7 Recent Rules Changes That Will Save You Shots

We outline the seven situations on the course where relatively recent changes to the Rules of Golf will save you a crucial shot or two

7 Recent Rules Changes That Will Save You Shots
(Image credit: Future)

Sometimes it can feel like the Rules of Golf are out to get you but there are certain situations where they can really work in your favour, as Joel Tadman and Jeremy Ellwood highlight here. These are the seven rules that have changed relatively recently to make the game fairer and potentially save you shots so be sure to read on and broaden your knowledge of the rules as they could really help you out.

The video below was filmed at the stunning Gog Magog golf club in Cambridgeshire.

VIDEO: Watch Joel and Jezz demonstrate the situations where the rules have changed to make the game fairer

1. Ball accidentally hits you

There is now no penalty if your ball accidentally hits you or your equipment – e.g., after a ricochet off a tree or bunker face under Rule 11.1a. This Rule has changed from two shots to one shot under the 2008 revisions and then to no penalty from the 2019 revisions.

2. Loose impediments

Until 2019 you could only touch and remove stones from bunkers if a suitable Local Rule was in force but not touch any other loose impediments either in bunkers or hazards as they were (now penalty areas). Now you can remove loose impediments in both bunkers and penalty areas, although if the ball moves in the process you will still be penalised, so you must still take care.

3. Default position on DMDs for distance information reversed

Until 2019 you needed a Local Rule to be able to use a Distance Measuring Device (DMD), like a rangefinder or golf watch, for distance information in a competition; now they are generally allowed under Rule 4.3 although Committees may still adopt a Local Rule prohibiting them if they so choose (very few do). And you must still be careful over certain features available on many rangefinders these days – for example, rangefinders with slope that measure elevation change are still prohibited in competition play.

4. No penalty now for moving your ball when searching for it

Previously we all had to take extra care when searching for a ball - if you as the player stood on it and moved it or swished it with your club you would have been penalised. From 2019, there is no penalty for accidental movement under Rule 7.4 but you must replace the ball on its original spot, estimating it to the best of your ability if you can’t be 100 percent sure… and of course, search time is now three minutes not five.

5. No penalty for accidental movement on the putting green

This has been available as an option via Local Rule from 2017, but from 2019 it became a Rule of Golf (13.1d) covering accidental movement of either ball or ball marker by any means (practice stroke, dropping something on it etc). You must replace the ball on its original spot before continuing.

6. Extra back-on-line unplayable ball relief available from bunkers

Until 2019 the only unplayable ball option to drop outside the bunker was to go back and play again under stroke and distance, which is usually quite time-consuming. Now an additional option is available by dropping back on line outside the bunker for an additional penalty stroke, so two. It may be rarely used, but worth bearing in mind if you’ve drawn a particularly horrible spot and bunker play is really not your forte.

7. No additional penalty stroke for an accidental double or multiple hit

If you accidentally hit the ball more than once in a single stroke, there is no longer a penalty from 2019, the theory being that the result is usually not favourable, which is penalty enough. T C Chen famously suffered a double-hit penalty when contending for the 1985 US Open. We have had one letter from a reader saying someone accidentally double-hit a putt in his group and it went in, but 99 times out of a 100, a double-hit will not bring such good fortune. And it’s only for accidental rather than deliberate double or multiple hits, which still attract the general penalty under Rule 11.3 for deflecting a ball in motion.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response

With contributions from