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2019 rules changes to know: How to take embedded ball relief

December 22, 2018

On Jan. 1, more than 30 changes to the Rules of Golf — some small, others significant — will take effect. To get you ready, this holiday season GOLF.com is rolling out a series, “The 12 Days of Rules Changes,” to ensure you always play by the rules, starting with your opening round of the year.
The Topic: How to take embedded ball relief
The Old Rule: In the current Rules of Golf, Rule 25-2 limits relief for an embedded ball to closely mown areas “through the green” (which means, “areas cut to fairway height or less”). But there is a Local Rule to allow relief for an embedded ball anywhere through the green. That Local Rule is adopted for all USGA championships and is extremely common throughout the United States. When the Local Rule is in effect, players get relief for an embedded ball even if it’s in the rough.
The New Rule: In the new Rules of Golf, the wording of the rule, or “default,” has essentially been flipped. Rule 16.3 gives relief for a ball embedded anywhere in the “general area” (the new term for “through the green”). The Committee may adopt a Local Rule restricting that relief to areas cut to fairway height or less in the general area. But it’s likely most won’t opt to do so. In short, instead of enacting a Local Rule to get the relief, relief will now be given across the board unless a specific Local Rule is enacted to restrict relief.

Why It Was Changed: According to the USGA, this change makes sense because, regardless of whether your ball is in the fairway or rough, having to play a ball that is stuck in wet or soft ground “should not be considered part of the normal challenge of playing a course.” Additionally, other relief Rules do not make distinctions based on the height of the grass in the general area.
Will It Be Controversial? This Rules change is likely a welcome one, and isn’t expected to incite any controversy.
How It Can Help You: If you happen to be faced with an embedded ball, the Local Rule allowing relief is now the default,  which should help eliminate confusion.