Virtually Certain Missy - Golf Blog - USGA Rules
Virtually Certain Missy


24 rules that will change the landscape of golf
By Missy Jones • @missyjonjones
March 1, 2017

Description: lift, clean rory pic.jpgThe world is aflutter with all the rules modernization talk and it is a pretty exciting time to be a rules official during this time of change. Big stuff. It’s a little scary to realize that all of the memorized definitions, rules and subsections I have rattling around in my head will need to be unlearned and reformatted in my brain but in the end these changes are going to be really helpful to new players and those trying to digest the Rules of Golf for the first time.

Even with a number of changes from how things are currently done, the basic tenets of the rules have not changed. Play the course as you find it, don’t pick up the ball if you can help it and the assumption that golfers act with honesty and integrity. If you understand that, it makes all this other stuff make more sense.

Of all the changes, the one that will have the biggest visual impact on the game will be the new procedure or rather, non-procedure, for dropping a ball to get it back in play. Whenever we are relocating the ball to somewhere else, whether under free relief or under penalty, there will no longer be a required dropping method – you don’t have to hold your arm extended at shoulder height. Any height will be allowed, even an inch is okay - you just have to make sure the ball isn’t touching any growing thing, artificial or natural object when you let it go. It has to fall through the air for some amount of time before hitting the ground or anything else, albeit this amount of time can be a millisecond.  It’s as close to placing as we can get while still retaining an element of randomness to the resulting lie. It keeps players from fluffing the ball up on a tuft of grass, by softly setting it there. It also takes away the complaining when dropping in a bunker and getting a plugged lie. This is huge because it gets rid of the two drop and place thing. If it rolls out of the relief area, you’ll have to find somewhere in your relief area to drop where it will come to rest correctly within that area.

Along with getting rid of the drop procedure, the proposed area in which we have to drop has changed too. Relief will be 20” from nearest point of complete relief for “free” drops (cart paths, ground under repair etc.) and 80” for penalty drops (ball unplayable, penalty area drops etc – oh, and penalty areas are a new concept; more about that later on). When using the flag line option, the proposed new Rules will call that the “back-on-a-line” option, you will have 20” on either side of that line where you will drop your ball and it will have to come to rest. This saves the players who have been screwing up that procedure their whole lives by standing ON the line and dropping to the side. The ball has to stay within the prescribed relief area with no limit on number of drops to get it right. Unless you are on a really steep slope, I don’t really see a lot of situations where a ball is going to roll out of this new expanded area anymore. I also envision players and equipment manufacturers putting 20” and 40” measurements marks on clubs for reference.

Another big deal in the changes that makes it easier for all players to get it right is when your ball at rest get moved accidently while searching for it or anytime when it is on the green there will be no penalty. If you have already marked, lifted and replaced it on the green and it moves for ANY reason (wind, gravity, you kick it, bad luck or no apparent reason) just replace it with no penalty.

Touching your line for a putt or touching the green in pointing out a target are no longer a penalty. You or your caddie can do either of those things as long as doing so doesn’t improve the conditions affecting your stroke. All you AimPoint users out there are off the hook now. It is always a fine line whether players are touching their line of putt and now we won’t care. I do have one caution here though – you can still get hit with a pace of play penalty if you dink around too long doing it.

The proposed new Rules will have an expanded restriction on caddies helping you with your alignment before your stroke. Your caddie will not be allowed to stand on a line behind you from the time you begin taking your stance until after you have made your stroke. I know a few caddies who are going to love this. They hate it and we hate watching it. Done deal.  This might even speed play up, imagine that?

One change that is really going to help recreational players and clubs is they can mark anything as a red penalty area (new term for what used to be a lateral water hazard because penalty areas will not be limited to just bodies of water). Many courses already do this now without the authority of the Rules. Under the proposed new Rules, deserts, forests, areas of unmaintained long grasses, lava, etc. can use the 80” drop from where you crossed the margin into them if they want. This will really help pace of play too.

