Key Rule changes from 1st January 2019


Start by looking at some of the ways the language has been changed, being deliberately written in a more modern, plain style using common words, shorter sentences and headings that explain the Rules.

  • Through the Green >> General Area
  • Teeing Ground >> Teeing Area
  • Water/ Lateral Hazard >> Yellow/ Red Penalty Area
  • Wrong Putting Green >> Wrong Green
  • Outside Agency >> Outside Influence
  • Abnormal Ground Condition >> Abnormal Course Condition
  • Casual Water >> Temporary Water
  • Play Prohibited >> No Play Zone
  • Nearest Point of Relief >> Nearest Point of Complete Relief


Areas of the Course

The golf course is now split into 5 distinct sections:-

  1. Teeing area
  2. Bunkers
  3. Penalty areas – Any body of water on the course including a sea, lake, pond, river ditch, surface draining ditch or other open watercourse (even if not containing water). OR Any other part of the course the Committee defines as a penalty area
  4. The Putting green
  5. The General area – with the remainder of the course not covered by the other 4 areas


Putting green rules relaxed

  • Putting with an unattended flagstick left in the hole (Must decide before making stroke if flagstick is to be in, attended or removed)
    New rule: No penalty if a ball played from the putting green (or anywhere else) hits the unattended flagstick in hole.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Relaxed Bunker Rules

  • Player moves or touches a loose impediment in a bunker when the ball is in the bunker
    New rule: No penalty.
  • 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, (2) in making a practice swing, (3) with the club in the area right behind or in front of the ball or (4) in making the backswing for the stroke.
  • Unplayable ball relief options
    New rule: A player may take relief outside the bunker back on the line from the hole through where ball was at rest for 2 penalty strokes.


Penalty Area Changes (including areas formally known as Water Hazzards)

  • Any body of water on the course including a sea, lake, pond, river ditch, surface draining ditch or other open watercourse (even if not containing water)
  • Any other part of the course the Committee defines as a penalty area. Two types of penalty area, Yellow and Red.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Taking Relief

  • Dropping Procedure
    Must be dropped from knee height.
    Must be dropped straight down without touching player or equipment before hitting ground.
    Must be dropped in Relief Area.
    Note: ‘Knee height’ means the height of a players knee when in a standing position.


  • Time allowed for a ball search
    New rule: A ball is lost if not found in three minutes.
  • Substituting ball when taking relief
    New rule: A player may always substitute a ball when taking relief.
  • Where a ball must be dropped
    New rule: Drop in a defined relief area
  • Where a dropped ball must come to rest
    New rule: The ball must come to rest in the relief area where it was dropped. If the ball comes to rest outside of the relief area, the player will drop a second time in the relief area. If the ball again comes to rest outside the relief area, the player will place it where the ball first touched the ground on the second drop.
  • Embedded Ball: relief will now be allowed for a ball embedded anywhere (except when embedded in sand) in the general area, (what was known as through the green) without the need for a Local Rule. A committee can restrict embedded ball for parts of the general area cut to fairway height or less by introducing a Local Rule.


Ball at Rest moved ….

  • Player accidentally moves his or her ball during search
    New rule: No penalty
  • Player accidentally moves his or her ball or ball-marker on the putting green
    New rule: No penalty
  • 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.
  • How to replace a ball lying off the putting green when it moves and its exact original spot isn’t known
  • New rule: The ball will always be replaced; if the exact spot is not known, the player will replace the ball on the estimated original spot (including on, under or against any attached natural or man-made objects which the ball had been at rest under or against).


Movable Obstructions

May be removed without penalty. If ball moves when obstruction is removed, no penalty and replace ball


When a ball is in Motion

  • Accidental deflection: 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
  • Double Hit: Player accidentally hits the ball more than one during a stroke
    New rule: No penalty


Identifying your ball and General Advice and Help

Identifying Ball – Rule 7.3: No requirement to announce, You must mark the ball, can then lift it (or rotate it), Ball cannot be cleaned more than necessary, Replace ball on original spot


Advice and Help

  • New rule: A caddie is not allowed to deliberately stand on or close to the extended line of play behind a player while the player is taking his or her stance until the stroke is made.
  • 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.

“Caddie” – also extends to partner or his or her caddie


Pace of Play – “Ready Golf”

Ready Golf: Rules of Golf now permit and encourage players to play ‘ready golf’ in Stroke Play.

Recommendations on how to play promptly

Recommendation that players make each stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually in less time.

  • 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.


Stroke and Distance LOCAL RULE IF APPLIED

Stroke & Distance Local Rule
Provides an extra relief option for a ball that is Out of Bounds or Lost outside penalty area.
Two penalty strokes.
To be encouraged for members and visitors for casual play only.
Not appropriate for qualifying competitions and handicap purposes


Player Behavior

Under new Rule 1.2, Committees are allowed to adopt a Code of Conduct that:

  • sets the standards for how players should conduct themselves and
  • may set penalties less than disqualification for a player’s breach of these standards, which the current Rules don’t allow.

These can include failure to maintain the course, abuse of equipment or inappropriate language.
Penalties that can be applied can range from warnings through to one stroke or general penalties or for serious breaches disqualification.

Previously a Committee could only disqualify a player for a serious breach of etiquette.
This is a useful aid to Rule 1.2 which already consolidates the expected standards of the player, including:

  • Acting with integrity
  • Showing consideration to others
  • Taking care of the course

Serious misconduct will be met with a DQ penalty.



1. Bracken Ghyll Rules Evening Presentation

Using various online content available from the R&A and England Golf we have put together a set of slides which were delivered to our members. The slides can be downloaded at the link below

201811 Bracken Ghyll Rules 2019 v5 website




3. England Golf

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The Rules of Golf Modernisation website contains detailed descriptions, documents and videos about the new rules, as well as a link to download a 2019 Rules app for iOS and Android.