An insider’s view of the new Rules of Golf

by Susan Fornoff

The new Rules of Golf book soon will be a must-read. Gail Rogers shares an insider’s view of the 2019 changes.

BEING A WRITER, I tend to take things literally. So I’ll never forget the day that I stood on the tee reading a tournament rule and declaring to a friend who had just missed the fairway, “According to this, your ball is in play.”

My friend played her ball and was disqualified.

That’s just one example of how easily golf’s complicated old rules could be misconstrued. And that alone made it worth a complete rewrite of the old book for 2019.

But there’s more for the average golfer to appreciate about the upcoming major changes, which everyone can begin reviewing now in this USGA postGottaGoGolf turned to our Guidance Guru, USGA rules official Gail Rogers, for insight on how the unprecedented revisions to the Rules of Golf will make the game more fun for everyone from recreational player to tournament golfer.

“I have been enjoying reading the modernization of the rules of golf,” says Gail, who has officiated for everything from junior and collegiate tournaments to men’s and women’s U.S. Opens. “There is a lot to like, as first it is written as we speak. So it is much more approachable for everyone to understand.”

There are some new terms, including “general area” (a broadening and replacement of “through the green”), “penalty area” (the old red/lateral and yellow/water hazards, for instance) and “no play zones” (including abnormal ground conditions and environmentally protected areas). You can do your own line-by-line comparison by picking up your 231-page copy of the 2016 rulebook and flipping back and forth with the proof of the 2019 rules.

I noticed that, overall, the new Rules of Golf sounds a lot like Gail sounds when she is explaining to the rest of us the old rules: conversational, matter-of-fact, and even helpful.


Gail, a former English teacher, naturally appreciates the simpler language. As a rules official, however, she has two favorite major changes, one that she suspects will save players strokes and the other that will surely move play along:

  1. “As defined, loose impediments are not part of the lie of the ball, so the ability to move them when your ball is in a bunker or a penalty area (water hazard), as we all wanted to do by instinct, is no longer a penalty. In fact, that is perhaps the best part of the new code, as so many potential penalty situations no longer exist.”
  2. “I love the local rule for casual play where you walk 175 yards down the fairway only to not find your ball or find it out of bounds. Now, a player can use the dropping procedure of the new Local Rule, add two penalty strokes and play on. No holding up everyone behind you, yet allowing us to play within the Rules.”


Gail’s reserving judgment for now on the new dropping procedure, where the ball is dropped from knee height.

“It just looks so awkward and non-athletic,” she says. “It causes the player to bend over slightly, as the proportions of the body do not have the hand at knee height. However, I am certain our best players will show us how to make this look graceful.”

I’m certain our best players will rely heavily on experts such as Gail Rogers to help them in the transition to these new rules.

And I’m hoping these new rules will keep me from getting my friends disqualified! At the very least, we should all be able to understand them better.

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