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2019 USGA Rules Change Summary


by Tom Aquino 12 Mar 2019



Yes, we are now into March of 2019 and the USGA has issued new rules for all of us. Because we at Pro Golf South want you to enjoy the game, and to help you play better golf, we're providing you a synopsis of the new changes. At the end, we're also including a link to the USGA's official site which gives you a complete summary of all the changes in a convenient PDF format.


Part of the USGA's rationale for the changes is to make the game more fun and to speed up the pace of play. Another part of their rationale is to make the game less penal for what a lot of people thought were minor infractions, when in effect, those infractions were not so minor, especially in a competitive situation!


What we've tried to do is provide you with a brief reference guide for a number of things you should know about the changes that affect you most commonly as a player. This article is not intended to be a complete guide to every change the USGA has implemented. Rather, we do hope you will use the link to the official USGA site with their complete explanations for all the changes.


So, here we go:


1 – Players can leave the flagstick in the cup when making a stroke on the green. But, you can't lay the flagstick behind the hole.


2 – In addition to ball marks, players can repair spike marks, scrapes, footprints, or other imperfections not caused by normal course maintenance (e.g. aeration holes).


3 – There is no penalty if a ball or a ball marker accidentally moves or is moved on a green. It must simply be replaced to its original position with no penalty.


4 – In a bunker, you can remove loose impediments such as stones, twigs, or leaves. However, you must not cause the ball to move while doing so. (If a ball is resting on a leaf, you can't move the leaf.) You can touch the sand while removing a loose impediment, but you can't test the condition of the sand in any fashion.


5 – If a ball buries in a bunker, you can take a 2 stroke penalty and drop the ball outside the bunker on a line with the flagstick, no nearer the hole.


6 – The term “water hazard” has now become “penalty area.” Penalty areas could be a ravine, thick woods, or a pond where a ball most likely could not be hit. There are multiple options for play depending on the marking of the penalty area (red or yellow lines or stakes).


7 – The time allowed for searching for a ball is reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. If a ball is accidentally moved while looking for it, there is no penalty, but it must be replaced to its original position.


8 – For a ball out of bounds, a local rule is now available. If a ball is hit out of bounds, you can drop a ball within 2 club lengths of the fairway with a 2 stroke penalty. This can be done in lieu of going back to the tee and playing a second ball with a 1 stroke penalty. Again, this is a time saver.


9 – Whenever you are allowed to drop a ball, (e.g. a ball that was in a penalty area), you must drop the ball from knee height instead of shoulder height. Knee height distance is the height of the player's knee “when in a standing position.”


10 – Distance measuring devices are now allowed for tournament play unless specifically banned by a local rule.


11 – A player can continue to use a damaged club if it is damaged by the player. And, the player may try to repair it and continue to use it. However, a player may not replace a club unfit for play (e.g. a cracked driver face), unless the damage was caused by an outside influence or natural forces.

12 – A player can put a new ball in play only when it is visibly cut or cracked. Gone is the provision of “out of shape.” The player does not have to state his or her intention of examining the ball.

13 – Players can substitute a new ball any time they take relief under any circumstances.

14 – There is no longer a penalty for hitting the ball more than once with the same swing. If a player does hit the ball twice with the same swing, he or she merely counts the first one and plays on from where the ball finishes.

15 – If a player accidentally hits himself, his equipment, or his caddie with a ball, there is no penalty. There is a penalty, however, if equipment is intentionally placed so as to benefit the player from a deflection after it is hit by the player's ball.

These are some of the highlights of the new rule changes and we hope they help whether you are playing a Nassau with your buddies or in a high-end tournament!


Lastly, here is the link to a USGA PDF document with all the specifics (just copy and paste into a new browser):


Until next time, hit 'em straight!



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