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The R&A and USGA have announced today the new rules effective from 1st January 2019, which follow expensive discussions and feedback from the golfing community since 2012.  Golfers can now access the official 2019 Rules of Golf here.

The most significant changes are the following:

  • Dropping procedure – when taking relief, the ball may be dropped from knee height.
  • Measuring in taking relief – the golfers relief area may be measured using the longest club in the bag, except the putter.
  • Removing the penalty for double hit – the penalty stroke for a double hit has been removed.
  • Ball lost or out of bounds – a new local rule will be available permitting committees to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area), under a two-stroke penalty.

Other proposals which were introduced in 2017 that have been incorporated into the modernised Rules include:

  • Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties: There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.
  • Relaxed putting green rules: There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole; players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage and other damage on the putting green and there is no penalty for merely touching the line of putt.
  • Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”): Red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water; 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: There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions (such as not grounding the club right next to the ball) is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand; however, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.
  • Relying on player integrity: A player’s “reasonable judgment” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong; and elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.
  • Pace-of-play support: Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

There are videos on the R&A website which explain the rule changes in detail, and these can be accessed here.

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