2023 Updates to the Rules of Golf
On Tuesday 1st November 2022, the R&A and USGA announced updates to the Rules of Golf.
Where the Rules of Golf 2019 were quite radical asking you to relearn some Rules of Golf and take a different approach to some situations, the Rules of Golf 2023 updates are designed to make the Rules easier to understand and apply and where possible to relax penalties and the outcomes of some situations. Some clarifications have been introduced to help golfers at all levels of play.
The intention is to make the Rules easier to understand and access for all golfers and making the sport more inclusive and welcoming for golfers with disabilities.
The R&A and USGA are also working to ensure golf has a sustainable long-term future and making more resources available digitally is key to achieving their goal
The R&A and USGA are continuing their focus on trying to reduce penalties where possible, relax penalties, produce outcomes that are more appropriate in certain situations, and continue to try and reflect the way the modern game is played.
The new Rules will go into effect on 1 January 2023 but remember that the current edition of the Rules of Golf (2019) still applies when playing or posting scores for the remainder of 2022.
From 2023, you are being encouraged to download and use The R&A’s Rules of Golf App. There is a real push towards the Rules of Golf app and other digital offerings.
The R&A are printing four million fewer books than last time round, so reducing their distribution operation in getting those around the world, which also fits in with their emphasis on sustainability.
A full update to the Rules of Golf App will be available for download from mid-December and will include the following developments:
- The Player’s Rule Finder will replace the Player’ s Edition and the Visual Search. It is intended to help you quickly find a summary of the Rule you need to answer your Rules questions for the majority of scenarios.
- A new video section will allow you to access all Rules videos in one location.
- A new Quick Guide video is aimed at players who are transitioning from learner golfer to a competitive golfer (for example those who are looking to gain a handicap). It will provide new golfers with the minimum Rules information that they need to get around the course.
- A new set of short, animated videos will be available to help you understand the most frequently used Rules.
- A new Rules News section will include Rules articles and news (available in English language version only) and you will have the option to turn on push notifications so that you never miss a new Rules article or update.
- The quiz will be updated to allow you to select the length of the quiz as 6, 9 or 18 questions and will provide you with immediate feedback after every question.
The full Rule book will still be printed but there will be no printed Player’s Edition from 2023, which is normally distributed free to all Golf Clubs.
NOTE: The online version of the Rules of Golf 2023 does not include Clarifications, these are only contained in the published 2023 Official Guide to the Rules of Golf
However, the USGA Online Version does and you can view that by clicking here
There are several changes to the Rules of Golf, but the R&A and USGA have focussed on five significant ones.
You can download a Poster detailing these Rules by clicking on the download button below:
You can also download a document ‘Outcome Changes: 2019 Rules to 2023 Rules Comparison’ by clicking on the download button below:
So, what are the Rules that the R&A and USGA have focussed on?
- There is a new rule!
The Modifications for Players with Disabilities are now part of the overall Rule Book as a new Rule of Golf, Rule 25
Rule 25 now applies to all competitions and all forms of play. It will be a player’s category of disability and eligibility that will determine whether they can use the specific modified Rules in Rule 25.
The categories are:
- Players who are blind (which includes certain levels of vision impairment;
- Amputees (those with limb deficiencies and those who have lost a limb);
- Players who use assistive mobility devices; and
- Players with intellectual disabilities.
Modifications include, depending on category of disability:
- Allowing the setting down of objects to help with aiming, stance and swinging;
- Anchoring; and
- Touching sand in a bunker with a club in front or behind the ball.
- There is no penalty for failing to put your handicap on the scorecard
This used to come with a heavy penalty. Failing to put your handicap on your scorecard meant disqualification. Now, an amendment to Rule 3.3b (4) means you are no longer required to show your handicap on your scorecard.
Instead, committees will be responsible for ensuring the accuracy of each player’s handicap and calculating it for the competition. This change has been made to keep up to date with the continued growth of digitally posting score, following the introduction of the World Handicap System.
Rule 3.3b (4) now says a player is no longer required to show their handicap on their scorecard or to add up their own scores.
It is the committee’s responsibility to calculate the player’s handicap strokes for the competition and to use that handicap to calculate the player’s net score.
