New Rules of Golf for 2019

2019 Rules Changes

As the New Year begins and we watch our favorite players compete on TV, we undoubtedly notice different results from the updated rules of golf. We now see the flagstick left in while putting, players bending over to drop their ball from knee height, and even the new YouTube favorite, double hitting a ball around a tree (funny buy not entirely legal!).

The guys and gals on tour have a distinct advantage over amateurs when dealing with the updated rules.  The professionals have rules officials at their disposal on virtually every hole to provide clarification. For the rest of us, who interpret rule changes largely on our own, below are important items to consider as
you tee it up in 2019 and beyond.

New Language – Ironically, the first thing to familiarize yourself with is not a specific rule, but rather the updated terms. We have all grown accustom to certain phrases within the rules of golf. Beginning in 2019, you will hear new terms such as General Area, Relief Area and Temporary Water. While these
definitions are in the back of your new rules book (including great pictures throughout), I recommend you re-visit them to understand the following:

Areas of the Course – The five defined areas that make up the course:
1. The general area (formerly “Through the green”)
2. The teeing area the player must play from in starting the hole he or she is playing,
3. All penalty areas,
4. All Bunkers, and
5. The putting green of the hole the player is playing

General Penalty – Loss of hole in match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play

Relief Area – The area where you must drop a ball when taking relief under a rule. Each relief Rule requires you to use a specific relief area whose size and location are based on three factors. Regarding specific rules that will immediately impact the game, these should improve pace of play, and thus, further enjoyment of your round.

Flagstick Rule – The new Flagstick rule allows players to leave the pin in the hole and unattended while making a stroke on the putting green. If your ball goes in the hole while hitting the flagstick, or simply bounces off it, you will no longer be penalized. One item to note: If someone is tending the flagstick for you, it must be removed before the ball is holed or you will incur the General Penalty (defined above).
Lost Ball Rule – The length of time permitted to search for a lost ball has been reduced from five to three minutes. While taking two minutes away may seem harsh, the change is justified by allowing you to take reasonable actions to fairly search without penalty. This means you are allowed to search more aggressively by moving or bending grass, bushes, tree branches or attached natural objects and also break such objects, but only if such breaking is a result of other reasonable actions taken to find or identify the ball. If the result of your search improves your lie, there is no penalty under Rule 8.1a if the improvement results from a fair search.

Final Takeaway – This comes from a rules seminar I recently took on the updated rules of golf. During the seminar, a colleague noted that many of these rule changes had an underlying theme:  “If a golfer is struggling to keep it in play, or even get off the tee, do we really need to penalize him/her

While we all got a chuckle, it speaks to the USGA and R&A’s efforts to modernize these rules in a way that makes the game more enjoyable. If you have rules questions, please utilize your PGA professional. It will be a learning experience for you both, and who knows, you may even learn a new rule together!

Author – Chris Koch is an accomplished PGA Teaching Professional at Salish Cliffs Golf Club in Shelton, WA

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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