Date: January 16, 2019
Author: David Blake

New year, new Rules

Complaints. Praise. Confusion. Plaudits.

We’ve had it all in the first two weeks of the new Rules of Golf.

And as anyone in the rules department of Golf Australia will attest, there’s been no shortage of feedback on the modernisation process implemented on 1 January.

But overall, the reaction has been positive as it has helped to speed up the game.

So let's get down to the nuts and bolts of the changes…

The Rules authority kept the following two principles at the heart of changes:

  1. Playing the ball as it lies AND playing the course as you find it
  2. Finding solutions to help speed up the game

While the Australian golf community has generally embraced the changes with open arms, there has been some confusion as to what is right and wrong on the golf course. Here’s our broad take on some of the most topical matters…


Many groups are finding they have differing views on whether they should keep the flagstick in the hole. While this change was aimed at speeding up play, and in most instances working well, there are times when different players within a group will want the flag left in, or removed, and this is also dependent on the length of putt. Therefore, we advise golfers to be vigilant to the needs of others.

Knee Height Drop

The biggest “habitual” change most players have encountered is dropping the ball from knee height. Many have queried as to why the initial dropping height of “just above the ground” wasn’t adopted, or why it isn’t “knee height or above”. To the former, the response is that it wouldn’t do that game any favours to see people lying down trying to get drop their ball from a height so close to the ground that they appear to be placing; to the latter, the response is that dropping from any higher than knee height may enhance likelihood for a re-drop because of a bigger bounce, thus slowing down the process. Knee height aims to reduce the amount of drops necessary to keep the ball in the relief area.

Penalty Areas

Not only have these gone through a name change, you are also now permitted to ground your club and move loose impediments while in there. This has been a very welcome change for those new to the game but has been a little bit harder to get used to for the more skilled, as they are finally being able to feast on once forbidden fruit, but still in the mindset, that mightn’t be morally right. Breathe easy, everything is OK!


“What do you mean I can move loose impediments in a bunker, but I can’t ground my club when addressing the ball?” This has created the most confusion as many had heard the restriction on grounding your club had been removed. This is not the case, but it has been loosened. You are only penalised if you ground your club immediately in front of, or right behind the ball, or in a backswing or practice swing. Testing, most definitely remains a no-no.

Players Being Lined Up

A small change that won’t affect 99 per cent of club golfers, as this will only affect those with a caddie. However, we have had many queries about players lining each other up in an ambrose (also known as scramble) format, which played under the Rules of Golf is also not permitted. 

How can GA assist?

Golf Australia has been able to make a real impact at club-land, servicing clubs by providing a webpage full of helpful resources, including easy to view and understand videos, plus a club-level PowerPoint presentation from the R&A and being able to assist in designing a club’s Local Rules for 2019. Play management and regulations senior manager Simon Magdulski encourages more golf clubs to use the services available to make sure their members and guests are well informed and can get on with playing of this great game, in whatever form that might take.

If you have a question, or wish to have your Local Rules reconfigured for 2019, please email directly.