I can already hear the Twittersphere whining about “why didn’t they let us have relief from divots!!” Here is why. Sorry. It’s an outdoor sport. How do we define what is and isn’t a divot? Do we say a small indentation in the fairway is just an old divot? Do we want players to get out of every little spot they think is unfavorable? Not only is this a pace of play nightmare, it breaks one of the basic tenets I talked about in the beginning. Play the ball as it lies unless you have no other options. It’s not like you’ve never had a good lie in the rough.  The breaks in golf – good and bad - more than even out in favor of the player.

Another complaint we will hear is the continuation of a stroke and distance penalty for a ball that goes out of bounds. The problem here is that there is really no easy alternative. Do we give a two stroke penalty and drop 80” from where ball last crossed the margin? It is almost impossible to determine a reference point for this because it happens so far away. It opens it up to so much subjective garbage and such a steep penalty that it just seems like stroke and distance is still the only fair way to go. During the comment period though, the governing bodies will be open to suggestions for how to do this to the satisfaction of all players involved, not just the player with the lost ball.

Here are other noteworthy changes:

• Ball unplayable in bunker will be allowed to take ball out of the bunker to a back-on-a-line relief area behind the bunker for a 2 stroke penalty.

• No penalty for moving a ball at rest when searching for anybody. Replace the ball.

• No penalty when a ball in motion is accidently deflected by the player, their caddie, their equipment, someone attending a flagstick or a removed or attended flagstick. Ball played as it lies. Key word here is “accidental”. If you purposely place the flagstick behind the hole to help yourself, you will have problems so don’t try and game the system. Remember that whole honesty and integrity thing?

• No more requirements to announce, allow to watch etc. for identifying your ball or determining if ball is unfit for play. Cleaning penalty will still be there though so we will still have penalties under this.

• Term “Through the Green” is gone. Now called General Area. (This and the old term refer to the fairway, rough and anywhere else that is not a bunker, penalty area or your teeing area and putting green for the hole you are playing.)

• Term “Hazard” is gone. Now either a Penalty Area or a Bunker. 

• In Penalty areas, you will be allowed to take practice swings, ground your club and remove loose impediments.

• Bunkers will have their own rule and procedures. Still no grounding your club or touching sand near your ball (improving lie) but just merely touching somewhere else in the bunker will be okay. You will also be allowed to remove loose impediments.

• Default will be all water is lateral (now called a red penalty area) but can use local rule to make something yellow. Equidistant opposite margin drops will be gone except when allowed under a local rule.

• Each rule will start with a purpose statement to try and make it more understandable.

• No more Decision Book but there will be a Handbook (it will end up being decision book in my opinion)

• Can hit flagstick with no penalty when putting.

• Can fix spike marks and all other maintenance damage on the green. Just can’t flatten irregularities.

• Allowing Distance Measuring Devices will be default and local rule needed to prohibit them.

• Embedded ball relief anywhere except in sand will be the default. Must use closely mown area as local rule. Drop will be within 20” behind where embedded.

• Can substitute ball at anytime (free or penalty relief) when taking a drop.

• Tours love this! If you damage club for any reason, you can keep using it or have it repaired. Can only replace if damaged by someone other than you, your partner or either of your caddies.

• Committee can authorize codes of conduct and give penalties for them. Throwing club, cussing etc. – handbook should have some “best practices” suggestions.

• 3 minutes to search for a lost ball. Can play provisional at any time while people are still searching.

• One rule for Abnormal Course Conditions, which will include ground under repair, temporary water, immovable obstructions etc. Relief is the same.

• Loose impediments, movable obstructions, ball interfering all same rule and relief. Still can’t move them while ball in motion though.

We have all kinds of interesting stuff going on in the vein of rules moderization but don’t forget this doesn’t go into effect until January 1, 2019. The wording and nuances may change during and after the comment period as golfer feedback is received but this is the gist of all the big changes. Feel free to contact me. I’m sure you guys will have lots of questions. 


