Proposed New Relief Procedure June 8, 2017 By Craig Winter and Jamie Wallace, USGA

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.

The two key requirements of the new relief procedure (which are first dropping your ball from any height and second ensuring that it is dropped in and comes to rest in the relief area) would eliminate the need to know the seven specific scenarios under the current Rules that require a re-drop. Under the proposed new Rules, if your ball rolled outside of the relief area, you would always re-drop it, and there would be no set number of re-drop attempts. You would need to make every reasonable effort so that your dropped ball stays in the relief area (such as dropping from a lower height or in a different place, even if that is somewhat undesirable). In the very rare case that this is impossible, you would place your ball anywhere within the relief area. And, just like today, if your ball won’t stay at rest where you try to place it, you would then find the nearest spot where it will stay at rest, no closer to the hole, even if outside the relief area.

In contrast with today’s relief procedure, which uses the inconsistent standard of club-lengths, the proposed new Rules would require that your ball is dropped in and comes to rest in a specified relief area that is the same size for all golfers. Today, a shorter player using a 42-inch driver will have a smaller relief area than a taller player using a 46-inch driver (not to mention a player who uses a 55-inch long putter). The relief area under the proposed new Rules would be determined by using a simple and consistent standard length of either 20 or 80 inches from the reference point. The 80-inch measure would apply only in two scenarios – taking lateral relief from a red penalty area (formerly a lateral water hazard) and taking lateral relief for an unplayable ball. The 20-inch measure would apply to ALL other relief situations, such as relief from a cart path or casual water, and would even be used when proceeding under stroke and distance or taking relief for an embedded ball.

Since March 1, we have received a number of questions about how players will measure the 20 or 80 inches. All it takes is a simple mark on your shaft or an alignment rod if you carry one. Additionally, should this proposed change be approved, every indication points to these measurements becoming a standard marking that will be an integral part of golf shafts in the future.

The proposed changes to how you take relief follow a long line of revisions to relief procedures in the Rules of Golf that are closely intertwined and that are designed to complement each other. Requiring that a dropped ball land and come to rest in a relatively small 20-inch area would be difficult if done using the current shoulder-height and arm’s-length procedure (not to mention some of the previous dropping procedures required by the Rules, with the most recent example being the over-the-shoulder dropping method).

Now that we have a better understanding of both the current relief procedure and the proposed new one, let’s take a look at some more reasons behind these proposed changes:

  • As mentioned above, using a standard measurement of either 20 or 80 inches, rather than the varying club-length measurement, is simple, consistent, and fair for all golfers.
  • The new dropping procedure would remove the technical/mechanical requirements of how you drop the ball and instead focus on the location from which it is dropped and played. Penalties for things like dropping with your arm too low or too high would be eliminated.
  • The new dropping procedure discussed above (as opposed to the alternative of placing the ball) would retain a degree of randomness in where the ball comes to rest. When you drop in the fairway, you should expect a near perfect lie because you can drop very near the ground. However, when dropping in longer grass, you will be dropping from above it and will never know quite what lie you will get.
  • Nearly every time you take relief, you would be able to do so more quickly because you would nearly always be assured that your ball would be successfully put into play after only a single drop.
  • The new procedure would avoid giving a player more relief than necessary. For example, if a player is taking relief from a cart path under the current Rules and drops within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, the ball may then roll up to two additional club-lengths. This means the player may end up nearly three club-lengths from the nearest point of relief. With the intent of the Rule being only to provide relief from the cart path, this is more relief than is necessary. The proposed new procedure would ensure that all players play their next stroke from within 20 inches of their nearest point of relief from the cart path, thus more closely adhering to the intent of the Rule.
  • The new procedure would also prevent players from undermining the purpose of dropping, which can occur today when players deliberately try to drop a ball in a position where they know it will need to be re-dropped, and then do it a second time so that they ensure their ball will be placed. This would not be possible in the proposed relief procedure because all players would need to accept whatever the situation gives them and make all reasonable efforts to successfully drop their ball in the relief area.
  • The new relief procedure would help avoid the unfortunate circumstance where you are required to drop a ball in a bunker and end up with your ball embedded in the sand.

If you would like to find out more about the new relief procedure or any of the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf, or if you would like to share your thoughts with us on the changes, please visit You can also reach out to us directly with your comments or questions at or 908-326-1850.

Craig Winter is the director of Rules of Golf & Amateur Status for the USGA. Email him at Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules education and digital content. Email him at