What’s new in the 2023 Rules of Golf?

rules of golf

The R&A and USGA have announced the first four-yearly review of the new laws of the game. Our rules expert distils the changes you need to be aware of…

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Has it really been four years? Time has certainly flown since the R&A and USGA made the biggest changes to the laws of the game in a generation with the 2019 Rules of Golf.

But the modernisation never stops and now the two governing bodies have announced the results of the first regular update to the ‘new’ rules as they strive to make them easier to understand and apply.

You won’t find anything as fundamental as establishing relief areas, and changing the drop procedure from shoulder to knee high this time around, but the R&A and USGA have still made some 40 substantive changes and altered or added four Model Local Rules.

The new rules come into effect on January 1 next year, so the current edition of the Rules of Golf still applies if you’re playing or posting scores until that date.

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Here are some of the key changes that will greet the New Year…

There is a new rule: The 24 Rules have become 25 as the Modifications for Players with Disabilities are made part of the overall Rule Book.

rules of golf

No penalties for not putting handicaps on scorecards: This used to come with a heavy sanction. 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 score-posting technology following the introduction of the World Handicap System.

Clubs could use a new Model Local Rule, though, to put the responsibility back on the player.

Replacing 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.

Replacing a ball moved by natural forces: A new exception has been added to Rule 9.3 which says a ball at rest must be replaced if it moves to another area of the course after being dropped, placed, or replaced. This is also the case if the ball comes to rest out of bounds.

New back-on-the-line relief rules: You’ve all used this when taking relief from a penalty area or an unplayable ball. The procedure has been made a little easier in the 2023 Rule Book. Now, when you drop your ball on the line, the ball must come to rest within a club-length of where it is dropped. That club length can be in any direction (yes, that means forward!).

Don’t stand behind your partner: 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”.


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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”.

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.

Don’t replay your stroke if it 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.

rules of golf

Announcing the Rules of Golf update, Grant Moir, Director of Rules at The R&A, said they had been improved and adapted to make sure they are line with the way the modern game is played.  

“That means making the Rules easier to understand and access for all golfers and making the sport more inclusive and welcoming for golfers with disabilities,” he said.

“We are also working to ensure golf has a sustainable long-term future and making more resources available digitally is key to achieving that goal.”

“What the last four years have shown is that, overall, we’re very pleased with what we did in 2019 with the modernisation process and it’s been a great success,” Moir continued.

“Sometimes it’s hard to point to specific areas of success but I think the fact that there have been far fewer penalties at the higher levels, and far fewer technical penalties, is what’s encouraging to us.

“But there was always going to be a need to refine the work that we’ve done. It was such a huge body of work and so there are a few areas that we, perhaps in hindsight, felt we hadn’t got exactly right.”

He added: “It’s certainly back to a more normal edition of the Rules of Golf. We’re continuing to our process of trying to make the Rules easier to understand and apply.

“We’re continuing our focus on trying to reduce penalties where possible, relax penalties, produce outcomes that are more appropriate in certain situations, and just continue to try and reflect the way the modern game is played.”

Thomas Pagel, USGA chief governance officer, added: “The growing popularity of golf continues to guide our decision-making and modernising the Rules to promote inclusivity and accessibility is clearly a great step in the right direction.

“This latest evolution is especially important to the community of golfers with disabilities, and we hope it will encourage more people to play and enjoy the game.”

You can learn about all the major changes, and take a deeper look at the 2023 Rules of Golf, by visiting the R&A and USGA websites.

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Get involved in the debate. To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete this form and we’ll be in touch!


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