Full verbage of changes here:

The major changes are also summarized here below, written in the style of the new Player’s Edition of the Rules – that is, with the focus on “you,” the player.
a. When Things Happen to Your Ball in Play
 (1) Ball at Rest Accidentally Moves

  • Accidentally moving your ball while searching for it: There is no longer a penalty.
  • Accidentally moving your ball or ball-marker when it is on the putting green: There is no longer a penalty.
  • New standard for deciding if you caused your ball to move: You will be found to have caused your ball to move only if that is known or virtually certain (that is, it is at least 95% likely that you were the cause).

 (2) Replacing a Moved or Lifted Ball

  • New procedure when you don’t know the exact spot where your ball was at rest: You must replace the ball on its estimated original spot (rather than drop the ball at that spot); and if the estimated spot was on, under or against growing, attached or fixed objects (such as grass), you must replace the ball on, under or against those objects.

 (3) Ball in Motion Accidentally Deflected

  • Your ball in motion accidentally hits you, your equipment, your caddie, someone attending the flagstick for you or a removed or attended flagstick: There is no longer a penalty (such as when your ball bounces off a bunker face and hits you).

b. Taking Relief
            (1) Dropping a Ball in a Defined Relief Area

  • Relaxed dropping procedure: The only requirement is that you hold the ball above the ground without it touching any growing thing or other natural or artificial object, and let it go so that it falls through the air before coming to rest; to avoid any doubt, it is recommended that the ball be dropped from at least one inch above the ground or any growing thing or object.
  • Defined relief area: The ball needs to be dropped in and played from a single required relief area (whereas today you are required to drop a ball in one area, it can roll away, and you need to re-drop if it rolls to any of nine specific places).
  • Fixed measures define the relief area: You use the fixed distance of 20 inches or 80 inches to measure the relief area (no longer using one or two club-lengths); this can readily be measured by using markings on the shaft of a club.

 (2) Lost Ball

  • Reduced time for ball search: A ball is lost if not found in three minutes (rather than the current five minutes) after you begin searching for it.

(3) Embedded Ball

  • Relief for embedded ball in the general area: You may take relief if your ball is embedded anywhere (except in sand) in the general area (which is the new term for “through the green”), except where a Local Rule restricts relief to the fairway or similar areas (this reverses the default position in the current Rules).

(4) Ball to Use in Taking Relief

  • Substituting another ball: You may continue to use the original ball or substitute another ball, whenever you take either free relief or penalty relief under a Rule.

c. Special Rules for Specific Areas of the Course
            (1) Putting Green

  • Putting with flagstick left in the hole: There is no longer a penalty if you play a ball from the putting green and it hits the unattended flagstick in the hole.
  • Repairing damage on the putting green: You may repair almost all damage (including spike marks and animal damage) on the putting green (rather than being limited to repairing only ball-marks or old hole plugs).
  • Touching your line of putt or touching the putting green in pointing out target: There is no longer a penalty if you or your caddie does either of these things, so long as doing so does not improve the conditions affecting your stroke.
  • Replacing your ball if it moves only after you had already marked, lifted and replaced it: Anytime this happens on the putting green, you replace the ball on its spot – even if it was blown by the wind or moved for no clear reason.
  • Your caddie marks and lifts your ball on the putting green: There is no longer a penalty if your caddie does this without your specific authorization to do so.

            (2) Penalty Areas

  • Penalty areas expanded beyond water hazards: Red- and yellow-marked “penalty areas” may now cover areas the Committee decides to mark for this purpose (such as deserts, jungles, or lava rock fields), in addition to areas of water.
  • Expanded use of red penalty areas: Committees are given the discretion to mark all penalty areas as red so that lateral relief is always allowed (but they may still mark penalty areas as yellow where they consider it appropriate).
  • Elimination of opposite side relief option: You are no longer allowed to take relief from a red penalty area on the opposite side from where the ball last entered the penalty area (unless a Committee adopts a Local Rule allowing it).
  • Removal of all special restrictions on moving or touching things in a penalty area: There is no longer a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments (such as leaves, stones and sticks) or touch the ground with your hand or your club in a penalty area.

