Golf's New Rules: Changing Terminology April 22, 2019 By Jamie Wallace, USGA


One of the goals of the Rules Modernization project, which kicked off in 2012 and culminated with the new Rules of Golf that took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, was to make the Rules of the game easier to understand and apply. This applied not only to outcomes under the Rules; it also applied to the language and terminology used to describe those Rules. While longtime golfers might take a while to get used to these new terms, they should have a positive impact moving forward on general understanding of the new Rules.

Let’s take a look at some of the most significant terminology changes and additions:

Penalty Area (previously “water hazard”) – The concept of “penalty areas” was introduced and is an expanded version of water hazards. The term penalty area encompasses all bodies of water plus any other areas on a golf course that the golf course management or Committee decides to mark. If an area is marked as a penalty area, the penalty-area relief options would be available to a player whose ball comes to rest (or is lost) there.

  • Penalty areas can be marked as either a red penalty area (similar to the old lateral water hazard) or a yellow penalty area (similar to the old regular water hazard). The color affects the relief options available to the player (more information can be found in Rule 17.1d).

  • The umbrella term of “hazard,” which used to include both bunkers and water hazards, has been removed from the Rules. Bunkers and penalty areas are now treated as completely separate.

General Area (previously “through the green”)
– This term was changed to use more common language, but also to remove confusion that the old term often caused among golfers. General area describes the entire area of the golf course except for the teeing area and putting green of the hole being played, and any bunkers or penalty areas anywhere on the course.

Nearest Point of Complete Relief (previously “nearest point of relief”) – This is a minor change, but the word “complete” was added to emphasize the fact that the player must take complete relief from all interference by the object or condition.

Club-Length – This term was used in the old Rules but is now defined in the Rules as a fixed distance for each player. Whenever a Rule refers to a club-length, it is referring to the length of the longest club in the player’s bag for that round, other than their putter.

Temporary Water (previously “casual water”) – This term has not changed much in meaning but uses a more common term to describe it. It is defined as a temporary accumulation of water on the ground.

The list above is just a small sample of the terminology changes that have been made in the new Rules, focusing on those that will be the most prominent and that will have the most effect on the average golfer. For a quick rundown of some of the other changes related to language, see the chart below.

For more about changes in terminology specific to match play, please click here.

Other Changes in Rules Terminology
Old Term New Term Explanation
Abnormal Ground Conditions Abnormal Course Conditions Immovable obstructions are now included in the umbrella term “abnormal course conditions,” which combines Rules with similar relief procedures.
Burrowing Animal Hole  Animal Hole  Revised to include all holes dug by animals (except insects or the like), not just those animals that burrow. For example, this term now includes holes made by a dog.
Outside Agency Outside Influence Revised to use more common language and indicate more clearly when this term applies.
Teeing Ground Teeing Area Revised to consistently use the word “area” to describe the defined areas of the course (such as “general area” and “penalty area”).
Addressing the Ball  (Term Eliminated) Formal definition is no longer needed due to changes in the Rules. 
Competitor (and Fellow-Competitor)  (Terms Eliminated) These terms were limited to stroke play, which often led to confusion. The new Rules now use the generic term “player” for stroke play.
Line of Putt (Term Eliminated) The single term “line of play” is now used anywhere on the golf course. There is no need for a separate term as the Rules now permit players to touch their line on the green.
Rub of the Green (Term Eliminated) This term was often misunderstood to mean “bad luck” and is no longer used in applying the Rules.
(N/A) Relief Area The term used to define the new concept of an area of specific dimensions where a ball must be dropped (or placed) and played from whenever a player is taking relief.

Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules education and digital content. Email him at jwallace@usga.org.

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