Rule of the Month: Out With the Old

By Senior Rules Officials

Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

With the turning of the calendar into the new year, the Rules of Golf also change for the first time since 2019. usga-ra_logo_600x300

The USGA and the R&A are continuing on the modernization path they started in 2019 – a path that makes Rules easier to understand and apply, the relaxing of some penalties to make sure the penalty fits the crime, continued work to make the game of golf more inclusive and a new goal of sustainability.

On the issue of sustainability, the USGA has decided to print far fewer – almost 4 million fewer – Rules of Golf books than in past years. To get a hard copy of the Rule book, you will now need to order and pay for one from the USGA as neither the USGA, nor the OGA, will have free copies of books to distribute to golfers.

By printing fewer books, the goal of the USGA is to drive players to use the USGA’s Rules of Golf app that can be downloaded to your phone from whatever app store you use for your mobile device. The app is free and, after using it for almost four years, we can testify to the power of the app, its ease of use and the remarkable search function that is built into the app. You can also find the full Rules under the Rules section at

For this month only, the usual layout of our monthly article is being changed from the normal question and answer format to one that allows us to simply note a number of the changes that are most likely to impact you, the player.


Note: As you look at the Rules this year, you will notice longer penalty statements within each Rule, an expansion designed to help players better understand penalties and how to apply them.

Rule 4.1a(2) Use, Repair or Replacement of Club Damaged During Round. The Rule has been amended to allow a player to replace a damaged club, provided the club has not been damaged through abuse. The Rule also gives more power to the player in deciding if a club has been damaged.

Rule 6.3b(3) Substitution of Another Ball While Playing a Hole. The penalty for playing an incorrectly substituted ball has been reduced from the general penalty to one penalty stroke.

Rule 9.3 Ball Moved by Natural Forces. New Exception 2 provides that a ball at rest must be replaced if it moves to another area of the course after being dropped, placed or replaced. This also applies if the ball comes to rest out of bounds. Keep in mind that “other area of the course” does not simply mean another spot in the same area. A ball that moved from the general area into a penalty area is an example where the ball would have to be replaced.

Rule 11.1b Ball in Motion Accidentally Hits Person or Outside Influence: Place from Where Ball Must Be Played. Rule 11.1b has been rewritten for clarity. Rule 11.1b(2) has been amended to provide that if a ball played from the putting green hits an insect, the player or the club used to make the stroke, the ball is played as it lies – the stroke is not replayed.

Rules 22.6 and 23.8. Both are new Rules that prohibits a partner from standing behind the player to gain information for the side’s next stroke. And if the player does so, the side gets the general penalty. However, Rule 10.2b(4) now allows for someone other than the player's caddie (or partner) to stand in the restricted area behind a player to track the flight of their ball.

Rule 25 Modifications for Players with Disabilities. The introduction of new Rule 25 means that the modifications provided in the Rule apply to all competitions, including all forms of play.

Model Local Rule L-1. A Committee can modify the disqualification penalty to two penalty strokes in the event a scorecard is returned without the player or marker certification.


Back-on-the-Line Relief Procedure. The back-on-the-line relief procedure is amended to provide that the player is required to drop on the line. 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 amendment is reflected in changes to Rules 14.3b(3), 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b and 19.3, and the definition of relief Area.

How to Proceed When Stroke Must Be Replayed. Several Rules that used the phrase “stroke does not count” (such as Rule 11.1b) have been amended so that the failure to replay a stroke when required to do so, while still a breach of the relevant Rule, no longer carries the potential for disqualification.