New proposed changes to the Rules effective 2019

The USGA and R&A announced a series of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf, which would take effect in 2019. Here's a complete list of the topics addressed, including what the new rule would be and what the current rule is. Click here for video explanations of the proposed changes.

BALL AT REST: TopicsDescription of change

Player accidentally moves his or her ball during search

New rule: No penalty.

Current rule: 1-stroke penalty.Player accidentally moves his or her ball or ball-marker on the putting green

New rule: No penalty.

Current rule: 1-stroke penalty (with exceptions).

Standard for deciding whether the player caused his or her ball to move

New rule: The player will be found to be the cause only when it is known or virtually certain (meaning at least 95%) to be the case.

Current rule: Weight of the evidence/more likely than not.How to replace a ball lying off the putting green when it moves and its exact original spot isn’t known

New rule: Replace the ball on its estimated spot; if that spot was on, under or against attached natural objects, replace the ball on that spot on, under or against those objects.

Current rule: Drop the ball as near as possible to the estimated spot.

BALL IN MOTION: TopicDescription of change

Player’s ball in motion accidentally hits the player, his or her caddie, the person attending the flagstick or the attended or removed flagstick 

New rule: No penalty.

Current rule: 1-stroke penalty (expect it is a 2-stroke penalty when the accidental deflection relates to the flagstick or the attendant).

TAKING RELIEF: TopicsDescription of change

Where a ball must be dropped 

New rule:  Drop in a defined relief area.

Current rule: Sometimes the drop is in a specified area, sometimes it is on or as near as possible to a spot or a line.

Where a dropped ball must come to rest

New rule: The ball must come to rest in the relief area where it was dropped, or else the ball must be re-dropped.

Current rule: The ball must be re-dropped if it rolls to any of the nine specified areas (Rule 20-2c), such as rolling more than 2 club-lengths from where the dropped ball struck the ground.

Measuring the size of the relief area where a ball must be dropped and played

New rule: The relief area is measured by a fixed distance of 20 inches or 80 inches from the reference point or the reference line;this can readily be measured by using markings on the shaft of a club.

Current rule: Measured by using 1 or 2 club-lengths (with any length club the player chooses).

How to drop a ball

New rule: The only requirement is for the player to hold the ball above the ground without it touching any growing thing or other natural or artificial object, and let it go so that it falls through the air before coming to rest; to avoid any doubt, it is recommended that the ball be dropped from at least one inch above the ground or any growing thing or object.

Current rule: Stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length.

Time allowed for a ball search

New rule: A ball is lost if not found in three minutes.

Current rule: A ball is lost if not found in five minutes.

Substituting ball

New rule: A player may always substitute a ball when taking relief.

Current rule: The player must use the original ball when taking free relief (with exceptions); a substituted ball is allowed only when taking penalty relief.

Embedded ball

New rule: A player may take relief without penalty for an embedded ball anywhere (except in sand) in the “general area” (new term for “through the green”), unless a Local Rule has been adopted restricting relief only to areas cut to fairway height or less.

Current rule: Relief is allowed only in areas cut to fairway height or less, unless a Local Rule has been adopted allowing relief anywhere (except in sand) through the green.

AREAS OF THE COURSE: TopicsDescription of change

Replacing a ball on the putting green when it moves from its spot after it already had been lifted and replaced 

New rule: The ball must always be replaced on its original spot, even if it was blown by the wind or moved for no clear reason.

Current rule: The ball is replaced only if a player or outside agency caused it to move; otherwise, the ball is played from its new location.

Repairing damage on the putting green

New rule: A player may repair almost any damage (including spike marks and animal damage but not including natural imperfections) on the putting green.

Current rule: A player may only repair ball-marks or old hole plugs on the putting green.

Player touches the line of putt or touches the putting green in pointing out a target 

New rule: No penalty, so long as doing so does not improve the conditions for the player’s stroke.

Current rule: Loss of hole/2-stroke penalty (with exceptions).

Putting with an unattended flagstick left in the hole 

New rule: No penalty if a ball played from the putting green (or anywhere else) hits the unattended flagstick in hole.

Current rule: Loss of hole/2-stroke penalty if the ball is played from the putting green and hits the unattended flagstick in hole.

Areas the Committee may mark as a penalty area (where relief with 1-stroke penalty is allowed)

New rule: Red- and yellow-marked “penalty areas” may now cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water.

