2019 promises to be one of the most exciting years in golfing history yet.
First, the rules of this centuries old game will undergo one of their biggest shake-ups in recent memory. Then there is a completely new PGA Tour schedule with a host of new dates and venues. And of course, the emerging breed of exciting young British golfing talent in the men and women’s game.
But first let’s take a look at some of the most fundamental changes set to happen in the game this decade:
From January 1st 2019, the new Rules of Golf come into effect. The changes are aimed at modernising the rules of the game and making them easier to understand for both the professional and amateur, reducing the number from 34 down to 24.
Among the main changes are that when you take a drop you can now do so a few inches above the ground rather than at the mandatory arm’s length at shoulder height. Also, the nearest point of relief will now be measured in inches rather than club length, so one club length is now 20 inches and two club lengths is 80 inches. Under the new rules, if you deem your ball unplayable in a bunker you will now be allowed to take a two-stroke penalty by dropping the ball on a straight line outside the bunker. And the amount of time you can spend searching for a stray ball will now be reduced to three minutes from five.
You will also now be able to putt your ball from the green with the flag in the hole without incurring a penalty if your ball hits the flag. Additionally, you will now be able to repair wider damage to the green such as spike marks, damage caused by wildlife, or indent marks left by clubs or the flag before you take your shot.
March to August marks the peak time in the professional golfing calendar with The Players Championship, The Masters, USPGA Championship, US Open, The Open and FedEx Cup Playoffs all happening in back-to-back months.
Some things won’t change, however. The Masters will still take place at its traditional home of Augusta, with Bethpage State Park’s Black Course playing host to the USPGA Championship and Pebble Beach the US Open.
In a change to the schedule, the Open Championship makes a return to the Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland after an absence of 68 years.
As well as moving to August from September, the format of the FedEx Cup Playoffs will be fundamentally changed with the number of events being reduced to three and the leader starting the Tour Championship on 10 under par, the second on eight under, and so on.
There will also be two new tournaments with the Rocket Mortgage Classic being held at Detroit Golf Club and the 3M Open at Minnesota’s TPC Twin Cities.
Closer to home, St Andrews, the home of golf, will host the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour, as well as the Links Trophy and the St Rule Trophy.
Upcoming British golfers
2018 produced some of the most exciting golf prospects in recent years.
Among the biggest emerging talents are Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton and Eddie Pepperell.
Fleetwood, Casey and Hatton all starred in Europe’s exhilarating Ryder Cup victory over the US, with Fleetwood also finishing second in the US Open behind world No.1 and defending champion Brooks Koepka.
Pepperell, meanwhile, made his breakthrough in 2018, winning his maiden European Tour event at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, as well as a place at the Open Championship.
In the women’s game, the LPGA is more competitive than ever with 26 winners from 10 countries across 32 tournaments in 2018. The prize money will also increase to $70.6 million in 2019, up from $65.4m in 2018.
Women’s golf continues to be dominated by Asia with Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park, all of South Korea, occupying the top four world rankings.
On the home front, Georgia Hall (8th), Charley Hull (24th), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (58th) and Bronte Law (62nd) are currently flying the flag for England in the top 100.
Tiger Woods continued his impressive comeback, going from strength to strength in 2018, making him favourite to take the famous green jacket at The Masters in April 2019. The 14-time major winner already has four Masters to his name and will be aiming to close in on Jack Nicklaus’ record of six victories, which has stood since 1986.
Fellow Americans Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are also well fancied and you can never rule out mercurial talents such as Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Koepka.There’s also likely to be a surprise package or two, like Patrick Reed, who won the 2018 Masters – his first major.
Throw some of the emerging young talent into the mix and you have what promises to be one of the most absorbing contests in recent history.
All of which makes for a thoroughly entertaining year of golf ahead.