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stroke and distance rule

Why the stroke and distance rule change isn’t as straightforward as you think

It was one of the most controversial headlines of the 2019 Rules of Golf changes but, as Steve Carroll reports, the alternative to stroke and distance relief has been dialled back ahead of its introduction as a local rule in January
 

Remember that local stroke and distance rule – the one that allowed you to drop on the edge of the fairway? Well, there has been a bit of a change.

One of the most eye-catching things to come out of the changes to the new Rules of Golf, coming into force on January 1, actually wasn’t a fully-fledged ‘rule’ at all.

It was an alternative to stroke and distance relief for balls that were either lost or struck out of bounds.

Classed as a ‘local rule’, which means that committees and clubs have an individual choice on whether they want to implement it, it was an option golfers could take rather than having to make the walk of shame back to the tee or hit another from the same spot where you’d just ploughed it off the course.

So in the case of a lost ball, for example, you were effectively able to determine the spot your ball was likely to have been, find the fairway edge and drop a ball under a penalty of two strokes.

Even though it couldn’t be used in either professional or elite amateur competitions, lots of golfers still had plenty to say about the change.

Did it take something away from the spirit of the game, of which keeping the ball within the boundaries of the course is a big part?

And could it also give an advantage – even with a two-stroke penalty – to some golfers who might have otherwise hit more than one shot out of bounds?

stroke-and-distance

This new local rule on stroke and distance will still come into force in January but with one rather large caveat.

CONGU, who govern handicaps and competitions in the UK, have decided you won’t be able to use it in qualifying competitions or for supplementary scores.

In fact, they have gone even further – suggesting it be encouraged for members and visitors for “casual play only”.

It will be up to clubs to decide whether they choose to allow it in matchplay and betterball competitions.

But with the rule deemed ‘out of bounds’ for qualifiers, you’d expect a lot of clubs to strike it out of all tournaments to save confusion.

So if you’d banked on saving a couple of strokes on that hole where you always smacked it over the white lines, you are going to have to think again.

Or take a lesson.

Every day this week, NCG’s Rules of Golf expert Steve Carroll will be rolling out a new feature on the January 1 changes. Keep up to speed with everything on our Rules of Golf homepage.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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