Current rule: Relief is allowed only from “water hazards.”

Player moves loose impediments, touches the ground with hand or club or grounds the club in a penalty area when the ball is in the penalty area

New rule: No penalty.

Current rule: Loss of hole/2-stroke penalty (with exceptions).

Expanded use of red-marked penalty areas

New rule: Committees are 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).

Current rule: All water hazards should be marked yellow, except where their location on the course makes it impossible or unreasonable to drop behind the hazard; only when this is the case may these water hazards be marked red as lateral water hazards.

Elimination of the opposite side relief option for red penalty areas

New rule: A player is no longer allowed to take relief from a red penalty area on the opposite side from where the ball last entered that penalty area, unless the Committee adopts a Local Rule allowing it.

Current rule: A player is always allowed to take relief from the opposite side of a red-marked lateral water hazard.

Player moves or touches a loose impediment in a bunker when the ball is in the bunker

New rule: No penalty.

Current rule: Loss of hole/2-stroke penalty (with exceptions).

Player touches sand in a bunker with his or her hand or a club when the ball is in the bunker 

New rule: No penalty except when a player touches sand (1) with his or her hand or club to test the conditions of the bunker or (2) with the club in the area right behind or in front of the ball, in making a practice swing or in making the backswing for the stroke.

Current rule: Any touching of sand with hand or club results in loss of hole/2-stroke penalty (with exceptions).

Unplayable ball relief options 

New rule:  A player may take relief outside the bunker back on a line from the hole through where ball was at rest for 2 penalty strokes.

Current rule: No relief outside the bunker (other than in playing from where the player’s last stroke was made).

EQUIPMENT: TopicsDescription of change

Use of clubs damaged during round

New rule: A player may keep using any damaged club, even if the player damaged it in anger.

Current rule: A player may use the damaged club only if it was damaged in the “normal course of play.”

Adding clubs to replace a club damaged during round

New rule: A player may not replace a damaged club, unless the player was not responsible for the damage.

Current rule: A player may replace a damaged club if it is “unfit for play” and was damaged in the “normal course of play.”

Use of distance-measuring devices (DMDs)

New rule: The use of DMDs is allowed, unless a Local Rule has been adopted prohibiting their use.

Current rule: DMD use is prohibited, unless a Local Rule has been adopted allowing their use.

PLAYING A BALL: TopicsDescription of change

Caddie standing behind a player to help with that player’s alignment

New rule: A caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind a player while the player is taking his or her stance and until stroke is made.

Current rule: A caddie is allowed to stand on a line behind a player while the player is taking a stance and preparing to play, but must not stand there while the player makes the stroke. 

Caddie lifts and replaces the player’s ball on the putting green

New rule: A caddie may lift and replace the player’s ball on the putting green without the player’s specific authorization to do so.

Current rule: 1-stroke penalty if done without the player’s specific authorization.

WHEN TO PLAY DURING ROUND: TopicsDescription of change

Recommendations on how to play promptly

New rule: Recommends that players make each stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually in less time.

Current rule: No recommendations are given.

Playing out of turn in stroke play 

New rule: No penalty (as today), and “ready golf” is encouraged when it can be done in a safe and responsible way.

Current rule: No penalty, but the current Rule is written in a way that may imply that playing out of turn is wrong or is not allowed.

Other changes to help pace of play Other new rules: Simplified dropping rules, allowing more areas to be marked as penalty areas, expanded use of red penalty areas and allowing a player to putt with the flagstick in the hole.

New alternative form of stroke play

New rule: A new “Maximum Score” form of stroke play is recognized, where a player’s score for a hole is capped at a maximum score (such as double par or triple bogey) that is set by the Committee.

Current rule: In standard individual stroke play, players must hole out at every hole; the only recognized alternative forms of stroke play where holing out is not required are Stableford, Par and Bogey.

PLAYER BEHAVIOR: TopicsDescription of change

Playing in the spirit of the game 

New rule: Explains and reinforces the high standards of conduct expected from players and gives a Committee discretion to disqualify players for serious misconduct.

Current rule: The Rules set out no standards of conduct, except indirectly in giving Committees discretion to disqualify players for a serious breach of etiquette.

