lateral relief on the opposite side of the red penalty area as an extra relief option under Rule 17.1d.

When considering a Local Rule to allow additional relief:

  • The Committee should consider introducing the Local Rule in situations when a player could be seriously disadvantaged if it was not introduced. Two such examples are:
  • Where a boundary coincides with the edge of a penalty area down the side of a hole such that if a ball last crossed into the penalty area on the boundary side, the player would be likely to have no realistic relief option other than to play again under stroke and distance.
  • Where the layout of the penalty area is such that there could be doubt as to where the ball last crossed into the penalty area and the decision on which side of the penalty area the ball last crossed has a considerable impact on where to take relief. This applies if a relatively narrow penalty area is bounded by bushes or thick rough on one side and fairway on the other.
  • It is recommended that the Committee specify the location of specific penalty areas that the Local Rule applies to, rather than applying it to all red penalty areas on the course. This Local Rule should not be used to allow a player to use this opposite side relief option to get across a red penalty area to a more favourable location than is available if only normal lateral relief under Rule 17.1d is used and available.
  • It may also be desirable to mark the penalty areas where this option is available in a special way such as putting a different coloured top on any stakes where the extra option is available, and this should be stated in the Local Rule.
  • Instead of using this Local Rule, the Committee may decide to put one or more dropping zones in place (see Model Local Rule E-1)

5. Whether to bring into effect a Code of Conduct for on-course activity with penalties that apply to a player’s competition score

  • Under the new Rules, committees are given authority to adopt their own code of player conduct and to set penalties for a breach of the standards in that code.
  • A code of conduct will be able to provide for the application of any of the following penalties: warning, 1 stroke, 2 strokes (in Stableford or Par or stroke play), loss of hole (in match play), disqualification.

Examples of the type of player activity that may attract penalties under this new code of conduct capability include: failure to rake bunkers, failure to repair divots, failure to repair ball damage on a green, failure to adhere to required dress standards, etc.

  • Detailed guidance is be available under the Committee Procedures resource (see item B6). Note that I recommend that a Code of Conduct should apply both to members and Visitors.

6. Whether to bring in a Pace of Play Policy

  • The new Rules of Golf recommend a Committee Pace of Play Policy. To encourage and enforce prompt play, the Committee should adopt a Local Rule setting a Pace of Play Policy.
  • This Policy may set a maximum time to complete a round, a hole or series of holes and a stroke, and it may set penalties for not following the Policy.

See Committee Procedures, Section 5G (recommendations on contents of Pace of Play Policy).

7. New permission under the Rules to officially return scores digitally.

  • Under the existing Rules, the only permitted method for a player to officially return a competition score to the committee is on a paper (or cardboard) scorecard. From 1 January 2019, the Rules will allow committees to provide players with a digital submission option (or options) for the official return of scores.
  • It will be acceptable under the Rules for committees to permit each competitor to choose whether they submit their score digitally or on a paper scorecard. It will also be acceptable for committees to choose to accept paper scorecards only.
  • This may not apply to majority of clubs in the UK

8. Introduction of new stroke play format – Maximum Hole Score.

  • Under the existing Rules of Golf, a competitor in a stroke play competition (ie medal play competition) is required to hole out on every hole or they will be disqualified. ‘Maximum Score’ stroke play is an official new competition format that will be available to clubs from 1 January 2019 in addition to regular stroke play.
  • Under this new format a club will be permitted to set its own maximum score for a hole (eg 10, or 2 x par of hole, or net quadruple bogey, etc). If a player doesn’t finish a hole, or has more than the maximum score, they must be credited for competition purposes with whatever the committee has set as the maximum score (for handicapping purposes the player would be credited with whatever their Stableford score would have been for that hole).
  • It will not be mandatory for ISV Handicap Systems to offer functionality to support the new ‘Maximum Score’ competition format. At this stage it is unclear how attractive this option will be to golf clubs or how many have already expressed an interest to the R&A in this new format – probably with a view to trying to make medal play days a more attractive proposition for beginners and other high-handicap players.
  • Clubs will have to await advice from their ISV on the potential availability of functionality to support the new ‘Maximum Score’ competition format. I anticipate this advice will be provided in the coming weeks. I don’t think It will be mandatory for providers to offer ‘Maximum Score’ functionality to Golf Clubs

I hope this advice is of some help.

Enjoy your Golf!



Slow Play – Pace of Play – Ready golf

Now we all know how frustrating a slow round of golf can be and are always ready to blame players or a group in front of us, but player behaviour may not always be the reason for Slow Play.

The R&A and USGA are championing the use of Ready Golf in order to deter Slow Play and many Golf Clubs are following their recommendation in the misguided belief that it will encourage golfers to play more frequently, attract more individuals to play golf and overnight turn round their falling revenues.

I do not see how the R&A and USGA can promote this action when their own findings from their Pace of Play Global Survey (2015) clearly demonstrated that Player behaviour did not play a major part in increasing the  time to play a round of golf.

Their Global Survey clearly showed:

  1. That less than 18% of golfers said Slow Play prevented them from playing more frequently
  2. Over 75% of golfers said they had no issues with Slow Play and did not feel it affected their membership or impacted greatly on the Pace of Play

Meaning that Player Behaviour was not a major factor in increasing the Pace of Play of a round of golf.

What the R&A and USGA did find from their Global Survey, and I do not know why they are not asking Clubs to put these issues to the top of a Pace of Play agenda was that the three major factors affecting Pace of Play were:

  1. Overcrowding the Golf Course
  2. Course Set Up
  3. Course Management

Many policies that Golf Clubs have already in place create a slow pace of play even before a golfer has teed up his/her ball on the first tee.

Surely Clubs must be encouraged to address these issues if they want to thrive and improve revenues, rather than covering them up by blaming player behaviour for the problem – which Ready Golf only emphasises.

Ready Golf as it is being introduced at the moment, like the previous ‘keep up with the group in front’, will not work alone.

To have any effect it will require marshalling, which is expensive both in time and manpower and the need to have a strict pace of Play Policy in place so that players, both members and visitors, know what is expected of them out on the course or in a competition.

Enjoy your golf!



Official Launch of Rules of Golf 2019

Today is the Official Launch of the R&A and USGA Rules of Golf 2019

Rules of Golf 2019

The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf (an A5 size) and the Player’s Guide to the Rules of Golf have been launched today .

The Player’s version will be in all Golf Clubs soon and will be available to order from the R&A Shop on 1st October 2018.

The A5 Official Guide to the Rules of Golf 2019 will also be available to order from the R&A Shop from 1st October 2018

Meanwhile, you can read an online version of both publications if you click on the link below

Online versions of Official and Player’s Guide to the Rules of Golf 2019

Enjoy your read and don’t forget toorder a free copy of the hard publication from the R&A Shop