They’ve been six years in the making but it’s not long now before the new modernised Rules of Golf come into effect on January 1, 2019.
The R&A and USGA’s new Player’s Edition of the Rules is making it simpler for us to understand what’s going on but there are still 24 of them to get through.
So we’ve done the hard work for you and picked out six changes that are coming into force in the New Year that are bound to help your game.
1. You can ground your club in a hazard
I love this rule change, which is officially classed as ‘relaxed rules in a penalty area’. It was sometimes a balancing act – especially if you were trying to stabilise yourself in a stream – to make sure you hit a shot without touching the hazard.
Now, fear not. You’ll not only be able to ground your club, you’ll also be able to remove loose impediments. Remember, they are no longer hazards. They are penalty areas.
2. You can repair spikemarks, or any damage, on the green
This is probably more psychological than anything as, with the popularity of spikeless shoes, it is less and less common to see a dirty great spikemark sitting in the line of your putt.
But anyhow, it will now be okay to repair spikemarks and any other damage done by shoes, from a club, animals, and almost anything else you can think of that might prevent the path of your ball to the cup being anything less than perfect.
In a big break with tradition, and probably manna from heaven for all those who really like to feel how a putt is going to break, you’ll also be able to touch the line.
3. Leave the flagstick in the hole if you want
Trying to get us all off the course quicker is a key part of the new Rules, such as the adoption of Ready Golf and limiting the time you can look for a ball from five minutes to three.
This change is also about speeding up the game and, let’s be honest, it’s pretty common sense and outside of a competition we all do it.
So if a ball played from the green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole, there’s no longer a penalty. You can also putt with the flag either attended or unattended.
4. You’ll now drop the ball from knee height
There’s an art to dropping a ball from shoulder height and I’m terrible at it. If I can find a divot, I will. If there’s a chance of getting stuck in a stinking lie, I’ll manage to do it.
So the ability to drop the ball from knee height from January 1 obviously holds great appeal.
When the rules changes were initially announced, it was proposed you would be able to drop the ball from any height.
But this was a bit too much for the purists, who argued you’d effectively be placing the ball – as you’d naturally drop from as low a point to the ground as possible.
Dropping from knee height, which will still preserve a bit of randomness, is probably the right call.
Unless I keep finding divots, and then I’ll hate it just the same.
5. If your ball hits you, it’s no longer a penalty
We’ve all done this one. You’ve skulled your shot in a bunker, it’s cannoned off the face and come back and struck you.
Previously you were picking up a penalty for that, as you would if the ball hit your equipment as well.
It all seemed so unfair. Wasn’t the fact the ball was still the bunker, or hadn’t travelled anywhere, punishment enough?
The governing bodies appear to have agreed. Now if a ball in motion is ‘accidentally deflected by you or your equipment, there will be no penalty and the ball will be played from where it comes to rest’.
Separately, the penalty you used to get for a double hit has also been removed. Now you’ll just count it as one stroke and carry on.
6. Ground your club in a bunker – just don’t do it next to the ball
This will finally end hundreds of fake YouTube highlight reels. You know the scene – massive cliff-faced bunker, player teetering and trying to get in while not touching the sand with their club only to fall flat on their face.
You used to get a penalty for that but now there will no longer be action taken for generally touching the sand with a hand or club.
Don’t start any sculptures, though. You still can’t ground your club right next to your ball.
If removing loose impediments in a bunker somehow wasn’t among your club’s local rules then rejoice. You’ll also be able to do that from January.
And if you just can’t get out of the sand, you won’t have to chuck clubs in frustration. Just declare the ball to be unplayable, take a two shot penalty and get the hell out of the bunker.
You’ve forgotten a big one, haven’t you?
What about stroke and distance, I hear you cry? That’s changing as well, isn’t it?
Well the answer is: potentially. A new local rule is available that would allow golfers to drop in the vicinity of where their ball is lost or out of bounds under a two-stroke penalty.
So, in practice, if you carve one out of bounds 200 yards off the tee you’ll walk to the point where it went out, move to the nearest edge of the fairway, drop and play four.
The issue with this is it’s a ‘local rule’. That means it will be up to club committees to decide whether they want to introduce it.
So make sure, if you’re playing an away competition, to take a scan at the club noticeboard, or the back of the scorecard, before you start ditching the provisionals.
And if you’re a professional, or an elite amateur, don’t worry about it. This local rule is not for you.
These are just half a dozen of the ways the new Rules will help you and might even save you shots on the course.
If you think some of the other changes will also assist you – or you just flat out disagree with everything I’ve written – have your say in the comments below or get in touch with me on twitter at @SteveCarrollNCG