Though the 2019 Rules of Golf take a number of steps toward trusting players, they take one step that could be viewed as doing the opposite by allowing Committees to impose a Code of Conduct on players.

Under the 2018 Rules of Golf, players were able to be disqualified under two conditions.

  1. They broke a rule for which the penalty was disqualification.
  2. The Committee deemed that the player was guilty of a “serious breach of etiquette,” which then allowed the Committee to DQ the player under Rule 33-7.

Decision 33-7/8 defines a “serious breach of etiquette as such:

A serious breach of etiquette is behavior by a player that shows a significant disregard for an aspect of the Etiquette Section, such as intentionally distracting another player or intentionally offending someone.

Although a Committee may disqualify a player under Rule 33-7 for a single act that it considers to be a serious breach of etiquette, in most cases it is recommended that such a penalty should be imposed only in the event of a further serious breach.

There are two main issues with this:

  1. A player must commit often two or more actual breaches of etiquette, and they must be deemed “serious,” for the Committee to act, or even have the chance to act.
  2. The only penalty the Committee could apply is disqualification; there is no option to apply a stroke penalty.

The change to the 2019 Rules addresses each of these by allowing the Committee to define their own Code of Conduct and to enforce it with stroke penalties (or loss of hole) in addition to possible disqualification.

For example, at a junior event, the Committee may wish to impose a single-stroke penalty for the first instance of a player cursing loudly, a two-stroke penalty for the second such occurrence, and disqualification for any subsequent loud cursing.

In 2019, Rules 1.2a and 1.2b address the Code of Conduct. Rule 1.2a outlines the conduct expected of all players, and is similar to the 2018 Rules in that it allows a Committee to DQ a player who has failed in a serious manner to uphold these standards. The standards here are to act with integrity (following the rules, applying penalties, etc.), show consideration to others (playing at a prompt pace, looking out for the safety of others, etc.), and taking good care of the course (replacing divots, raking bunkers, not causing unnecessary damage to the course, etc.).

1.2b is much more generalized, and says that:

The Committee may set its own standards of player conduct in a Code of Conduct adopted as a Local Rule.

The Code may include penalties for breach of its standards, such as a one-stroke penalty or the general penalty. The Committee may also disqualify a player for serious misconduct in failing to meet the Code’s standards.

In other words, it’s up to the Committee to determine what sorts of Code of Conduct they wish their players to adhere to. If a college tournament wishes to prohibit smoking, vaping, or the use of chewing tobacco on the course, they could add such language to the Code of Conduct in the Local Rules for the event. The USGA and R&A are relying on each Committee to come up with reasonable Codes of Conduct for their events.

One final note here is that the Code of Conduct does not need to include penalties for pace of play. That is covered under Rule 5.6b(3), which permits a Committee to create their own Pace of Play Policy with accompanying penalties:

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 astroke, and it may set penalties for not following the Policy.

So, there you have it. The next time you play a tournament in 2019, I’d advise you to check the Code of Conduct, lest your colorful language and/or occasional club tossing habits find you adding a stroke or two to your scorecard. This is doubly important if you’re the parent of a junior golfer, as I suspect a lot of junior golf tournaments will have a Code of Conduct.

The ruling bodies didn’t just pluck this out of thin air! At a recent PGA/USGA Rules Workshop the USGA’s presenter, Mark Reinemann, was careful to credit the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) for the concept of a Code of Conduct.