On March 1 of this year, the USGA and The R&A released a set of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf designed to make them easier to understand and apply and to bring them up to date to meet the needs of today’s global game. If there is one single proposed change that will most affect you when you play (as well as provide the largest optical change), it would likely be the new relief procedure. As part of the proposed changes to how you take relief, not only would the physical requirements for how you drop a ball be altered, but the area into which your ball must be dropped into and played from would be adjusted as well. Let’s take a deeper look into these proposed changes and the reasons behind them.
Most golfers today are very familiar with the current arm’s-length, shoulder-height dropping method. There is no dispute that this is a simple and easy-to-follow process. However, there are numerous other complexities that are part of the current relief procedure that the proposed procedure seeks to simplify. Today, the Rules require that your ball land on either a specific spot or line, in a one club-length dropping area, or in a two club-length dropping area. However, your ball does not need to stay within that defined area and, as you know, it often rolls outside of it (in large part because the Rules require that you drop from shoulder height). To account for this, there is a provision in Rule 20-2c that says your ball can roll up to two club-lengths from where it first struck the course. And this is just one of the seven different re-drop provisions (detailed further in Rule 20-2c) that would require your ball to be re-dropped. If your ball is correctly dropped twice without successfully getting it to come to rest in the right location, you must then place the ball where it struck the course the second time.
Under the proposed new Rules, your ball could be dropped in any manner and from any height with the only requirement being that the ball is let go from above the ground, without it touching any natural or artificial object, so that it falls through the air before coming to rest. This means that you could drop your ball in the fairway from just above the grass, from shoulder-height, or from any other height. If you are taking a drop in longer grass, you will be required to drop from higher off the ground to avoid touching the grass when you let go of your ball.