Photo by USGA/Hunter Martin

KENILWORTH, N.J. - 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.

In 2023, an update to Rule 9.3 (Ball Moved By Natural Forces) has been made with the addition of Exception 2. In general, if natural forces cause a player’s ball at rest to move, there is no penalty and the ball must be played from its new spot. Exception 1, which is for a ball at rest on the putting green after being marked, lifted, and replaced was already in place with the 2019 Rules change. The new exception which was added changes the basic outcome of the Rule in a different scenario. When a ball at rest moves by natural forces to another area of the course or Out of Bounds after being dropped, placed, or replaced, the ball must be replaced rather than played from its new location.

One important part of this is a player needs to know the areas of the course in order to understand this Rule. For example, if a ball that has been dropped, placed or replaced in the fairway rolls on its own into the rough, the ball would be played as it lies as both of those areas are part of the General Area. If a ball, however, rolls from the rough into a bunker or penalty area, that ball would be replaced as those are different areas of the course. This would also be the case if a ball rolls from the fringe (General Area) onto the Putting Green. Since that ball changed areas of the course, it would need to be replaced.



Many people likely remember what happened to Rickie Fowler at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2019. He hit his ball into a penalty area, dropped a ball into the proper relief area, and when he walked away it rolled back into the penalty area. Since natural forces (wind/water/gravity) cause the ball to move, he had to play it from its new position, which in this case was in water so he had no choice but to take penalty area relief again. If that same scenario happens this year at the WM Phoenix Open, he will replace the ball where it was before it moved with no penalty.

This is a great example of how the USGA and R&A have continued to attempt to make the rules more player friendly with the 2023 update. Players will want to make sure they assess the situation when their ball at rest moves to determine where they need to play from so they don’t end up getting penalized for playing from a wrong place. For more information and helpful videos about the Rules of Golf please visit

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