New Local Rule available as of April 2019: Back-on-the-line Relief

Would you believe it, another Rule Change?

As of April 2019, the R&A and USGA have issued a new ‘Rules Clarification’ making a new Local Rule available to all Golf Clubs.

The Local Rule relates to the ‘back-on-the-line’ relief option available under Rule of Golf –  17 (Penalty Area) and Rule of Golf – 19 (Unplayable Ball).

The Rules of Golf state that you must drop within one club-length of the line, which can be done in one of two ways:

1. a) Find a spot on the line, mark it (e.g. with a tee) and drop a ball within one club-length of that spot, not nearer the hole. (This is the recommended procedure).
1. b) Drop a ball on the line, or within one club-length of the line (i.e. without marking a spot).

How you find the relief area (i.e. the area in which the ball must land and must remain) depends on which of the two above procedures, you have used:

Procedure a): The relief area is one club-length from the marked spot on the line, not nearer the hole.

Procedure b): The relief area is one club-length from, and not nearer the hole than, the spot on the line, which is in the same distance from the hole as the spot, where the ball landed in the drop. This way seems a bit complicated – but may be to ensure that the ball is never dropped more than one club-length from the line!

If you play your ball from outside this relief area, you play from a wrong place (Rule 14.7), which will cost you two penalty strokes in Stroke Play and Loss of  hole in Match Play.

The New Local Rule.
The new Local Rule states, that there is no penalty for playing from a wrong place, as long as the ball, dropped  inside the correct relief area, does not end up, and is not played from, a spot more than one club-length from the spot where it landed in the relief area.

Note:  1. This remains true even if the ball rolls nearer to the hole! and

  2.  This Local Rule only applies to Back-on-the-line Relief and not Stroke-and-distance or other relief situations!

The complete wording of the Local Rule is this:

When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.

I personally do not understand why the principle that you must not play your ball from outside the relief area is being departed from, nor why it should only apply to Back-on-the-line relief and am not sure as to whether I could recommend its adoption, firstly because I think a Golf Club should have as few Local Rules as possible, secondly because the Local Rule as it stands is  difficult to understand and apply and goes against the premise that the R&A and USGA were  going to make the Rules of Golf easier to understand and apply and thirdly the R&A and USGA have not made it clear as to why this Local Rule has been made available and then only under the Back-on-the-line relief option, and not also under the ‘stroke-and-distance’ or under the lateral-relief option.

May it be to ensure that players dropping on a line without marking a reference point, something I see frequently, play their ball within a one club-length area and not be penalised for playing from a wrong place.

I am not sure and neither are the R&A nor the USGA seem to want to explain their decision.

You can download a copy of the Rules of Golf Clarifications, Updated 23 April 2019 by clicking on the button below.

[Download not found]

If you have any thoughts on this Local Rule, please let me know.


Enjoy your weekend golf,


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