Helpful Tips

New Golf Rules – Here is What You Need to Know

Golfer woman

The game of golf will never be the same. Many seasoned players are not satisfied with changes both to the rules of the game and the handicapping scoring system itself, while others believe that this is the type of change the game has needed for decades. The Royal & Ancient Golf Association and the U.S. Golf Association are implementing new rules that will take effect on the first of January in 2020. These rules have been in the works for a little over six years and were created in order to simplify and modernize the rules of the game, which is why the number of rules has also been reduced.

Additionally, aside from simplifying the game, they were created in an attempt to also eliminates cases where penalties have been called, and to clarify existing rules and speed up gameplay. Now, let’s take a look at the rule changes, while also discussing the changes in handicaps. Many of these rules will surprise you, however, some of the pros are adamantly against these cuts and changes since it essentially will change the game of golf forever.

The New Rules

If you think you know how to score in golf, you may need to purchase the new rule book that’s out that explains many of the major changes to the game. As the beginning of January approaches, you can expect some significant changes to your favorite sport, for better or worse. So, before you hit the course, you’ll want to learn what these new rules are, how it changes how you play, and what you can expect concerning your handicap since the handicap scoring system has also undergone some important major changes. The changes are the biggest in the world of golf in more than sixty years. Golf’s governing bodies have come together to give the game a major makeover, cutting the number of rules from thirty-four down to twenty-four.

So, are these new rules really effective in perfecting the game and making it simpler, easier, and easier to play? One of the new rules involves not allowing a caddy to stand behind a player before a shot, but this latest rule has been changed slightly, after some serious backlash from the pros. While many like the rules when it comes to speeding up play for the beginner, many are not sure that these rules will work out for the pros.

Below, you’ll find the most important and significant rule changes that will be in effect this year during the Masters.



Fortunately, you can still use golf range finders on the course, like the popular Bozily laser range finder, and other helpful devices, yet you still won’t be allowed to use models that come equipped with slope technology, at least not yet.


This rule says that during a round, no one can help a player with their stroke alignment, but this is a rule that’s already been amended. Initially, the rule stated that the moment a player takes their stance, their caddie must not stand behind them. Breaking this rule came with a two-stroke penalty. Fortunately, this rule was tweaked. The new rule says that if a caddie is not aware of their location, there will be no stroke penalty. The penalty can be avoided on the putting green if the player backs away and begins again without a caddie standing behind them.

Pace of Play

The pace of play has also changed. Now, it’s recommended that a player take no more than forty seconds to make a stroke. On average, a golfer can play more quickly than this, so this change isn’t considered a major one. However, it is designed to make it faster to get through a round, which many players can appreciate.

Ball Drop

This is probably the most controversial new rule and it’s one that’s been widely criticized by the pros. For this rule, the ball must now be dropped straight down, from knee height. This is a big change from the past rule that allowed you to drop the ball with an arm extended. Most pros are simply not a fan of how it looks for the game.


A player is now able to putt with the flagstick left in the hole, however, they must make the decision to play with it in or remove it before they make the stroke. Some pros have already taken advantage of this rule and many feel that it will benefit most stroke situations. Low handicappers recommend leaving the pin in outside of ten feet. If the player accidentally hits it three feet instead of a couple of feet past the flag, they’ll stay in the cup. This gives the ball a better chance of staying in the cup than if the flag was removed.

Lost Ball


This is another major change, and not one that many players are fond of. In the past, players have a total of five minutes to search for a lost ball. The big change here is that players will now only have three minutes to do so. The clock will start ticking when the caddie or player starts searching. In the event the original ball is located, a provisional ball must be tossed out.


Any damage done to the green can now be repaired. This will include damage caused by indentations from the flagstick or equipment, shoe damage, turf plugs, old hole plugs, and spike marks. There will no longer be penalties for damaging the green.

  • Other instances in which there are also no penalties include:
  • When it comes to an accidental double hit, the ball will be played where it lies.
  • There will be no penalty if a ball that’s in play hits a flagstick, the equipment, a caddie, or a player.
  • There’s also no penalty for a ball marker or ball that’s accidentally moved on the green.
  • A penalty will only be applied for using a non-conforming club, not just carrying it.


Ever struggled to get out of a bunker? You’re not alone. The latest rules that apply to bunker shots include:

You can now touch and remove any loose impediments in a bunker, as long as it does not cause the ball to move. If the removal of the loose impediments causes the ball to roll, there will be a one-stroke penalty. Additionally, if the ball moves it must be replaced.

There will no longer be a penalty if a player strikes the sand in frustration or anger. This is just one of the rules many players of all skill levels can appreciate.

Embedded Ball

For an embedded ball, the relief procedure has changed. The relief area will begin at the spot directly behind where the ball has been embedded. You’ll now be required to drop the ball in the one-club relief area instead of closer to the hole than this spot. Additionally, you will no longer need to announce to your fellow players that you intend to lift and mark the ball in order to determine whether it’s embedded.

Clubs that are Damaged

Regardless of how a club becomes damaged, even if it’s due to the player abusing the club, they can still continue to use it, even in its damaged state, for the remainder of the round, however, the player will not be allowed to replace it. There’s no replacement of a club that’s not fit for play, such as a driver face that’s cracked unless the damage to the club has been caused by natural forces or an outside influence.

