Rule Tip of the Week: Modernizing the Rules

The Ruling Bodies have unveiled their proposed changes to the Rules of Golf and the process for their implementation. As stated by the Ruling Bodies, “The main goal of the initiative is to help golfers everywhere by revising many Rule procedures and outcomes for better consistency, simplicity and fairness and, overall, by bringing the Rules up to date to meet the changing needs of the global game.”


You can review the proposed changes by going to, and you are encouraged to submit your comments to the USGA during the current feedback and evaluation period which ends on August 31, 2017. As noted by the USGA, “We are … committed to listening to the perspectives of golfers and others in the golfing community from around the world as part of the feedback and evaluation period. Those comments will be taken into account as we develop the final version of the Rules that will take effect on January 1, 2019.


As currently proposed, the number of Rules will be reduced from 34 to 24. The current Decisions Book will be in effect through the end of 2018. Thereafter, it will be replaced by a “Handbook.” The Handbook will provide organized explanatory guidance on each Rule. The Ruling Bodies expect to issue a draft of the Handbook at a later stage in the implementation process. Here are just a few examples of the proposed changes to the Rules:


  • The amount of time permitted to search for one’s ball will be reduced from five (5) minutes to three (3) minutes.
  • There will be no penalty if your ball played from the putting green strikes an unattended flagstick in the hole
  • When dropping a ball, you may drop it from any height above the ground.
  • You will be able to repair spike marks on the putting green.
  • You will not be penalized if you accidentally cause your ball to move while you are searching for your ball.
  • You will not be penalized if your ball in motion is accidentally deflected by you, your caddie, or your equipment.
  • You may always substitute a ball when taking relief.
  • You will not be penalized for touching your line of play on the putting green so long as you do not improve the conditions for your stroke.
  • You will not be penalized if you accidentally cause your ball or ball-marker to move on the putting green.
  • When the original location of your ball is not known, you will replace your ball on its estimated spot.
  • If you deem your ball unplayable in a bunker, you will have the option of dropping your ball behind the bunker using the back-on-a-line procedure for a two-stroke penalty.
  • Having lifted and replaced your ball on the putting green, if your ball then moves for any reason, e.g., wind, you will be required to replace your ball on its original spot (which, if not known, must be estimated).
  • What is now known as a “lateral water hazard” will be called a “red penalty area” and you will no longer be permitted to take relief on the opposite side from where your ball last entered such a penalty area.
  • You will be permitted to touch and move loose impediments in a bunker.
  • When taking relief, instead of measuring one or two club-lengths to determine the allowable area for dropping a ball, you will measure either 20” or 80” from the reference point or reference line.
  • You will be permitted to touch and move loose impediments, and also ground your club, when your ball is in a “penalty area” (the expanded designation for the area that includes what are now called “water hazards”).
March 2017 Rules