R&A and USGA announce proposed rule changes

By Barrie Moran | 2nd March 2017

The Royal & Ancient and the USGA have announced their proposals for a number of significant changes to the Rules Of Golf which are primarily designed to reduce certain penalties to help speed up play.

With growing criticism over recent years for the lack of action on slow play, the scourge of the game, looks as though it is being addressed. The proposed changes are scheduled to come into effect on the 1st January 2019, however, there is as always a reliance on player integrity, we already know that a person who takes their full five minutes to look for their ball, sometimes more, therefore reducing this to three minutes, will it truly have the desired impact?

There is more emphasis on speeding up the pace of play, meaning that players take no more than 40 seconds per shot, and rules for penalty drop have also changed, as the ball may be dropped below shoulder height.

Another proposal is to ban the use of caddies that help players with their alignment on any shot, and allowing players to repair spike marks on greens is to be permitted.




Below are some of the main proposed rules from the R&A and the USGA:

Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties:

There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.

Relaxed putting green rules:

There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole; players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage

Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”):

Red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water; expanded use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed; and there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.

Relaxed bunker rules:

There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions (such as not grounding the club right next to the ball) is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand; however, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty

Relying on player integrity:

A player’s “reasonable judgment” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong; and elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.

Pace-of-play support:

Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.

Simplified way of taking relief:

A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific relief area; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from just above the ground or any growing thing or other object on the ground.


The R&A have said that the rules will apply to all golfers, and they are designed to bring about many significant improvements. Golfers have been asked to test out the rules and give their feedback by August 31st. At the moment the rules are still in the proposition stage and therefore may be subject to change depending on the ongoing conversations with golfers in the months ahead.