The USGA and the R & A are never done with efforts to improve and clarify the rules of golf. For many years rule changes were introduced every four years. The significant changes that came into effect in 2091 disrupted that four-year cycle, but now in January of 2023 the four-year cycle is back, and some new rules and modifications will go into effect. The number of changes as listed by the ruling bodies totals fifty-seven; fortunately, there are only a few that golfers actually need to know in competitions where an accurate score matters.
- The 2019 changes took away most of the situations when a ball could not be substituted; however, it is still not okay to substitute a “putting ball” when you finally get to the green or put an old ball into play during the play of a hole when you’re afraid you won’t be able to clear a pond and you don’t want to lose that nearly new Titleist or replace that ball you just bounced off a tree trunk and you don’t want to finish the hole with a ball that has a yellow smear on it. The change: if a player does make an improper substitution the penalty is now one stroke instead of the general penalty.
- In 2023 a club damaged other than by abuse may be replaced if done so without delay. With the 2019 rules a damaged club no matter how it was damaged could not be replaced. That was soon seen to be overly restrictive so a model local rule came out allowing replacement for damage other than abuse. Now the rule is set to allow the repair or replacement; no local rule is needed.
- Remember when Rickie Fowler in the 2019 Waste Management Open chipped a ball too hard and it went over the green into the water? After he properly dropped another ball with a one stroke penalty, he walked up to the green to access his next shot. While doing so the ball that he had dropped rolled back into the water. He got another one stroke penalty and had to drop again. Unfair, bad luck? In 2023 what will be known as the “Rickie Fowler Rule” goes into effect. Now if a ball after being dropped, placed, or replaced is moved by natural forces (wind, water or gravity) rolls into another part of the course, the ball is to be replaced without penalty. So now if Rickie’s ball rolls into the penalty area after being dropped, he replaces the ball without penalty; however, if the ball just rolls and stays, in this case, in the general area he would play the ball from its new location without penalty.
- When the 2019 rules first appeared, Rule 11.1b(2) told us that if a putted ball accidentally hits an insect, the player or the club used to make the stroke the stroke was to be replayed. So, if a player had a very short putt that he or she hit too hard and the ball bounced off the flagstick and hit the putter or the player, the shot would be cancelled and the player would try again. Not a good rule!… and almost all golf associations adopted a quickly written model local rule that made the stroke count without a replay. Now the rule is written saying that if such a scenario happens, the stroke counts and the ball is played as it lies. No local rule is needed.
- When using the back on the line relief procedure (most commonly for an unplayable ball or one of the two options for relief from a yellow penalty area) the relief area is now one club length in any direction from where the ball first touches the ground. Before, the ball could not bounce forward from where it first hit the ground. To prevent a penalty for even a miniscule bounce forward the ball, as stated, can bounce in any direction within one club length.
There are many other changes. Most will be rare or unlikely occurrences. We’ll bring them to the attention of the curious in later articles. Play well and enjoy golf in 2023.