USGA and R&A Sets Modern Rules Changes in 2019

Did you know some important modifications in the rules of golf are coming in 2019?

The USGA and R&A announced the final version of the modern rules changes today that will take effect in 2019.

“This was out of recognition that in trying to make the rules more fair, they became too complicated,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status. “With 30-plus years of tinkering, they got complicated, and that wasn’t good for the game.”

Pagel has it right. There is confusion, particularly for the weekend golfer. Even though I’ve been golfing for over 10 years, I still have to pull out my handy-dandy “Rules of Golf” booklet that my instructor gave me numerous years ago. (Now that I think about it, it’s probably out of date…oops)

The modernization project began with a meeting at St. Andrews in April 2012 among the R&A, USGA, PGA Tour and European Tour. They proposed draft a year ago and after receiving 30,000 comments from the public through social media.

Here’s a break down of what to expect in the future:

  1. Penalty Drops

One of the changes is how penalty drops work. You may drop the ball from knee-high, rather than shoulder height. There no longer will be penalties if a golf ball accidentally moves on the green. If a club touches the ground in a hazard or if the ball hits a flag stick there won’t be a penalty.

There now are 24 rules instead of 34, and “The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf” replaces about 1,300 examples in the Decisions book.

  1. Out of Bounds

One rule is only for recreational golf. Starting next year, a local rule will let golfers simply drop a ball that goes out-of-bounds — even if that means the fairway — with an additional two-shot penalty.

Additional Changes —

• Eliminating penalties for accidentally moving a ball on the green or while searching for a lost ball.

• Players will have only three minutes to search for a lost ball instead of five minutes.

• Players now can repair spike marks or shoe prints on the putting green. Some players expressed concern that this might slow the pace if players spent too much time grooming the putting surface. Pagel said pace-of-play policies would keep that from happening, and it was an essential rule change for competition. No one wants to see a tournament decided by a spike mark in the line of a putt.

• Eliminating the penalty for removing loose impediments in a bunker and the general touching of sand with the hand or club (without grounding the club next to the ball). Also, players can declare a ball unplayable in a bunker, take a two-shot penalty and play from outside the bunker.

The tours are likely to provide training packages or seminars to get players up to speed before the new rules go into effect next year.

Do you like these rule changes? Do you believe it will be easier for golfers to follow?

Let me know by sending me your thoughts at I’d love to hear from you!