The Rule states, “If the player returns a scorecard on which they have made a mistake in showing or applying a handicap, or on which they have made a mistake in adding up the scores, there is no penalty.”
A committee, however, can employ a new Local Rule – Model Local Rule L-2 – which puts the responsibility back on the player.
- You can replace a damaged club
This is a change to Rule 4.1a (2) and it allows players to replace a club that is damaged during a round. The caveat is the club must not have been damaged through abuse. Except in cases of abuse, Rule 4.1a (2) says you can use, repair, or replace any club damaged during a round with another club.
A Model Local Rule, G-9, can be employed by committees to limit when a damaged club can be replaced to cases where it is “broken or significantly damaged”.
NOTE: that does not include a club that is cracked.
- You can replace a ball moved by natural forces
There is a new exception to Rule 9.3, which says that if a ball at rest is moved by natural forces after being dropped, placed, or replaced and “comes to rest in a different area of the course or out of bounds”, the ball must be replaced and played from its original spot.
- Taking back-on-the-line relief is now simpler
You’ve all used this when taking relief from a penalty area, bunker or an unplayable ball. The procedure has been made a little easier in the 2023 Rule Book.
Now, you must drop your ball on the line, not within a club-length of the line. The ball must then come to rest within a club-length of where it was dropped. That club length can be in any direction, which includes going forward, nearer to the hole!
The change is reflected in Rule 14.3b (Ball must be dropped in the right way), Rule 16.1c (2) (Playing from outside bunker), Rule 17.1d (2) (Back-on-the-line relief in penalty areas), Rule 19.2b (Unplayable ball) and Rule 19.3 (Unplayable ball in bunker), as well as in the definition of relief area.
It says the player must drop the ball on the line and the spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground “creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that spot”.
See the image below:
- That can also be forward.
- The ability to re-drop that was in the Model Local Rule has been removed. If the ball comes to rest within that one club length, it’s now in play.
You can download a copy of the Back on the Line Relief by clicking on the download button below:
There are also Additional Rule Changes, Clarifications and Local Rules which may impact on your round of golf.
- Applying Penalties to Multiple Beaches of the Rules
Rule 1.3c(4) has been amended so that determining whether breaches are related is no longer part of its application, meaning that there will be fewer instances where multiple penalties will be applied.
Committees no longer have to determine whether acts are related or unrelated. Intervening events are used to determine whether a player gets multiple penalties. There are only two intervening events, completion of a stroke and awareness of a breach of the Rules.
- You can’t replay your stroke if your ball hits an insect on the green
An exception to Rule 11.1b said that when a ball played from the putting green accidentally hit any person, animal, or movable obstruction on the green, that stroke didn’t count. Model Local Rule D-7, though, limited a lot of those instances.
The rule has now been amended so if a ball played from the putting green hits the player, the club the player used to make the stroke, an insect or similar animal defined as a loose impediment, the stroke counts and the ball is played as it lies. That Local Rule was employed on tour but, as it was introduced in January 2021, it didn’t appear in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf and many at club level were probably none the wiser to its existence.
So, Rule 11.1b (2) has now brought in those important elements.
It means if a ball played from the putting green accidentally hits an insect, the player, or club used in the stroke, it counts. The ball is played as it lies, and the stroke is not replayed.
There are still several incidences where you’d still have to take the shot again – if it was known or virtually certain that it hit any other person, a movable obstruction (that isn’t a ball marker, a ball at rest, a flagstick or the club used to make the stroke), or an animal which isn’t defined as a loose impediment.
But if your ball accidentally hits a worm, or a speedy beetle, claiming a Mulligan is no longer an option.
- Some penalties for Stableford have changed
Penalties that related to having excess clubs, time of starting, and unreasonable delay will now be applied to a hole in the same way as regular stroke play.
Rule 21.1c has been amended so those penalties are now applied to the hole in the same way as regular stroke play. So, for example, having 15 clubs in your bag in stroke play would mean adding two penalty strokes for each hole where a breach happened, up a maximum of four penalty strokes in the round.
This amendment also applies to the same penalties in Par/Bogey competitions as well.
After applying any penalty strokes, a player’s Stableford score for a hole “cannot be lower than zero points”.