Code of player conduct

New rule: Committees are given authority to adopt their own code of player conduct and to set penalties for the breach of the standards in that code.

Current rule: Committees may disqualify players for a serious breach of etiquette, but are not allowed to impose lesser penalties such as a 1-stroke penalty or a loss of hole/2-stroke penalty.

Eliminating announcement requirements before lifting a ball under certain Rules

New rule: When a player has good reason to mark and lift a ball to identify it, check for damage or see if it lies in a condition where relief is allowed (such as to see whether it is embedded), the player is no longer required first to announce to another player or his or her marker the intent to do so or to give that person an opportunity to observe the process.

Current rule: Before lifting in these cases, the player must announce to another player or the marker that he or she is doing so and allow that person to observe the process.

Player’s reasonable judgment in estimating and measuring under a Rule 

New rule: When estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance under a Rule, a player’s reasonable judgment will not be second-guessed based on later evidence (such as video review) if the player did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement.

Current rule: A player’s judgment is given no particular weight or deference; the Committee decides any issue about the accuracy of the estimation or measurement based on a review of all facts.

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Rules of Golf




Golf Rules and Definitions


The tee box or more formally, the “the teeing ground” is the starting place from which to play the hole. It is a rectangular area two club lengths in depth. The front and sides are defined by the outside limits of the tee markers. A ball is outside of the teeing ground when ALL OF IT lies outside the teeing ground.



THROUGH THE GREEN is the whole area of the course EXCEPT

a.      The teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played.

            b.    All hazards on the course



The putting green is the area of the hole specially prepared for putting. A ball is deemed to be on the green when ANY part of it touches the green. The “apron”, “collar”, or “fringe” is NOT considered part of the putting green.



This is the high grass surrounding the tee, fairway, and green. The rough is cut in zones of grass length that are known as first, second, or third cut.



A hazard is any bunker or water hazard.



A BUNKER OR TRAP is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground that is most often a hollow that is filled with sand. Grass area bordering OR WITHIN the bunker is NOT part of the bunker. A bunker is NOT a natural sandy area. A natural sandy area is referred to as a “WASTE AREA”.



A water hazard is any lake, pond, stream, drainage ditch, or ocean. The water hazard is marked by yellow stakes or a yellow line. ALL ground within the lines is part of the hazard.



A lateral water hazard is marked by red stakes or a red line, and is a hazard situated so that it is deemed neither practical nor possible to drop a ball behind the water hazard.



Before you play a stroke on a ball which is in or is touching a hazard you may not:

            1.  Test the condition of the hazard

2.     Touch the ground in the hazard or water in a water hazard.

                      3.  Touch or move a LOOSE IMPEDIMENT lying in or touching the hazard.



A ball is “lost” if::


1.  It is not found or identified by the player within FIVE MINUTES after beginning the search for the ball.


2.  The player puts in to play another ball under the rules, even though there is no search for the original ball.


3.  The player has played any stroke with a PROVISIONAL BALL. The first ball, therefore, is considered to be lost and the PROVISIONAL BALL becomes the BALL IN PLAY.



“OUT OF BOUNDS” is ground where play is prohibited. It is designated by WHITE STAKES, WHITE LINES OR A WHITE FENCE. A ball is out of bounds when ALL of it lies out of bounds which is done using the nearest inside points of the stakes. A player can stand out of bounds to play the ball lying within bounds.



If a ball is lost outside a water hazard or is out of bounds, the player must replay the shot from as close to the original spot as possible, whether it is from the tee, fairway, or rough WITH A ONE STROKE PENALTY (THIS IS THE STROKE AND DISTANCE PENALTY). It is the ONLY option.



A PROVISIONAL BALL is a ball played for the ball that may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds. It is used to save time and is hit, UNDER PENALTY OF ONE STROKE, as nearly as possible from where the original ball was last played. When you

choose to hit a provisional ball, you must inform your opponent that you are doing so before you play the provisional ball. If the original ball is found within 5 minutes, the provisional ball is abandoned and the original ball remains the one in play.




The boundaries of a water hazard should be marked by yellow lines or stakes. When your ball comes to rest in a water hazard there are three options.

1.  Play the ball as it lies (As with all hazards you cannot “ground” your club. Meaning that once you enter the hazard boundaries your club cannot touch the ground or in this case even the water).


