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GET INTO GOLF: Get a grasp on the new rules

The game has been played for centuries with the first official rules established by the Scots in 1744.

I’m sure the impetus for this documentation was competition. Everything is fun and games until there is a wager on the line.

Likely it was some kilt clad Scotsman standing on the first tee, “Aye, how much do you want to play for?”



A bottle of Scotch, no doubt.

Until then it didn’t matter. Yet, when there is a winner and a loser, certain things need to be clarified.



“Aye, what if there is a bone next to my ball? Do I have to play it?”

“Aye, if my ball hits my horse, do I get to try again?”

Believe it or not, it’s in the original rules.

Since then the rules have received countless reviews and numerous changes. The two governing bodies of amateur golf, the Royal & Ancient (Scotland) and United States Golf Association, work together periodically to discuss improvements.

Through the years, some of these changes are significant and others have less effect on our pedestrian round. One interesting adjustment was the end of the so-called ‘stymie.’ The original rules only allowed a ball to be lifted (marked without penalty) if it was touching another ball.

If a player’s ball was on the line (path) of another player on the putting green, they were not required to lift the ball. The ball would be directly in the way. Too bad. This would even cause players to take an iron and try to chip their ball over the other ball. This was known as a stymie.

It wasn’t until 1952 that this rule was changed or rather added.

Last week we covered a handful of the changes for 2019. Candidly, there are many changes in this edition, but let’s take a look a few more that we need to know.

Dropping: Previously, whether through relief or penalty, one was to hold the ball at shoulder height and drop to put the ball in play. This has now been changed to knee height. Presumably, the goal is to keep the distance a ball would roll to a minimum as it must be re-dropped if it bounces/rolls more than a club length or nearer the hole.

Embedded balls: Before 2019, relief was only provided for embedded balls in the fairway (shortly mown grass). Now, if your ball has submerged (to one degree or another) “through the green” (including the rough, but not hazards) one is allowed relief without penalty.

Flagstick on the green: When putting, a player would be penalized if their ball hit a flagstick that was left in the hole. No more. Of course, we will still prefer to have the flagstick out of the hole (it’s taking up space) most of the time. But, if it’s a lengthy effort, just give it a roll without worry. This should help speed things up a bit.

For 2019, the USGA and R&A completed what some would call a complete overhaul to the Rules of Golf. The Rules were streamlined from 34 rules to 24 rules and a host of positive changes were made.

For us, the number one rule is to have fun. Ask your local PGA Pro for a copy of the Rules of Golf (or you can find them online at USGA.ORG). We’re ready for another few centuries.

John Renslow is a PGA Professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.


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