GOLF RULES CHANGES
  • Search Time (Rule 18)

Earlier, five minutes were available for finding a lost ball.

Now, the maximum search time is only three minutes.

Most balls were previously found within three minutes and searching during the last two minutes was often unsuccessful – it is therefore not expected that this rule change will have a negative impact on scores.

  • Ball moved during a search (Rule 7)

Previously, the player usually incurred a penalty stroke if he moved his ball during a search.

Now, a mishap such as this is without penalty.

You can therefore use your feet and your clubs when searching in thick grass without any consequences. The ball must be put back.

  • Identifying the ball (Rule 7)

Previously, if you wanted to pick up your ball to identify it, you had to inform a fellow-player in advance and give him the opportunity to observe the process.

Now, you no longer have to inform a fellow-player.

If circumstances allow, it is still advisable to inform your fellow-players before you pick up your ball as a matter of courtesy and in order to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Provisional ball (Rule 18)

Previously, a provisional ball could only be played before the player walked down the fairway to look for his first ball (however, going forward as far as 50 yards was allowed).

Now, you can also play a provisional ball after you have already looked for your original ball for a while.

Now that the search time has been reduced to three minutes, it will be virtually impossible to play a provisional ball after you have already searched for a while. Because, after the three minutes have expired, it is no longer a provisional ball but it automatically becomes the new ball in play.

  • Club-length (Definition)

Previously, the player could use any of his clubs to measure out a club-length.

Now, a club-length is defined as the longest club in your bag, except for the putter.

Using extra-long, “broom handle” putters for measuring is thus no longer allowed.

  • Dropping (Rule 14)

Previously, the ball had to be dropped from shoulder height.

Now, you have to drop from knee height.

If you drop from shoulder height out of habit don’t worry, just pick the ball up and drop it again correctly, without penalty.

  • Embedded ball (Rule 16)

Previously, the player only got relief if the ball has become embedded in a closely-mown area.

Now, you can take a free drop from all embedded balls in the “general area”, including in the semi-rough and rough.

Balls embedded in a bunker or in penalty areas still have to be played as they lie.

  • Animal holes (Rule 16)

Previously, the player was only given relief from animal holes if they were made by burrowing animals and reptiles, or birds.

Now, the restriction to certain species of animals has been lifted and you can take a free drop from holes and tracks left by all animals (except for insects and worms).

This usually involves molehills and mouse holes.

  • Wrong green (Rule 13)

If the ball lands on the wrong green, playing it from there is not allowed, as this would most likely damage the green. However, if the ball only lands near the wrong green the player was previously permitted to stand on the wrong green to play his ball.

Now, you also have to take a free drop if you would have to take your stance on the wrong green.

This usually involves molehills and mouse holes.

  • Ball hits the player or equipment (Rule 11)

Previously, a penalty stroke was incurred if the player hit himself or his own equipment.

Now, this is without penalty provided it happened accidentally.

You are not allowed to use your equipment or your foot as a ball stopper.

  • Touching the sand in the bunker (Rule 12)

Previously, touching the sand in the bunker before the stroke was not permitted, except for very few exceptions.

Now, touching the sand incidentally is basically allowed, i.e. you are permitted to lean on your club. However, you are still not allowed to test the condition of the sand before the stroke is played, improve the line of play, ground the club in front of or behind the ball or touch the sand during practice swings.

You now do not have to be extra careful in bunkers, especially if you are not very close to the ball.

  • Loose impediments (Rule 15)

Previously, touching leaves, twigs, stones, branches and other loose impediments in bunkers and water hazards was not allowed.

Now, you can remove them anywhere without penalty, including in bunkers and penalty areas (new name for water hazards).

Please bear in mind that the ball is still not allowed to move when removing loose impediments.

  • Unplayable ball in the bunker (Rule 19)

Previously, the player had three dropping options – each incurring one penalty stroke – if he declared his ball in a bunker unplayable.

Now, a fourth option is available. You can also drop the ball directly behind the bunker. However, this option costs two penalty strokes instead of just one.

You can use this to avoid playing a bunker shot at all but in most cases it will not be worth it.

  • Penalty areas (Definition)

Previously, water hazards could only be marked as such if they actually contained water.

Now, water hazards are called penalty areas and no longer have to contain water.

This means that golf clubs are free to mark other parts of the course as penalty areas to enable sideways drops and thus speed up the game.

  • Dropping options with penalty areas (Rule 17)

Previously, with lateral water hazards, it was possible to drop on the opposite side of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard.

Now, it is called a red penalty area and it is no longer possible to drop on the opposite side.

This option was previously hardly ever used and it only led to confusion.

  • Touching the ground and water in penalty areas (Rule 17)

If you decide to play a ball from a water hazard as it lies, you were previously not allowed to touch the ground or the water before your stroke.

Now, you are allowed to ground the club in or out of the water when you play the ball out of a penalty area.

Experience has shown that it usually doesn’t make sense to try and hit a ball out of the water if it is completely covered by water

  • Ball moves on the green after being marked and put back (Rule 13)

Previously, the ball had to be played from the new spot if it moved either by itself or due to the wind after being marked and put back.

Now, you have to put the ball back.

Most players already used to put the ball back out of reflex – even though this was incorrect. The new rule is thus in line with natural instinct.

  • Ball on the green moved accidentally by the player (Rule 13)

Previously, accidentally moving the ball on the green was only without penalty with certain exceptions.

Now, a mishap such as this is without penalty in all cases.

If, for example, your club slips out of your hand or you make a practice swing too close to the ball and your ball moves as a result – just put the ball back without penalty.

  • Ball on the green moved accidentally by the player (Rule 13)

Previously, accidentally moving the ball on the green was only without penalty with certain exceptions.

Now, a mishap such as this is without penalty in all cases.

If, for example, your club slips out of your hand or you make a practice swing too close to the ball and your ball moves as a result – just put the ball back without penalty.

  • Repairing damage on the green (Rule 13)

Previously, repairing the line of putt was not allowed, apart from a few exceptions such as pitch marks and old hole plugs.

Now, you are permitted to repair nearly all damage on the green, including spike marks.

But this is not free licence to smooth out the entire line of putt, as natural imperfections are part of the game.