2.     Take the stroke and distance penalty. If the stroke is taken from the tee, it would be your third.


3.     Determine the point where the ball LAST crossed the margin of the hazard. Imagine a line in between THAT POINT AND THE HOLE. Drop the ball behind the hazard on an extension of that line. Take a one stroke penalty. When a ball goes beyond the water hazard and then bounces back in to the hazard, the line where the ball may be dropped is the FINAL POINT OF ENTRY.




There are FIVE options when a ball lies within a lateral water hazard.

1.  Play the ball as it lies


2.  Use the stroke and distance option by hitting again from the tee (ONE STROKE PENALTY)


3.  Drop behind the hazard on a line formed by the hole and the point where the ball entered the hazard (ONE STROKE PENALTY).


4.  You may drop within two club lengths of where the ball entered the hazard no nearer the hole with a one stroke penalty added.


5.  You may drop on the opposite side of the hazard EQUIDISTANT from the hole as the position in option one with a ONE STROKE PENALTY







When you are confronted with a situation where your ball has landed and remains on the cart path you have the option to drop your ball from THE NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF, or to play the ball from the path. If you choose nearest point of relief, YOU DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE AS TO WHICH SIDE OF THE PATH YOU WISH TO DROP FROM. You must drop from the nearest point of relief relative to the balls resting point. ALSO YOU CANNOT STAND ON THE PATH IF YOU TAKE RELIEF FROM IT. The nearest point MUST AVOID YOUR STANCE AS WELL AS YOUR SWING. Using any club in your bag, drop within one club length of that point NO NEARER THE HOLE THAN WHERE THE BALL LAY ON THE CART PATH. Note: if the nearest point means dropping the ball in to a worse situation you can play the ball where it lies on the path. BE CAREFUL NOT TO TOUCH THE BALL UNTIL YOU ARE SURE THAT YOU WANT TO TAKE RELIEF AS TOUCHING THE BALL IS A COMMITMENT. A key point to remember when determining relief is that you do not get free relief because your situation could affect THE BALLS FLIGHT. You only get free relief when your area of INTENDED SWING, YOUR STANCE, OR THE LIE OF THE BALL is affected by an immovable obstruction.




A player can declare a ball unplayable at any time except when under the influence of the rules in a water hazard. Once a ball is declared unplayable, you have three options.


            1. Dropping the ball within two club lengths from the point of the unplayable lie no         nearer the hole except in a water hazard. Add one stroke to your score.


            2. Keeping the point of the unplayable lie between you and the hole and going back        as far as you want and dropping the ball. Add one stroke to your score.


            3. Return to the original point you hit the shot from and replay it. Add one stroke to        your score, but you are penalizing yourself distance. This is a basic stroke and    distance penalty.




The Rules of Golf are sincerely designed to help maintain the integrity and fairness of the game of golf.  Golf is one of the truly unique sports in which players of all abilities may compete on an even playing field.  A basic understanding of these rules will not only increase your enjoyment of the game, but will also maintain the traditions that hundreds of years and millions of golfers have set forth. 

History of Golf Rules

Golf rules and etiquette follow three main tenets.

  • Play the ball as it lies
  • Play the course as you find it
  • Do what is fair

The refinement of these basic rules has been accomplished since the earliest days of golf nearly 800 years ago.  The rules apply to everyone. There are currently 34 Rules of Golf. They are administered by the United States Golf Association in America and elsewhere by the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews.  The USGA was founded in 1894, the R&A in 1754.  These two groups work together to constantly refine and improve the rules of golf.

Things have not always been this cooperative though.  In the very early days of golf, each golf club in Scotland produced their own and unique rules.  All of them were somewhat different…which made traveling competitions very interesting.  Eventually, the disagreements became suffocating and the clubs requested that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club promulgate one set of rules.  The golfers at St. Andrews were so honored because almost all Scots recognize St. Andrews as the birthplace of golf. 

The first known published rules of golf were thirteen in number and ordained by the Honourable Company of Golfers of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1744.  These rules were adopted and ratified nearly ten years later by the R & A.

As golf migrated to the Americas, similar rules fluctuation began to ensue.  It wasn’t until 1951 that the USGA and the R & A resolved all of their differences and agreed on the same set of rules. 

A complete copy of the Rules of Golf and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf may be obtained from the United States Golf Association, Rules of Golf.