Preview of 2019 USGA Rules Changes

The R&A and the USGA announced a few major changes to the Rules of Golf effective January 2019.

ORLANDO, Florida – The other day it occurred to me that I didn’t know as much as I should about the January 1 changes to the Rules of Golf. So, I did some research and came up with the most important things we all should know when heading to the first tee in 2019!

The primary differences in the 2019 edition are the wording used is less convoluted, more understandable (hurray!) and there are ten fewer rules (amazing!). Both the full edition and the Player’s Edition have illustrations to explain definitions and options compared with the old copy hiding under that moldy rain jacket in the outside pocket of your bag.

In case you were worried about where to find the minutiae of rules decisions that weighed down the previous rule book there is an Official Guide to the Rules of Golf published in November. It will have the Rules of Golf with Interpretations, Committee Procedures and the Modified Rules of Golf for Players with Disabilities.

To make things even more convenient and to encourage players to actually look-up the Rules while playing there are free Android and iPhone apps.

After all that preamble here is my take on the changes you need to know about, the ones most effecting every day play:

– Three minutes to search for a ball rather than five-this was instituted to improve the pace of play but somehow it seems unlikely to help.

– There are no more hazards just penalty areas and if you ground your club there’s no penalty just don’t do it near the ball. Keep in mind bunkers are not penalty areas but loose impediments are movable in both.

– When dropping a ball is required no longer is it from the shoulder but from the knee-it should be easier to get a good lie (I well remember years ago the rule called for facing away from the hole and then dropping over your shoulder!)

– The “DJ rule” is retained. There is no penalty for the ball accidently moving on the green. Spike marks may be tapped down which, depending on a player’s diligence could hold up play, but for a real help speeding play it’s now OK to leave the flagstick in when putting.

– When taking relief, the point where the ball may be dropped is determined by the longest club in your bag. Depending on the reason for the drop the distance is still one or two club lengths.

The single biggest change though and a real boon to the average weekend golfer is a local rule covering lost balls or out of bounds. If the new rule is in effect no longer will you trudge back to the tee after that huge 300-yard blast, okay maybe 210-yard poke, barely snuck OB or was permanently hidden in thigh-high fescue.

The new rule allows for dropping a ball near where the previous shot was lost or out of bounds. There’s a penalty of two strokes but that’s a lot better than a trip back to the tee…which no one did any way.

The one rule that should have been changed, namely getting relief from divots in the fairway, wasn’t. It’s a common occurrence and unfair in effect to penalize a player for hitting his or her shot in the short grass.

Too bad the Blue Bloods at USGA world headquarters at Far Hills, New Jersey don’t agree but that’s a discussion for another day!

Ed is a national award-winning golf journalist and has carried on a lifelong love affair with the game. His work covering the business of golf, equipment, golf personalities and travel is prominently featured in numerous print and electronic publications. He has competed in tournament golf both as an amateur and senior professional and though his competitive days are behind him, Ed still plays regularly and carries a handicap of 4. He lives on a water hazard in suburban Orlando. His email address is

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