Changes to Your Handicap

Golf ball

Now that you’ve seen some of the latest changes to the game of golf, you’re probably scratching your head and wondering what the big deal here is. But now comes the biggest change. The R&A and the USGA have now also created a new world order of handicaps. And the result? There will now be a system in place that every golfer in the world can use, wherever they play. This is a system that allows players to compete equitably, whether they’re playing in Arkansas or Ireland. The biggest question some players have is will their current index decrease or increase? Well, it will, but not by much. You can expect it to go down or up a tick or two if you keep your handicap in America, or maybe not at all. You can expect it to rise slightly if you play in other parts of the world. The biggest change here is how a player keeps their handicap.

So, what’s going on with handicaps?

Basically, it’s becoming global and getting better. For most people who use the USGA system of handicaps, there will be a slight change. Currently, the system computes a player’s best ten scores from their twenty most recent games. With the new system, now a player’s top eight rounds will count towards their handicap. This means if those nine and tenth rounds were not a player’s best, the player can expect their index to improve. With the old system, the ninety-six percent multiplier no longer exists. This can make it a little easier to calculate your index changes in your head.

Many people mistakenly believe that there’s already an existing world handicap system, but there’s actually not. Currently, there are a total of six different systems that are used all over the world. These days, when an American golfer wants to post their score abroad, they will discover that the course they played on isn’t rated using the USGA rating system. Starting in January of 2020, this will all change. In the new year, the courses all over the world will use the same grading system, which is now called the course rating system. This is a major change that required raters to assess more than three thousand courses all over the world, which is no small task.

If you don’t currently have a handicap and you’re new to the sport, you’ll only need to play a few rounds, or six nine-hole rounds in order to create a handicap. The now outdated system required a golfer to play a total of five eighteen-hole rounds. This type of change will make it much easier for a player to establish their handicap.

Am I Good Enough to Get a Handicap?

Of course. Thanks to the upgraded system, the new max index is now fifty-four instead of thirty-six for men and forty for women. A beginner will be encouraged to take up a handicap, despite the fact that they’re just learning how to play. Basically, taking a handicap is all about enjoying the game more, having fun, and taking advantage of these newest changes.

How Soon Can Scores Be Posted with the New System?

In the past, the outdated system would revise a player’s index bi-monthly, on the first and fifteenth of a month. With the new system, you can anticipate daily updates. This means if you had a great round the day before, it will immediately impact your handicap the following day. The USGA makes it very simple and fast to log your scores in right away, after finishing a round. Of course, this may have an impact on an annual golf club championship. Back in the day, if a championship took place towards the end of the month, a player’s handicap from the beginning of the month would be used and all of the scores after the fifteenth of the month didn’t count. Now those scores will be more relevant.

How Playing Conditions Can Impact Your Handicap

If you’re shooting an eighty during great weather conditions, then you shot an eighty the following day in poor, wet weather conditions, your score will be adjusted accordingly. Basically, not every score will be equal in the eyes of the world rating system. You’ll definitely get credit for playing well in bad weather and penalized less for playing in poor conditions. This is just another reason why it’s so important to post your scores the same day that you played, otherwise, you may accidentally and unintentionally manipulate your handicap.

Fortunately, you can quickly update your handicap since it’s all done on the cloud. You won’t need to record the playing conditions when you’re inputting your score. The system will utilize weather data via the global weather service in order to determine how your score should be adjusted.

Equitable Stroke Control

This is a simple system that every player has had issues with committing to memory. With the new scoring system, there will be a very simplified new rule for every player, which is two strokes over net par is the max. This applies to scratch golfers all the way to fifty-four handicappers. In the past, the max for men was thirty-six and forty for women, but as I mentioned earlier, that’s also changing. As you can clearly see, the past system treated women differently from men. The new scoring system will eliminate any difference in handicaps between sexes, working to create a universal system that’s applicable to every player.

The Reason Behind these Changes to the Game

The world handicap system was developed in order to focus on a few important goals:

  • Encourage golfers to maintain or obtain a handicap
  • Enable golfers of different skill levels to take their handicap index to any course in the world and compete on a fair basis
  • To indicate with accuracy the score a player is capable of achieving on any course in the world when playing under normal conditions.

There are many reasons why it’s so important for golf to become modernized, which will make it more appealing for people who are considering taking up the sport. Handicapping is a major one. Basically, this new system is an important initiative for the game which is designed to establish a more consistent and clearer handicapping process for every golfer on the planet.

To sum it up, this major change to handicaps includes:

  • Both recreational and competitive rounds will count toward a handicap
  • The CSS will be replaced with the system for abnormal weather and course conditions adjustment
  • A minimum of fifty-four holes are required in order to obtain a handicap, however, they can come from eighteen or nine-hole scores.
  • The system will use the USGA slope and course rating system, so your handicap will change based on the competition conditions, in addition to the difficulty of a particular course.

Final Thoughts

The new 2020 golf rules and the major changes to handicap scoring and qualifications can be a lot to swallow for some players. The game will never be the same, but many believe that these major changes will not only help to simplify the game, but it will also make it more appealing to younger and inexperienced players who have previously given up on golf for its many complex rules and penalties. If you’re a seasoned golfer, then these new rule changes can be difficult to follow and you will definitely need time to break old habits and learn how the game is now played. But for many, the universal handicap scoring system is very exciting, while the loss of many of the game’s outdated rules is actually very refreshing. As the first of January approaches, I strongly recommend studying this guide on these new changes in both rules and handicapping, so you’ll feel fully prepared to hit the course and enjoy a new way to play your favorite sport.