In 2019, the USGA and R&A updated and modernized the Rules of Golf with the biggest overhaul seen in decades. The changes came in the form of a complete reorganization of the book in an effort to make the Rules easier to understand and apply. The governing bodies are now back to their normal cycle of making changes every four years. January 1, 2023 marks the first change to the Rules since the 2019 release. While most of the changes might seem minor to the recreational player, there are some key changes all golfers should know.
The change that will likely impact players the most is the update to the “back-on-the-line” relief procedure. When using this relief option under Rule 17 (Penalty Areas) and Rule 19 (Unplayable Ball) players will now be required to drop a ball ON the line, instead of within one club-length of the line as previously done. The spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground when dropped creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that point. This includes if the ball rolls forward from where it first struck the course.
The diagrams found in the Rules of Golf book and the mobile app are very useful when needing to determine how to take relief on the course. You’ll note that the graphics that show the back-on-the-line option include a circular one club-length relief area to allow for this forward roll from where the dropped ball first strikes the line. A ball that is not dropped on the line, or one that rolls outside of the relief area when dropped on the line, would need to be re-dropped before it is played. For a player that fails to do so, additional penalty stroke(s) would apply.
While this new procedure seems like a simple change, players will need to take extra care to remember not to lift their ball if it moves forward less the one club-length to avoid further penalty. For more information and helpful videos about the Rules of Golf please visit https://rules.usga.org/rules-education/.