New golf rules designed to make sport easier to understand

Updated January 1, 2019 - 5:55 pm

At least 31 major golf rules changes were implemented as of Jan. 1 by the U.S. Golf Association and Royal and Ancient in the first major revision and modernization since 1984, according to my estimates.

The changes range from allowing the flagstick to be left in while putting on the green, to no penalty if a player accidentally strikes the ball twice, to adjusting the height when dropping a ball back into play from the shoulder to the knee. It’s nice to see the two major golf ruling organizations recognize the need to modernize some aspects of the game to make it less intimidating and easier to understand.

In 2012, the USGA and R&A rules experts began compiling research and player feedback to create the new tapestry by which to play. To help with the transition, the organizations created a simplified Players Edition rule book, an app and several online articles, charts and guides to help explain everything.

Sue May, the new Southern Nevada Golf Association vice president and a longtime rules official who has worked several USGA major championships, has created her own guide that she is handing out at rules seminars she conducts. Seminars are scheduled for Jan. 8 at Bear’s Best and Jan. 17 at Wildhorse. Reservations and additional rules information are available at

Among the goals of the new rules are to improve pace of play and simplify the language used. Gone are terms such as “hazard,” now described as “penalty area,” and “through the green,” now deemed “general area.”

“I am very enthused with the new rules, but it will be a process to get players educated because there are some significant changes,” May said. “Some that are getting attention are players will now be able to ground the club in a penalty area, remove loose impediments in a penalty area, and the time to search for a lost ball has been reduced from five to three minutes.”

May noted that players still aren’t allowed to ground a club when hitting out of a bunker and that players may decide to take a two-stroke penalty instead of hitting out of a bunker if the situation is extremely difficult.

According to Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior managing director of governance, the Players Edition rule book is more intuitive and features 10 simplified topical groupings, a “purpose of rule” description to better define why the rule exists, easy-to-follow charts and diagrams, and a simpler and more direct writing style.

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The golf notebook appears Wednesdays. Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author who has covered golf in Las Vegas for more than two decades. He can be reached at or @LVGolfInsider.

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