PHOTO GALLERY: A comprehensive guide to the new Rules of Golf

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The United States Golf Association and the R&A unveiled a comprehensive proposal of what they’d like the Rules of Golf to be starting January 1, 2019.

According to one of the USGA’s chief officials, John Bodenhamer, the two organisations are in lockstep about making the rules easier to understand and apply.

Now they’d like to hear from you. For the next six months, you can write, email or call and give them your opinion about the rules they want to change, the rules they haven’t changed, and things you’d like to see change.

Once that comment period is done on August 31, golf’s governing bodies will review the feedback and finalise the new rules, with the plan to announce them early in 2018 before the 2019 adoption date.

“We’re really curious what the reaction to this is going to be,” Bodenhamer says.

Contact them at usga.org/rules.

Here is a rundown of the most significant changes. Remember these are proposed changes, not mandates. - By Ron Kaspriske


If you accidentally move your ball or ball-marker on the putting green, there is no penalty. Just put it back.

Currently: It’s a one-stroke penalty if you do either (with exceptions).

If you’ve lifted and replaced your ball on the putting green and it moves, move it back to its original spot no matter whether wind moved it, or there was no clear reason.

Currently: The ball is played from its new location unless it was moved by you or an outside agency. Then it would be replaced.

You can repair almost any damage on the putting green including spike marks and animal damage. You cannot repair natural imperfections.

Currently: You can only repair ball marks or old hole plugs.

So long as you don’t improve the conditions for your stroke, you can touch the line of putt to indicate a target.

Currently: Touching the line comes with a penalty of loss of hole (match play) or two shots (stroke play).

You can leave the unattended flagstick in when your ball is on the putting green, and there is no penalty if your ball strikes it.

Currently: Loss of hole (match play) or two-shot penalty (stroke play) if you strike the flagstick with a stroke from the putting green.


The term water hazards is being changed to penalty areas and will consist of red- and yellow-marked areas. This could include additional areas that don’t contain water such as desert, jungle, lava rock, etc. If your ball winds up in one of these areas, a one-stroke penalty is applied if you take relief.

Currently: Relief is allowed only from a water hazard (marked yellow) or a lateral water hazard (marked red).

You can move loose impediments in penalty areas, touch the ground with your hand or club, or ground your club without penalty.

Currently: If you did any of the preceding, it’s a loss of hole (match play) or a two-shot penalty (stroke play).

Committees are allowed to mark all penalty areas as red so that lateral relief is always allowed. They can, however, mark a penalty area yellow (no lateral relief) when they feel it’s appropriate.

Currently: All water hazards have to be marked yellow unless it’s impossible or unreasonable for you to drop behind the hazard. Then it can be marked red.

You can’t drop on the opposite side from where the ball last entered a penalty area marked red.

Currently: You can take relief on the opposite side of a lateral water hazard from where your ball last entered it.


You can touch and move a loose impediment in a bunker when your ball is in that bunker.

Currently: Penalty for doing so is loss of hole (match play) or two shots (stroke play). You can touch the sand with your hand or club so long as you’re not testing the conditions of the bunker, you’re not placing the club right in front of or behind the ball, and you’re not making a practice swing or backswing. Currently: With some exceptions, such as accidentally falling when entering the bunker, touching the sand with hand or club results in loss of hole (match play) or a two-shot penalty (stroke play).

You can take a two-stroke penalty to obtain relief outside a bunker on a line from the hole through where the ball was at rest in the sand.

Currently: The only penalty relief you can take outside a bunker is to play from where your last stroke was made.


You are only considered to have caused your ball to move if it is virtually certain (at least 95 percent likely) that you were the cause.

Currently: You are consider to have caused your ball to move if it is more likely than not (50.1 percent) that you were the cause.

No matter where you are on the course, there is no penalty if you accidentally move your ball while searching for it. Just replace it.

Currently: There is a one-stroke penalty for accidentally moving it.

If your ball is lying off the putting green when it moves, and its original spot isn’t known, you just replace it on the estimated spot. An example: If your ball was buried in matted-down grass, replace it in the estimated spot, buried in matted-down grass.

Currently: You would drop when you’re not sure of the location.


If your ball accidentally strikes you, your caddie, your opponent or any equipment, there is no penalty. Play it as it lies. But you cannot deliberately try to carom a shot off your equipment.