            (3) Bunkers

  • Removal of special restrictions on moving loose impediments: There is no longer a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments in a bunker.
  • Relaxed restrictions on touching the sand with your hand or club when your ball is in a bunker: You are now prohibited only from touching the sand (1) with your hand or club to test the condition of the bunker or (2) with your club in the area right behind or in front of the ball, in making a practice swing or in making the backswing for your stroke.
  • New unplayable ball relief option: For two penalty strokes, you may take relief outside the bunker by dropping a ball back on a line from the hole through where your ball was at rest in the bunker.

d. Equipment You are Allowed to Use
            (1) Damaged Clubs

  • Use of damaged clubs: You may keep using any club that is damaged during the round, no matter how it happens (for example, even if you damaged it in anger).
  • Replacement of damaged clubs: You may not replace a damaged club, unless you were not responsible for causing the damage.

            (2) Damaged Ball

  • Substituting another ball for a cut or cracked ball: You may substitute another ball if your ball in play on a hole has become cut or cracked while playing that hole; but you are no longer allowed to change balls solely because the ball has become “out of shape.”

            (3) Distance-Measuring Devices 

  • DMDs allowed: You may use DMDs to measure distance, except when prohibited by Local Rule (this reverses the default position in the current Rules).

e. How You Prepare for and Make a Stroke

  • Expanded restriction on caddie help with alignment: Your caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you from the time you begin taking your stance until you have made your stroke.

f. Promoting Faster Pace of Play

  • Encouraging you to play promptly: It is recommended that you make each stroke in no more than 40 seconds – and usually more quickly than that – once it’s your turn to play.
  • Playing out of turn in stroke play (“ready golf”): This has always been allowed without penalty, and now you are affirmatively encouraged to do so in a safe and responsible way for convenience or to save time.
  • New alternative form of stroke play: The Rules recognize a new “Maximum Score” form of stroke play, where your score for a hole is capped at a maximum (such as double par or triple bogey) set by the Committee, so that you can pick up and move to the next hole when your score will be at or above the maximum.
  • Other changes to help pace of play: The simplified dropping procedure, reduced time for ball search, expansion of penalty areas, greater use of red penalty areas and ability to putt with the flagstick in the hole should all help pace of play as well.

g. Insisting on High Standards of Conduct and Trusting Player Integrity

  • Playing in the spirit of the game: New provisions are added to reinforce the high standards of conduct expected from all players on the course and the Committee’s discretion to disqualify players for serious misconduct.
  • Code of player conduct: Committees are given authority to adopt their own code of player conduct and to set penalties for the breach of standards in that code.
  • Elimination of need to announce intent to lift ball: When you have good reason to lift your ball to identify it, to see if it is cut or cracked or to see if you are entitled to relief (such as to see if the ball is embedded), you are no longer required first to announce to another player or your marker that you intend to do so or to give that person an opportunity to observe the process.
  • Reasonable judgment standard: When you need to estimate or measure a spot, point, line, area or distance under a Rule, your reasonable judgment will not be second-guessed based on later evidence (such as video review) if you did all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances to estimate or measure accurately.



24 Rule Changes

Accidental Movement of the Ball

LPGA Rookies Get Support

My Last Thumbs Up from Arnie

Arnold Palmer

Understanding Rule 18-2

A Unique Oakmont #9

Rules not always black & white-
did Nomura build a stance?

Are Golfers Cheating?

Golf and the Mentor Game

How They Could Have Done Olympic Golf

Late to the tee

Rule Changes 101

What is "reasonable"?

College Players Make the Grade

Unplayable Lie for Camilo Villegas -
he had options


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