New Year Ushers In New Rules Of Golf













Reed On The Greens December 22, 2018
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor,

When friends and family gather this Christmas holiday season, golf’s hot stove league, perhaps fueled by your favourite uncle’s eggnog, will entertain with tales from the links in 2018. Here’s betting that the release of golf’s modernized rules – in effect January 1, 2019 – will be part of those conversations.

Beginning in 2012, an extensive process to modernize the rules resulted in the USGA and The R&A, with input from and adoption by Golf Canada, unveiling the new Rules of Golf for all golfers, amateur and professional. It’s no surprise that the new rules book has been translated into more than 30 languages. Golf is a game as global as they come, equalled only by soccer – or football, for you traditionalists.

Golfers from London, Ontario to Mumbai, India offered their feedback during the review process which aimed to ensure that the rules are easier to understand and apply, in turn growing the game instead of confusing novice and beginner golfers alike. And according to Golf Canada’s Director of Rules, Competitions & Amateur Status, Adam Helmer, the modernization of the rules was a colossal task – but a necessity which will better the global game.

Adam Helmer

“I can’t think of any other sport that has put their entire set of rules out like this. The whole rule book has been flipped on its head, 275 years after the inception of the sport. It’s a huge game changer that should be recognized as a monumental change,” Helmer said.

Golf Canada makes available three publications presenting the Rules of Golf. The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf is an abridged, user-friendly booklet with shorter sentences, commonly-used phrases and diagrams which Helmer said will be the go-to Rules of Golf publication for the member and greens fee golfer.

“If you’re quickly looking for something, (The Player’s Edition, written in second person) is ideally something golfers will carry in their bag, or at least have available after casual round with their friends,” Helmer said. “If they’re curious about a rule, it’s good to know they’ll have a resource for easily finding that rule, with bullet format, diagrams and illustrations, getting away from the legal content it was before.”

The larger Rules of Golf book is a full edition of the rules, written in third person and including illustrations. It’s intended to be the primary publication for officials.

And the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf is the golf rules bible, replacing the Decisions book and containing information to best support committees and officials. It includes interpretations on the rules, committee procedures (available local rules and information on establishing the terms of the competition), and the Modified Rules of Golf for Players with Disabilities.

Golf is a hard game. Comprehending and adopting the rules are also daunting tasks. In fact, Helmer said “99.9 per cent of the players don’t know the rules but it’s a game that is self-governed except for the highest levels of play. There are no referees. At a club championship you’ll go to a pro or the committee for a ruling. But there’s no one out on the course. You really have to know (the rules) as a player.”

Golf Canada provides an illustrated briefing of five of the most significant adjustments made to the Rules of Golf. Here are some of the more notable rules adjustments:

• Dropping a ball – you will drop your ball from knee height into the relief area. The proposed rules released in 2017 suggested dropping from any height. The new rule ensures consistency and simplicity.
• Time for ball search – three minutes, reduced from five minutes, supporting pace of play.
• Repairing spike marks – you can now repair spike marks and any other damage on the putting green, caused by a person, animal or maintenance practices.
• Leaving flagstick in the hole – if you make a stroke from on the green and your ball hits the flagstick in the hole, then you will not be penalized.
• Relaxed rules in penalty area – you can now ground your club and move loose impediments in a penalty area (an expanded concept of water hazards that does not include bunkers).
• Relaxed bunker rules – there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker, or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club.
• Measuring in taking relief – measure by using the longest club in the bag, other than a putter, to measure one club-length or two club-lengths, depending on the situation.
• Removing the penalty for a double hit – golfers will simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball.
• Relying on player integrity – even if video evidence later shows a player’s reasonable judgment to be wrong when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance, the player’s judgment will be upheld.

“The changes were made for all golfers,” Helmer added, “and it’s going to be interesting to see what people pick up on at the professional side, and what rules are going to help recreational players. I don’t think the five-minute to three-minute search is really going to have an impact on the recreational player.”

Local clubs, including my home club, Highland Country Club, have been proactive in rolling out the new rules to members via email blasts. But there’s nothing like a rules violation on network television to shine the spotlight on the Rules of Golf, according to Helmer.

“We had the Tiger Woods drop at the 2013 Masters, and the Lexi Thompson ruling. I think those moments were good for the game of golf, and good from a rules perspective. It got people talking about them,” he said.

UK publication Golf Monthly provided a thorough explanation of the Woods ruling, and included statements from the USGA and R&A, in this detailed account. It’s a vivid illustration of how a simple decision by Woods resulted in a necessary extensive explanation of the rules.

During the final round of the 2017 ANA Inspiration, Thompson led by two strokes before a TV viewer called in to say Thompson had incorrectly replaced her marked ball during the third round. Thompson received a crushing four-stroke penalty – two for the rules violation and two for signing an incorrect scorecard. She lost in a playoff to So Yeon Rhu.

“At the professional level, it will be interesting to see what everyone thinks about caddies not being able to line the player up for their stroke,” Helmer said. “And with the equipment rule change, that you can’t replace a club if it’s damaged, we’ll see how that translates to the professional game.”

Mackenzie Hughes. Photo: PGA TOUR.

Bryson DeChambeau has stated he will take advantage of the new flagstick rule that will allow him to putt from the green while leaving the flagstick in and unattended. Always the mad scientist, DeChambeau told Golf Magazine his decision to play with the flagstick in or out “depends on the COR – the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick. In U.S. Opens, I’ll take it out. And every other tour event, when it’s fibreglass, I’ll leave it in and bounce against the flagstick if I need to.”

Canadian Mackenzie Hughes recently Tweeted from his account @machughesgolf, “I just went through the new rules of golf for 2019 again. I feel like a few of the changes are good (ex. caddie alignment, loose impediments in bunkers), but I feel like most of them missed the mark (ex. ball drop from knee height, damaged club, and more). Thoughts?”

Helmer said when pros like Hughes and DeChambeau speak of the rules, it filters down as food for thought amongst amateur golfers.

At the elite amateur level, even Canada’s national team members have been familiarizing themselves on the new Rules of Golf before heading to international competitions in January.

“As we prepare for our national amateur team members going to play in Australia and in South America … it’s still on the players to know the rules. And we’re giving them a link to the app. I’m giving them my phone number so they can call me at any time,” Helmer said.

Golf Canada website offers sources, including a link to the app, for the new Rules of Golf. The printed Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf costs only $4 ($3 for Golf Canada member golfers).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do before sipping on some Grand Marnier and entering the lion’s den which is the family’s holiday golf hot stove league. I’m sure there will be a golf club nearby, allowing that favourite uncle to demonstrate the new Rules of Golf.

But I’ll read the rule book anyways, just to be safe.


Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980. He’s a three-time writing award winner from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, and author of the 2018 book, The Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, Celebrating 100 Years of Seniors Golf 1918-2018. Reach him at

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office established 1989.