Currently: Accidentally hitting yourself, your caddie, the person attending a flagstick on the green—or an attended or removed flagstick when making a stroke from the putting green—resulted in a one- or two-stroke penalty depending on the circumstances.


The only requirements when taking a drop are to hold the ball above the ground without it touching any object, and it must fall through the air before coming to rest. Height is not a requirement.

Currently: You must stand and hold a ball at shoulder height, with your arm extended, before dropping. When a ball must be dropped, it has to be in a defined relief area.

A dropped ball must come to rest in the relief area where it was dropped or it must be dropped again.

Currently: The ball must be dropped again if it rolls to any of the nine specified areas in Rule 20-2c. An example: If it rolled more than two club lengths from where the ball first struck the ground. The relief area will either be 80 inches from the reference point (for drops next to a penalty area or for an unplayable lie) or 20 inches (all other drops). The recommendation is to mark the shaft of a club to assist in measuring. Currently: Drop areas are measured in club lengths (and you can choose any club to measure).

Your ball is lost if not found within three minutes of searching.

Currently: Your ball is lost if not found within five minutes of searching.

You can substitute a ball when taking relief.

Currently: With a few exceptions, you have to continue with your original ball when taking free relief, though you can substitute a ball when taking a penalty relief.

You can take free relief for an embedded ball anywhere in the general area (formerly “through the green”) of the course except sand (unless a Local Rule is enacted to make free relief available only for embedded balls in areas cut to fairway height or less).

Currently: Free relief is given only for balls embedded in closely mowed areas (fairway height or less) unless a Local Rule is enacted.

When estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance under a rule, you will not be second-guessed later using evidence such as video review. This applies so long as you use reasonable judgment and do all you reasonably can to make an accurate measurement.

Currently: Your judgment is given no particularly weight or deference and the committee decides any issue about the accuracy of estimation based on a review of all facts.


You can use distance-measuring devices such as laser rangefinders and GPS watches during a round unless a Local Rule is adopted prohibiting their use.

Currently: A Local Rule has to be adopted allowing their use.

You can use a club damaged during a round.

Currently: You can only use a damaged club during a round if the impairment happened during the normal course of play. If it was damaged in anger or for another reason, it can’t be used for the remainder of the round. You can’t replace a damaged club during a round unless you were not responsible for its condition.
Currently: You can replace a club if its damage occurred during the normal course of play.

If you have a good reason for lifting a ball, such as to identify it, check for damage or determine if it lies in a condition where relief is permitted (such as checking to see if it’s embedded), you don’t have to announce your intention to another player or the marker. You also don’t have to give that person an opportunity to observe the process.

Currently: Before lifting, you must announce your intention to another player or the marker and allow them to observe the process.


Your caddie can’t stand on a line behind you from the time you take your stance until the stroke is made.

Currently: A caddie can’t stand on a line behind you while you’re making a stroke, but can line you up while you address the ball.

Your caddie can lift and replace your ball on the putting green without specific authorisation from you.

Currently: It’s a one-stroke penalty for your caddie to lift your ball without permission.


A new form of stroke play is recognised where your maximum score for a hole is capped (such as double par or triple bogey). That max score is set by the committee.

Currently: You must hole out in stroke play unless playing Stableford, Par or Bogey formats.

Players in stroke play are encouraged to play “ready golf” when it can be done in a safe and responsible way and opponents in a match play can agree to go out of turn in order to save time.

Currently: There is no penalty for playing out of turn, but in match play an opponent can make you replay a shot if you do so.

The recommended allotment of time to make a stroke is no more than 40 seconds, and the Rules recognise that you should normally play more quickly than that.

Currently: No recommendation is given.


Committees can adopt their own codes of player conduct and set penalties for breach of standards in that code.

Currently: Committees can disqualify you for serious breaches of etiquette, but cannot impose lesser penalties.


You have to declare you’re playing a provisional ball before making a stroke with it. But you can begin a search, and still have the option of playing a provisional so long as you do so within three minutes.

Currently: The moment you go forward to search for your original ball, you can no longer play a provisional.

You’re allowed to listen to or watch sporting events, news broadcasts or music as “entertainment” during a round if it doesn’t give you an advantage when playing. It would be a penalty, for example, if you were listening because it improves your rhythm or relaxes you, but not if you wanted to share a new song you love with other members of your group.

Currently: With some exceptions, you cannot listen to music or watch/listen to sporting events and news during a round.

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