Folks, whether you play golf competitively or for leisure, it’s important to take note of the upcoming changes in the Rules of Golf for 2019. There are significant modifications that could alter how the game is played for all levels of golfers.

Take a little time to visit the United States Golf Association website at usga.org. The USGA has produced a variety of videos that simulate many of the rules’ changes to make them easier for golfers to grasp. Here a few changes:

• On the putting green, you may leave the flagstick in the hole, as there will be no penalty should your ball strike the flagstick.

• When dropping a ball for relief from a cart path; ground under repair; a dangerous situation; casual water; or with a penalty from a penalty area, you no longer drop the ball from shoulder height. Now, a golfer will drop the ball with his hand near his knees. This will help if a golfer takes casual water relief in a bunker.

• When dropping a golf ball from a penalty area or in free relief, in the past, should your ball roll within two club-lengths outside of the drop area, the ball would be deemed in play. Under the new rules, the ball must come to rest within the one or two club lengths of the drop area.

• To me, this is one of the biggest changes in the rules: On the green, should a golfer find spike marks or any other imperfections on the surface between the ball and the hole, except for a pitch mark left by a golf ball, he could not repair these. Under the new rules, a golfer may now repair or tap down spike marks. This is huge when following golfers who cannot pick up their feet. (Or if playing golf in Florida where long-billed birds have dug into the putting surface for insects or worms.)

• Time to search for a missing ball has been changed from five to three minutes.

• I was amazed with this one: Loose impediments may now be moved within a penalty area. If the ball comes to rest inside a red line or staked area, in the past – should a pinecone be behind the golf ball, a golfer was not allowed to move it. In 2019, a golfer may do so without penalty.

• Notice that I have used the term penalty areas? This is the new term for what we used to call hazards.

• In the past, if a player was searching for a golf ball and were to step on it or accidentally kick the ball, that player would have been penalized. Not so in the new rules. The player shall replace the golf ball and proceed without penalty.

There are some very worthy changes to the rules, and there are some odd ones. Either way, they will be the rules under which all golfers should play.

The USGA has published a great new rules book titled, The Player’s Edition of The Rules of Golf. This book is easier to navigate, and it covers most rules that players encounter. Both, the Players Edition and the Rules of Golf include more illustrations for added clarity.

On the USGA website, players could order the new Rules book. Additionally, golfers are encouraged to purchase the Player’s Edition for reference.

Golf is a constantly evolving sport, and some of these new rules could be omitted or changed in the next few years.

Equipment changes the game constantly. This summer, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (governing body of the Rules of Golf  located in Scotland) contacted me for my opinion. I spent approximately 45 minutes on the phone, discussing the distance that golfers get from present equipment and the conditions found on most golf courses. I am very happy to see this organization reaching out to acquire feedback on this subject.

I totally agree that the PGA Tour players are much more athletic than in the 1960s and 1970s; however, I believe that the ball should be rolled back. Rolling back the ball would decrease the velocity that a ball comes off the clubface. Today’s balls seem to have a turbocharger within the core that allows it to travel much farther in comparison to the older three-piece golf balls.

The manufacturers already have the technology in place. I would like to see the best players’ shots not travel quite as far, allowing the regular amateur golfers to not be affected. The length that college or tour professional golfers are able to hit the ball is a bit out of control, which has antiquated some golf courses. This extra distance has turned the PGA Tour into a smash-and-gouge sport. I preferred the game when it was more about precision and finesse. I hope to see it revert to this style of play within my lifetime.

I am hoping for a long fall-like close to 2018 and wish everyone happy holidays!

See you on the first tee.

~ Dave Jennings is the men’s golf coach at Central Alabama Community College.