The (new) Rules of Golf: The essentials

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 7, 2019 18:45

Shona McRae, Assistant Director – Rules, The R&A, looks at the essentials that every golfer should know about the new rules.

To get you Rules ready for 2019, there are 10 essentials that every golfer should know. In this month’s article, we look at five of these key essentials:

Putting green

It is now okay to repair damage (for example, spike marks, ball marks and so on) and putt with the flagstick in the hole. There is no penalty if the ball accidentally strikes the flagstick in the hole (Rule 13).


You can now touch or move loose impediments and can lean on your club in a bunker. But you still cannot touch the sand to learn information for your stroke or touch the sand with your club right in front of, or right behind, your ball or when taking your backswing or when taking practice swings. These limited restrictions retain the challenge of playing from the bunker (Rule 12).

Searching for a ball

The new Rules aim to improve the pace of play so the time for searching for a ball has been reduced from five to three minutes. To help with finding a ball, there is now no penalty if you accidentally move your ball when searching for it. Simply replace your ball from where it was moved. If you don’t know the exact spot, estimate it (Rule 7).

Golfer Bennett Maki prepares to drop his ball during the 2018 Rules Modernization Shoot at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, FL on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Chris McEniry)

Dropping and taking relief

To take free relief from temporary water or a cart path, you need to find the nearest point of complete relief. Once determined, you then measure your relief area (one club-length for relief from an abnormal course condition) with the longest club in your bag, other than your putter.  The ball is then dropped straight down from knee height.  The ball must be dropped in the relief area and must come to rest in the relief area. The lower drop helps to achieve this (Rule 14 and Rule 16).

Pace of play

The new Rules encourage golfers to play at a prompt pace of play. The Rules also encourage you to play ‘Ready Golf’ in stroke play when it is safe to do so. Another recommendation is that you should take no more than 40 seconds to play your shot – usually you should be able to play more quickly than that (Rule 5).

The Rules essentials are available in the ‘Resource Centre’ on The R&A’s website. You can also download Rules factsheets on what is new, and infographics and posters from the Resource Centre. These can be useful tools for helping to educate members and visitors.

The second part of this article will appear online in February.

For more information, visit


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 7, 2019 18:45
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1 Comment

  1. williamking January 10, 13:13

    Who got the note about the flagstick wrong? Rule 13 does not apply to the ball hitting the flagstick “accidentally” but to however it hits it.

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