What we want to Achieve

The changes to the Rules of Golf for 2019 result from our Rules Modernisation Initiative that began five years ago to bring the Rules up to date to fit the needs of the game today globally. 

This initiative had two guiding themes:

  • Far-reaching Rule changes were open for discussion, but golf’s essential principles and character must be preserved.
  • Revisions were to be assessed with all golfers in mind, so that the Rules would be easier to understand and apply not only for professionals and elite amateurs, but also for beginners, high-handicappers and typical club and recreational golfers at all levels of play around the world.

We believe the changes to the Rules are a major step forward in achieving the following goals and objectives:

Overall Goals

We want the Rules of Golf to:

  • Be more easily understood and applied by all golfers;
  • Be more consistent, simple and fair; and
  • Reinforce the game’s longstanding principles and character.

Specific Objectives for Revising the Substance of the Rules

We want the new Rules to:

  • Use concepts, procedures and outcomes that are more intuitive and easier to learn;
  • Use a consistent approach for similar situations;
  • Avoid unnecessary concepts and exceptions that may create “penalty traps” for the player; and
  • Support broader objectives for the game, such as pace of play and environmental stewardship.

Specific Objectives for How the Rules are Presented

We want the revised Rules materials to:

  • Be written in a modern, plain style that uses more common words, shorter sentences and explanatory headings, and that ends the use of male-only references;
  • Be easier to translate into other languages;
  • Make greater use of visual aids such as graphics, photos and videos;
  • Clarify the purposes and principles underlying each of the main Rules;
  • Include a version of the Rules that is written from the player’s perspective and focuses on what the typical golfer needs to know; and
  • Use technology to make it easier to search and review the Rules, both on and off the course.

The new Rules will come into effect on 1 January 2019.

Limitations in Revising the Rules

Taken together, these and the other changes will help achieve our Rules Modernisation goals and objectives by:

  • Eliminating many restrictions (and thus eliminating many penalties) that have been perceived as unfair or unnecessary and/or that have required close and controversial judgements to be made;
  • Making various procedures easier to use, such as how to take relief and what to do when a club is damaged during play;
  • Using the Rules affirmatively to help address the pressing issue of pace of play; and
  • Reinforcing the game’s traditional emphasis on both expecting high standards of conduct from all players and trusting them to act honestly and reasonably.

But we know that there are limits in trying to achieve all of our goals and objectives, especially at the same time. This is for two reasons. First, golf is an inherently complicated sport. It is played outdoors in all types of weather, on non-standardised fields of play found in almost every type of landscape and human environment on the planet, and with people, animals, vehicles and a great many other objects regularly in the way. The game’s bedrock principles are simple – you are to play a ball from the tee until it ends up in the hole, and to play the ball as it lies and the course as you find it. But the number and range of things that can happen to a golf ball and a golfer during play are almost infinite. The result is a need for many reasonable exceptions to these principles and for procedures telling the player what can or must be done in a wide range of situations that inevitably arise. This leads to longer and more detailed Rules, as players understandably expect answers to all such situations.

Second, there is often a tension between pursuing simplicity (which may lead towards having absolute rules that are easy to apply but may produce outcomes that sometimes seem wrong or unfair) versus trying to achieve “fair” and “right” results (which may lead towards having exceptions and more complicated doctrines so that slightly different factual scenarios can have different outcomes). Some changes (such as elimination of certain prohibitions and penalties) may help achieve both objectives, but other changes necessarily go in one direction or the other. Our overriding goals in balancing these considerations were to do what seems best from the standpoint of all golfers and to preserve the fundamental challenge and essence of the game.