In 2018, Rule 25 allows relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch mark when the ball is embedded in grass cut to fairway height or lower through the green. However a Committee may adopt a Local Rule that extends this relief to a ball embedded anywhere outside a water hazard, bunker, teeing ground, or putting green (i.e. “through the green”).
In 2019, the Rules will effectively be reversed. New Rule 16 will allow relief for a ball embedded in the “general area” (the new phrase that essentially replaces “through the green”) except when the ball is embedded in sand. However, a Committee may adopt a Local Rule restricting relief to a ball embedded in those parts of the general area cut to fairway height or lower.
Another change is that when taking relief, the old rule required the player to drop the original ball as near as possible to where it was embedded not nearer the hole. The new 2019 Rule requires the player to drop a ball within one club-length of (but not nearer to the hole) the spot right behind where the ball was embedded.
Basing the relief area on the reference point “right behind” the spot of the embedded ball will avoid the question of what to do when a dropped ball comes to rest in the same pitch mark. Such a ball will always be re-dropped because it came to rest outside the relief area.
So what then are the main reasons for changing the rule?
- Allowing relief throughout the general area is consistent with other relief rules, which do not make distinctions based on the height of the grass in the general area. In addition, allowing the ball to be dropped within a one club-length relief area ensures consistency with other free-relief Rules.
- The current local rule has been widely adopted at all levels of play and many assume the local rule is the rule. The change will reduce confusion.
- Using the spot “right behind” where the ball was embedded as the reference point will avoid the question of what to do when a dropped ball comes to rest in the original pitch-mark. The relief area will always be “not nearer the hole.”
- Last but not least, having to play a ball that is stuck in soft or wet ground (whether in the fairway or the rough) should not be considered part of the normal challenge of playing a course.
Here’s a decent video on this new change. (Incidentally, watch for the error in defining the General Area.)