It’s been five years since the introduction of the biggest alterations to the laws of the game for a generation. Some of what was revealed was huge, but how many of them are now routine when you go out for a round?
It’s hard to believe it’s five years since the Rules of Golf were completely turned on their head. 2019 brought some of the biggest changes to the game since 1984 and staples of the laws, such as how you dropped a ball, were changed forever.
There was a huge song and dance in some quarters. Remember Haotong Li and his caddie? Or Rickie Fowler’s gesture after forgetting to go from knee high?
But how many of them have remained a big deal? These few Rules of Golf changes outlined below were enormous at the time. But have you just got used to them now? Do you bother with some of them at all? Let’s take a look…
Rules of Golf changes: Have you got used to these four big alterations?
Leaving the flagstick in the hole
Covid gave us no choice for a while, your course manager was worried the hole was going to get mangled, Bryson DeChambeau had it all worked out to the last scientific detail. Rule 13.2a (1), which allowed players to leave the flagstick in the hole, came with a whole lot of noise.
The flagstick was going in and out like the hokey-cokey. Groups were trying to work out who wanted to do what and then trying to remember to repeat the trick on every hole. It was a bit of a merry-go-round.
But it’s all settled down now, hasn’t it? If you’re a distance from the hole, the flag stays in. The closer you get, the more likely it is that it will come out. And because you can use Ready Golf in stroke play, if someone likes the flagstick to remain planted (that would be me) they can just fit in conveniently around everyone else. It’s become easy.
Tapping down marks on the line of your putt
A very big no-no before 2019, Rule 13.1c (2) basically gave you carte-blanche to repair almost any damage you encountered on the putting green.
Chief among the list were ball marks, shoe damage – read spike marks – and “scrapes or indentations caused by equipment or a flagstick”.
Some had visions of golfers unable to snap out of an obsession with fixing any little imperfection they found on a green before finally settling down to putt – even though you could still be penalised for unreasonably delaying play.
What did we do at club level with this new-found freedom? Well, in my experience, not a lot. You might find a player fixing the odd dent but I’ve yet to see anyone in a medal get out their magnifying glass to mend anything that might hinder their ball’s path to the hole.
You do see it a bit more on tour, but it’s still cursory and quick. If you’re looking for the root cause of slow play in the professional game, you won’t find it here.
Grounding your club in a penalty area
I was so used to keeping my club suspended in the air when mired in a penalty area, as you would with a bunker shot, the idea of suddenly being able to ground that club felt a bit odd.
Among all the other big changes, this one passed a few of us by and I’d heard of a couple of altercations in the first few months after they were introduced as players were confused about which rules applied.
It’s found in Rule 17.1b. In one sentence which says, when talking about playing the ball as it lies, that you may do so “under the same Rules that apply to a ball in the general area”.
Probably not much help if you’re ball is nestling in the bottom of a stream but if it’s held on the bank, but still within the stakes, being able to ground your club can make a big difference to the chance of successful recovery.
It may have taken us a while to get to grips with it. But it’s turned out to be a hugely positive change.
Three minutes to search for a golf ball?
Could you ever find a ball in just three minutes? It had been hard enough to get plenty of players to cease and desist after the clock timer had hit five.
Pace of play was one of the reasons cited for reducing the amount of time you could spend searching for a ball in the 2019 rules and, anecdotally at least, this one might be hitting the mark.
With five minutes to hunt, I’d have hardly ever pulled up the drawbridge on a search after 90 seconds or so. Now both in my own game and when refereeing, I’ve seen players far more ready to give up the ghost quicker if their ball is nowhere to be found.
Has this actually sped up the game? Undoubtedly. Could we still do with more than three minutes in certain circumstances? If you’ve ever approached a ball planted in a thicket of heather, you might put up your hands in prayer and ask for more. 180 seconds always seems like precious little time in such circumstances.
Now have your say
Which of the 2019 Rules of Golf changes were the biggest deal for you? Are there some you still haven’t really come to terms with? And now they’ve been in place for a while, which have been the most beneficial? Let me know with a comment on X.