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Wed, Nov. 20

Gunby: Rule changes to come for 2019 golf ratings, handicaps
Tee It Up

Some of the 2019 rule changes are going to have a huge impact on the course ratings and handicaps, especially if some local rules are implemented (i.e. out of bounds relief option, pace of play, etc.) and dependent on how the golf course is marked (i.e. out of bounds, red penalty areas, yellow penalty areas, no play zones, etc.).

Under the new rules, “water hazards” will be superseded by the expanded concept of “penalty areas”. No longer will the term “hazard” be used in the rules.

A penalty area will include all areas currently defined as a water hazard or lateral water hazard. Here’s the kicker. A penalty area can also include any area the Committee chooses to define as penalty areas. Therefore, penalty areas may include deserts, jungles, forests, etc.

For instance, if there is an area that has a lot of dense vegetation that presently is considered “through the green” and it is marked in 2019 as a “red penalty area”, a player would have more options under the red penalty area in 2019 as compared to now. Today, if that player could not find his ball in that area, he would have to go back to the original spot and play under the lost ball rule. No other option.

I don’t know about you, but I know when I have knocked a ball into such junk (usually with a snap hook), the odds are pretty good that I will do it again (and maybe again and again). Not only do the strokes add up quickly but the time to go through all these searches, drops and penalties may negatively impact my pace of play.

But if it is marked as a red penalty area (which the USGA strongly advises most penalty areas to be defined as), there are three relief options. You could invoke the stroke and distance option (same as a lost ball or out of bounds), you could take a back-on-the-line relief keeping the point where the ball last crossed the red penalty area and the hole (with a one stroke penalty) or lateral relief, two club lengths of the margin where the ball last crossed the red penalty margin (again with a one stroke penalty).

Note: the opposite-side relief that is now available under a lateral hazard rule, will not be allowed in 2019.

But guess what? You will be able to ground your club in a penalty area. And you can remove loose impediments, too. This is a huge benefit to the player however I can see problems with this as well. Such as removing large rocks in a creek that may expose the soil to erosion, or taking lots of time removing sticks and stones, etc.

As you can see, a lot of factors will have to be considered when a course is rated. The Committee at each golf course has a huge responsibility in 2019 and how they mark a golf course will be very impactful. Look for changes in the handicap system in 2020. This will take some time to implement and there will be a big learning curve.

In our next article, we will discuss the options of implementing an out of bounds local rule and some other rule changes that are going into effect in 2019.

John Gunby Sr. is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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