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Update for Golf Journal Readers: Revised Text on Rules Article March 15, 2023

The back-on-the-line relief procedure entitles a golfer to drop their ball anywhere along a line extending from the hole through the spot where their ball last crossed the penalty area.

The cover story of the Spring 2023 issue of Golf Journal, entitled "Spring Into Action," contained some inaccurate information about the Rules of Golf on page 53. That section of the article, as seen below, has been updated to accurately reflect the key changes made to the Rules in 2023.

Tracking, cataloging and posting all of your scores won’t do you any good if you’re not keeping an accurate count according to the Rules of Golf, which are always evolving. This year marks the every-four-years Rules update by the USGA and The R&A, and five key changes are now in effect.

The two most important for everyday golfers both pertain to dropping a ball. When taking a drop from a penalty area (or for an unplayable lie), one of your options is still the back-on-the-line relief procedure which allows you to drop a ball anywhere behind the penalty area on the line that extends from the hole through the spot where your ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area. The change here is that now the ball must be dropped on the line and can roll up to one club-length in any direction from where it hit the ground – even toward the hole!

The second scenario involves taking a drop that comes to rest but then later rolls into a different area of the course. Think of the scenario where you hit into a penalty area, take your drop, which comes to rest on a slope, and then a minute later rolls back into the penalty area. In the past you had to incur an additional penalty stroke to take another drop, but now you can simply replace your ball without adding to your score. Sometimes referred to as the Fowler Rule, it arose after Rickie Fowler had one such dreaded roll-back happen to him at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, which struck many people as unfair – even those who weren’t watching from their couches in bright orange polos and matching slacks. “We always say we don’t crowdsource the rules,” said Jamie Wallace, director of Rules at the USGA, “but things that get attention, we look at.”

VIDEO: Back-on-the-Line Relief

VIDEO: Ball Moved by Natural Forces

The other key changes include officially incorporating modifications for players with disabilities directly into the Rules, an allowance to replace a broken or damaged club during the round – tour players can send someone to the equipment truck, but most regular golfers don’t have a spare available – and placing the responsibility on tournament committees instead of competitors to get correct Handicap Indexes on scorecards at stroke play events.

In addition to Rules changes, the USGA issues clarifications quarterly to make sure any tweaks are playing out as intended, and per that four-year cycle, a new official version of the Rules of Golf comes out in conjunction with The R&A.

The 2019 “Players Edition” of the Rules has been replaced by the Rules app, a free offering that not only explains things in straightforward language, it updates automatically with all the latest changes and clarifications, offers topic pages, FAQs and explanatory videos, and is searchable by topic or situation. “Put in ‘bunker,’ and it will give you all the Rules pertaining to bunkers,” said Wallace. “It prioritizes the results to provide answers to the most common questions.” It will even autofill the most common search terms as you type.

“People want to play by the Rules,” Wallace said. “They’re trying to, and if they don’t, it’s usually from lack of knowledge, so we try to help with that.” How far will the Rules Department go? The app includes an email address and phone number, both of which are staffed throughout the year, including weekends. As long as the lines aren’t overwhelmed, an expert will answer your question in nearly real time, which happened 10,000 to 20,000 times annually over the last few years.

Most of the time that won’t be necessary. “Having the app and knowing how to use it can help get you out of most situations,” said Wallace. “Sometimes, you can even use the Rules to your advantage.”