- You can’t stand behind your partner to gain information about your side’s next stroke
You are in breach of Rule 10.2b (4) if, once you begin taking a stance for a stroke, your partner is stood in a location “on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball”.
Now, in addition, Rule 22.6 in foursomes and Rule 23.8 in fourballs bans a player from doing this while their partner is making a stroke to “gain information for their next stroke”.
However, the Rule now allows for someone other than the player’s caddie (or partner) to stand in the restricted area to track the flight of their ball. While it may always have been implied in Rule 10.2b (4) that you couldn’t crowd your partner’s line to get a read on where your next putt or shot might go, it is now explicitly written into the rules on foursomes (Rule 22.6) and fourball (Rule 23.8).
Restriction on Player Standing Behind Partner when Stroke made states that, in addition to the limitations in Rule 10, a player “must not stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball while their partner is making a stroke to gain information for their (the player’s) next stroke”.
If you’re caught doing this, you’ll get the general penalty, which is two shots in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. In foursomes, that penalty applies to the side. In fourball, there are even examples where it could apply to both players.
Indeed, there’s a fuller explanation for fourball play in a new clarification, which reveals that how a penalty will be applied depends “on the reason the player stood there” and, if there’s a breach, “whether either the player or their partner was helped by the breach”.
The most relevant example talks about a player standing on, or close, to an extension of the line of play to “learn information about how their upcoming putt might break based on how their partner’s ball breaks on the putting green”.
So, the Rule in foursomes and fourball is now very clear. Don’t stand behind your partner while they’re making a stroke. It’ll cost you a penalty if you do.
The Rule, however, allows for someone other than the player’s caddie or partner to stand behind the player to track the flight of their ball.
- Player allowed to remove the external attachment before club is used to make a stroke without penalty.
If player starts a round with a non-permissible external attachment on a club, such as a sticker or sharpie marks on a clubface, there is no penalty provided the external attachment is removed before club used to make a stroke, player disqualified if club used to make a stroke with external attachment still attached. Rule 4.1a(3)
- Practice on course or holes not being used for competition allowed
There is no penalty for a player practising on holes not being used for any rounds of the competition to be played on that day. Rule 5.2 & C. 5.2/1
If a competition is being played over Holes 1-9, you can practise on Holes 10-18 and vice versa.
- Relief for an embedded ball
The reference point must be in the general area. If the spot right behind the ball is not in the general area, the player must find the nearest spot (no closer to the hole) in the general area and use that as the reference point – see Clarification 16.3b/1.
- Meaning of “reasonable time” when identifying a ball found within search time
A new Clarification has been added to clarify that one minute is the most time a player should be given by the committee to identify a found ball when it is found toward the end of the search time.
- Local Rule: Relief from immovable obstructions in penalty areas
A committee can allow players relief from immovable obstructions when their ball is in a penalty area. They should specify which obstructions relief is allowed from, rather than allowing relief from all obstructions.
- Local Rule: Player has interference from abnormal course condition such as a narrow fence or wall where the nearest point of complete relief may be on the other side of the abnormal course condition
Local Rule available to state that the nearest point of complete relief must be determined without crossing over, through or under the abnormal course condition.
- Local Rule: Modification of penalty under Rule 3.3b(2) when scorecard missing player or marker certification
A committee can modify the disqualification penalty to two penalty strokes in the event it is returned without the player or marker certification
Rule 3.3b (2) imposes a penalty of disqualification when the hole scores on the scorecard haven’t been certified by the player, the marker, or both.
Under Local Rule L-1
In situations where a committee feels it to be “more appropriate”, competition committees will be able to modify the cost of missing player or marker certification from disqualification to two shots.
That penalty would apply to the last hole of a player’s round. So while signing a scorecard would remain an important responsibility of both player and marker, failing to do it – depending on the reason – may not always now be the round-wrecking punishment that currently befalls offenders.
- Substitution of another ball while playing a hole
If a player makes a stroke at an incorrectly substituted ball, it is now only a one-stroke penalty and not a General Penalty.
There are further Amendments to the Clarifications and Committee Procedures for the 2023 Rules of Golf which you can read more about by clicking here.