Date: May 22, 2018

Revised rules for 2019 – the key changes

The R&A and the USGA recently announced the final changes to the Rules of Golf for 2019. These changes result from the Rules Modernization Initiative that began in 2012 to bring the Rules up to date to fit the needs of the game today globally. This initiative had two guiding themes:

– Far-reaching Rule changes were open for discussion, but golf’s essential principles and character must be preserved.

– Revisions were to be assessed with all golfers in mind, so that the Rules would be easier to understand and apply not only for professionals and elite amateurs, but also for beginners, high-handicappers and typical club and recreational golfers at all levels of play around the world.

The entire new Rules and full explanations for the changes can be found on the R&A website at

In this and future issues of the GA Rules Newsletter we highlight some of the more important or interesting new Rules.

Ball Moved During Search

Current Rule: If a player moves his or her ball while searching for it:

• The player generally gets a one-stroke penalty (there are four limited exceptions), and

• When the player does not know the ball’s exact original spot, he or she must return it to play by dropping it as near as possible to that estimated spot.


2019 Rule: Under Rule 7.4, if a player accidentally moves his or her ball while searching for it:

• The player will get no penalty for causing it to move, and

• The ball will always be replaced; if the exact spot is not known, the player will replace the ball on the estimated original spot (including on, under or against any attached natural or man-made objects which the ball had been at rest under or against).


Caddie Standing Behind a Player to Help Line the Player Up

Current Rule:Under Rule 14-2b:

• When a player is taking a stance, the player’s caddie is allowed to stand behind to help the player line up to the target and confirm that the player is correctly aligned.

• The caddie must then move away before the player makes the stroke; otherwise the player is penalized if the caddie is positioned on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball when the stroke is made.


2019 Rule:Under Rule 10.2b(4):

• The current prohibition will be extended so that, once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke, and until the stroke is made, the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.

• There will be no penalty if the caddie accidentally stands on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball.


Fixed Distances Used for Measuring

Current Rule: Club-lengths are used to measure the limits of many areas under the Rules:

• There is no fixed definition of a club-length, therefore when measuring a player may choose any club in his or her bag to measure a club-length.

• Players with long putters can drop in areas other players cannot reach.

2019 Rule: A club-length will be defined as the length of the longest club in the player’s bag, except    that this cannot be his or her putter.

• The relief area for dropping a ball will be a fixed size of either one or two club-lengths depending on which relief Rule is being used.

• The relief area is a fixed size for each player and is pre-determined based on the clubs the player has selected for play.

Replacing Ball When Original Spot Not Known

Current Rule:If a player’s ball at rest anywhere off the putting green is lifted or moved under a Rule that requires the ball to be replaced:

• The ball must be replaced by placing it on its original spot (Rule 20-3a).

• But if the ball’s exact original spot is not known, the player must get the ball back into play not by placing it but by dropping it as near as possible to the ball’s estimated original spot (Rule 20-3c).


2019 Rule:Under Rule 14.2c, in that same situation:

• The ball will always be placed on a spot rather than being dropped.

• If the exact original spot is not known, the player will be required to replace the ball on its estimated spot (including on, under or against any attached natural objects that the ball had been at rest on, under or against).


Other new Rules of particular interest –

Lost Ball 

Reduced time for ball search: A ball will be lost if not found in three minutes (rather than the current five minutes) after you begin searching for it.

Embedded Ball

Relief for embedded ball in the general area: You will be able take relief if your ball is embedded anywhere (except in sand) in the general area (which is the new term for “through the green”), except where a Local Rule restricts relief to the fairway or similar areas (this reverses the default position in the current Rules).

Ball to Use in Taking Relief

Substituting another ball: You may continue to use the original ball or another ball, whenever you take either free relief or penalty relief under a Rule.

Putting with flagstick left in the hole

There will no longer be a penalty if you play a ball from the putting green and it hits the unattended flagstick in the hole.

Repairing damage on the putting green

You will be able to repair almost all damage (including shoe damage, such as spike marks, and animal damage) on the putting green (rather than being limited to repairing only ball-marks or old hole plugs).

Touching your line of putt or touching the putting green in pointing out target

There will no longer be a penalty if you or your caddie does either of these things, so long as doing so does not improve the conditions affecting your stroke.

Replacing your ball if it moves only after you had already marked, lifted and replaced it

Any time this happens on the putting green, you will replace the ball on its spot – even if it was blown by the wind or moved for no clear reason.

Your caddie marks and lifts your ball on the putting green

 There will no longer be a penaltyif your caddie does this without your specific authorization to do so.

 Penalty areas expanded beyond water hazards

Red- and yellow-marked “penalty areas” may cover areas the Committee decides to markfor this purpose (such as deserts, jungles, or lava rock fields), in addition to areas of water. 

Expanded use of red penalty areas

Committees will be given 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).

Elimination of opposite side relief option 

You will no longer be allowed to take relief from a red penalty area on the opposite side from where the ball last entered the penalty area (unless a Committee adopts a Local Rule allowing it).

Removal of all special restrictions on moving or touching things in a penalty area 

There will no longer be a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments (such as leaves, stones and sticks) or touch the ground or water with your hand or your club in a penalty area.

Removal of special restrictions on moving loose impedimentsin bunkers 

There will no longer be a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments in a bunker.

Relaxed restrictions on touching the sand with your hand or club when your ball is in a bunker 

You will be prohibited only from touching the sand (1) with your hand or club to test the condition of the bunker, (2) with your club in the area right behind or in front of the ball or (3) when making a practice swing or the backswing for your stroke.

New unplayable ball relief option from bunkers

For two penalty strokes, you will be able to take relief outside the bunker by dropping a ball back on the line from the hole through where your ball was at rest in the bunker.