16 things you should know about the 2019 changes to the Rules of Golf

We pin-point some of the important changes to the rules of golf you really need to know come January 1, 2019.

As of January 1, 2019 the Rules of Golf will undergo its biggest overhaul in many a decade with the number of rules shrinking from 34 to 24. The changes to the rules of golf are designed to make them easier to understand with an emphasis on speeding up the pace of play.

Firstly, the R&A and USGA have come up with a fabulous Rules of Golf 2019 app available for both Android and Apple iOS devices which includes simple explanations, diagrams and quizzes to get you sorted. Perfect for a bit of Christmas reading.

Secondly, some of the new rules are more subtle than others with a few you’ll no doubt encounter in your very first round of 2019. So you should probably get your head around some of these now, especially if you plan on playing on New Year’s Day. Which is probably the worst time to be learning new things.

Without overloading you with all the nitty-gritty, here are our picks of the most important rules changes coming into play in 2019.

1. Drop the ball from knee height
When taking free-relief, or a penalty drop, dropping the golf ball from shoulder height will be a thing of the past in 2019 (and dropping over the shoulder is long gone). From now on, you’ll be required to drop the golf ball from knee height. And don’t squat down to do it – you must be standing!

2. Reduced search time
The time you are allowed to search for a ball has been reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.

3. Putting with the flagstick in
Previously you’d get a penalty stroke if your ball hits the pin while putting. As of January 1, 2019 you can putt with the flagstick in safe in the knowledge that there will be no penalty if your ball hits it.

4. No penalty for ball moving on putting green
Otherwise known as the Dustin Johnson rule, there will no longer be any penalty applied if your golf ball accidentally moves on the putting green – either by the actions of a player or natural causes.

And here is how to proceed if it happens:

If the ball has been lifted and replaced on its original spot before it was moved, it must always be replaced on its original spot. The ball will not be replaced and played from its new position if it has not been lifted and replaced before it moved.

5. Stroke and distance local rule
We must stress that this is a local rule so check with the club before your round to see if this is in place.

If so, you may take a two-stroke penalty drop in the vicinity of where you ball was lost or went out-of-bounds instead of going back to the tee to re-hit.See video above for a more detailed explanation.

Essentially it’s the Irish Drop rule that some social groups (and Barnbougle) use to speed up play. You may still play a provisional off the tee but you then won’t be able to take the penalty drop.

6. No penalty for a double-hit
If you accidentally double, or triple hit the golf ball during your swing there used to be a penalty that went along with it. The changes to the rules of golf mean there will no longer be any penalty if it happens. Just keep on playing as if it never happened.

7. There are no more water hazards…
Before you start celebrating this just means that there is no more reference to water hazards in the rules of golf. They are all simply referred to as penalty areas. This may seem like semantics but…

8. You can now ground your club in a penalty area
It was always difficult to play a shot from a penalty area – and perhaps rightly so. But from now on you’ll be able to proceed just as if your golf ball is on the fairway. You can remove loose impediments and even ground your club while making a practice swing.

9. Unplayable ball in bunker
There is now an extra option when you get a very bad lie in a bunker. If you deem the golf ball in the bunker is unplayable you can now drop outside the bunker using a similar procedure for dropping out of a penalty area under the penalty of two-strokes.

For example, if you decide your plugged lie in the bunker from your tee shot is unplayable, you can drop back out and you’re now playing 4.

10. Relaxed bunker rules
The rules pertaining to a bunker have been relaxed meaning you can now touch the sand with your hand or club in a bunker, and even move loose impediments. But there are some exceptions: you still cannot touch the ground directly in front or behind your golf ball, when making a practice swing or on your back-swing.

11. No penalty if ball hits your bag
I’ve seen this one a few times, particularly when a golfer hits a golf cart with his golf bag in it where a penalty used to apply. As of 2019, there will no longer be a penalty if your golf ball hits your own golf bag.

12. Fixed distance used for measuring
From 2019 onwards a “club-length” to mark out your drop zone will be defined as “the length of the longest club in the player’s bag, except that this cannot be his or her putter.”

13. Measuring, dropping and playing from relief area
So now we have a fixed definition of club-length, a new relief area is defined and the ball needs to be dropped from knee-height and stay within that area. If not re-drop. If it still does not stay in the relief area, place it as close as possible to where your second drop hit the ground. See video above.

14. Green repair
Scuff marks, spike marks or any unnatural damage to the green will now be allowed to be fixed and repaired; not just plug-marks.

15. Embedded golf ball
Previously you were only allowed to take a free-drop if your golf ball was embedded in a closely mown area (read: fairway). Now you don’t need a local rule to get a free-drop if your golf ball is embedded in its own plug-mark anywhere on the golf course. Except in bunkers, of course.

16. Ball moved during search
There will no longer be a penalty for accidentally moving your golf ball while searching for it. Simply replace it, hit it and move along.

3 thoughts on “16 things you should know about the 2019 changes to the Rules of Golf

  • When dropping from knee high is there a penalty if the ball hits you or your foot

    • Good question. I’m not 100% sure but I imagine you would have to re-drop the golf ball in that situation.

  • Awesome article and really great insight! Have always wanted to play in that area! I am actually writing my own golf blog http://fromthebacktees.com/ and was hoping you could support me too as I will continue reading your site! Thanks a lot for the great content


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