In 2018 and earlier, the Rules of Golf required that players play without “undue delay.” Rule 6-7 read as follows:

The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish. Between completion of a hole and playing from the next teeing ground, the player must not unduly delay play.

A note, Note 2, further modified this by specifying that the Committee may create a

Note 2: For the purpose of preventing slow play, the Committee may, in the conditions of a competition (Rule 33-1), establish pace of play guidelines including maximum periods of time allowed to complete a stipulated round, a hole or a stroke.

Few committees, truth be told, ever seemed to do this. And, more truth to be told, the new 2019 Rules don’t do much to address slow play. Rule 5.6 is called “Unreasonable Delay; Prompt Pace of Play” and includes the language:

A player must not unreasonably delay play, either when playing a hole or between two holes.

A player may be allowed a short delay for certain reasons, such as:

  • When the player seeks help from a referee or the Committee,
  • When the player becomes injured or ill, or
  • When there is another good reason.

The penalties for a breach of Rule 5.6a are one penalty stroke for the first breach, the General Penalty (two strokes or loss of hole) for the second breach, and disqualification for the third breach.

But when has a player breached this Rule? What is “another good reason”? The Rules are fairly vague on these, even in the Interpretations. 5.6b suggests that most shots should be played in 40 seconds or less:

When it is the player’s turn to play:

  • It is recommended that the player make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds after he or she is (or should be) able to play without interference or distraction, and
  • The player should usually be able to play more quickly than that and is encouraged to do so.

Rule 5.6 does not set a hard limit, but the inclusion of the 40 second guideline will likely influence the Committee pace of play policy that the USGA/R&A still encourage golfers to use:

(3) Committee Pace of Play Policy. To encourage and enforce prompt play, the Committee should adopt a Local Rule setting a Pace of Play Policy.

This Policy may set a maximum time to complete a round, a hole or series of holes and a stroke, and it may set penalties for not following the Policy.

So, while the Rules haven’t advanced to the point where they can truly enforce a strict pace-of-play policy, they’ve stiffened slightly. Any change in that direction is welcome.

The USGA and R&A have made one other change. In 2018, in Stroke Play, the player who was away was supposed to play first, and the player with the honor was supposed to play first from the tee. This is a “should” instead of a “must,” and players could only be penalized if they were known to be playing out of turn in order to give one player an advantage.

In 2019, players can still be penalized for playing out of turn in order to give a player an advantage, but the USGA and R&A added language encouraging “Ready Golf”:

(2) Playing Out of Turn in a Safe and Responsible Way (“Ready Golf”). Players are both allowed and encouraged to play out of turn in a safe and responsible way, such as when:

  • Two or more players agree to do so for convenience or to save time,
  • A player’s ball comes to rest a very short distance from the hole and the player wishes to hole out, or
  • An individual player is ready and able to play before another player whose turn it is to play under the normal order of play in (1), so long as in playing out of turn the player does not endanger, distract or interfere with any other player.

But if the player whose turn it is to play under (1) is ready and able to play and indicates that he or she wants to play first, other players should generally wait until that player has played.