USGA, R&A Announce 2023 Rules of Golf Update
LIBERTY CORNER, N.J., USA, and ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (Nov. 7, 2022) – The USGA and The R&A have unveiled a regular update to the Rules of Golf as they continue to make the Rules easier to understand and apply. The new Rules will go into effect on January 1, 2023.
The 2023 edition continues the modernization process, with an emphasis on both inclusion and sustainability. For the first time, the modified Rules for players with disabilities have been fully incorporated into the playing rules without the need to adopt a local rule. The governing bodies, supported by longstanding partner Rolex, will also promote digital and mobile app access to the Rules while significantly reducing the production and distribution of more than 4 million printed books.
Several penalties have been relaxed and language has been clarified to help golfers at all levels of play.
Key changes include:
- Modifications for Players with Disabilities: The modifications to the Rules for players with disabilities have been made part of the Rules and are in effect for all players who are classified in the categories covered in Rule 25
- Handicap Usage in Stroke Play: With the continued growth of score-posting technology following the adoption of the World Handicap System™, players are no longer penalized for failing to put their handicap on their scorecard in stroke play. The committee will be responsible for ensuring the accuracy of each player’s handicap.
- Club Damaged During Round: The Rule has been amended to allow a player to replace a club that is damaged during a round, provided the player did not damage it through abuse.
- Ball Moved by Natural Forces: A new exception provides that a ball at rest must be replaced if it moves to another area of the course or comes to rest out of bounds after being dropped, placed or replaced.
- Back-on-the-Line Relief Procedure: The back-on-the-line relief procedure, often used for penalty area and unplayable ball relief, has been simplified so that the player now drops their ball on the line, and the ball must come to rest within one club-length of where it is dropped.
Golfers will be able to learn more about the major changes and review the official 2023 Rules of Golf by visiting www.usga.org/2023Rules and https://www.randa.org/. Full updates to the official Rules of Golf digital applications will be available starting on January 1.
“The growing popularity of golf continues to guide our decision-making, and modernizing the Rules to promote inclusivity and accessibility is clearly a great step in the right direction,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA Chief Governance Officer. “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.”
Grant Moir, Director of Rules at The R&A, said, “We are continuing to improve and adapt the Rules of Golf to ensure they are in 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. 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.”
Players are reminded that the current edition of the Rules of Golf (2019) still applies when playing or posting scores for the remainder of 2022.
As an extension of their support of the Rules of Golf worldwide, Rolex has made a commitment to support The R&A’s and the USGA’s efforts to modernize golf’s Rules. The Swiss watchmaker’s contribution to excellence in golf is based on a rich heritage stretching back more than 50 years, forged through pivotal partnerships at every level of the game, from the sport’s leading professional and amateur competitions and organizations to players at the pinnacle of their sport worldwide.
About the USGA
The USGA is a nonprofit organization that celebrates, serves and advances the game of golf. Founded in 1894, we conduct many of golf’s premier professional and amateur championships, including the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica. With The R&A, we govern the sport via a global set of playing, equipment, handicapping and amateur status rules. The USGA campus in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, is home to the Association’s Research and Test Center, where science and innovation are fueling a healthy and sustainable game for the future. The campus is also home to the USGA Golf Museum, where we honor the game by curating the world’s most comprehensive archive of golf artifacts. To learn more, visit usga.org.
About The R&A
References in this document to The R&A are to R&A Rules Limited. Together The R&A, based in St. Andrews, Scotland, and the USGA govern the sport of golf worldwide, operating in separate jurisdictions but with a commitment to a single code for the Rules of Golf, Rules of Amateur Status and Equipment Standards. The R&A governs the sport worldwide, outside of the United States and Mexico, on behalf of over 36 million golfers in 144 countries and with the consent of 159 organizations from amateur and professional golf.
The R&A aims to invest £200 million in developing golf over a decade and supports the growth of the sport internationally, including the development and management of sustainable golf facilities. For more information visit http://www.randa.org
Volunteer Spotlight: Steve Suhey
Steve Suhey’s father introduced him to the game of golf when he was 6 years old in 1956. They spent Sunday evenings looping the nearby course in central Pennsylvania. Today, Suhey continues to create lasting memories on golf courses more than 1,500 miles away from where he grew up and learned to play.
“I love the challenge of golf throughout your lifetime,” Suhey said. “It’s a game you can play your whole life, and as you grow older you face new challenges. I’ve really enjoyed that.”
In 1982, Suhey and his wife, Louise, moved to Texas. The avid amateur golfer played in competitive events across the state, including championships conducted by the Texas Golf Association. He’d always loved and appreciated the Rules of Golf, but it wasn’t until met Marty Javors that he began to get involved as a Rules official.
“In the late 1980s, I met Marty, who had been a TGA and USGA Rules official for many years,” Suhey said. “He encouraged me to get involved with the Rules, but because of my businesses and travel schedule, I could never do it. I promised Marty that when I retired I would turn my attention to the Rules and get involved as a Rules official.”
In 2016, Suhey delivered on his promise. Following his retirement as an insurance broker, he attended his first USGA/PGA Rules of Golf Workshop, took his first Rules of Golf exam and volunteered with the TGA.
“When he finally pulled the trigger he didn’t hold back at all,” Javors said. “He’s a very smart guy and learned the Rules very quickly. He loves the game and he’s been a huge help to the golf community in Texas.”
Over the years, Suhey has become one of the most dedicated TGA volunteers. In 2020, he officiated over 40 days at local and statewide men’s, women’s and junior championships.
“As a volunteer, my goal is to help the competitors play by the Rules,” Suhey said. “In order to do that, you have to ask a lot of questions to find out the exact situation and make sure the player knows what his options are.”
Suhey values the interactions he has with players, working with TGA staff and building relationships with other volunteers. His “team-first” mentality has not gone unrecognized by the TGA.
“Steve’s presence makes our championships better and our job as a staff easier,” TGA Tournament Director Ian Davis said. “It doesn’t matter what his assignment is for the day, he is the first one on site and he is the last to leave. Steve is a staunch individual and you can always count on him. He’s always available to stick around for a playoff or help with packing up the equipment when we finish.”
Golf is an ever-evolving game. It teaches lessons on and off the golf course, and Suhey has been a part of unique lessons for so many amateur golfers across the state. Sixty-four years since he touched his first club, Suhey continues to grow from the lessons of golf.
“Because of what golf has given me over the years, this is my way of giving back,” Suhey said. “I learn something at every tournament I officiate and every meeting I attend. And like the game of golf itself, you keep learning and learning and learning and it never stops throughout your life.”
The TGA extends its sincere appreciation to Steve for his efforts in making our championships a success. The work and dedication from all our volunteers allows the TGA to grow and continue to support the game we all love.
To learn more about the TGA Volunteer Program, click here.
Volunteer Spotlight: Tom and Alice Wohlgemuth
Tom and Alice Wohlgemuth committed to a life together on June 19, 1971. Since their wedding day, the Wohlgemuths have been inseparable. They do everything together.
In 1975, the couple lived just outside of St. Louis. Tom was in the restaurant business and worked many nights. He consistently had a local band called “The Par 3” come and play at his restaurant. All three members loved golf.
“We became very good friends with the drummer and his wife, and they invited us to go on a vacation with them to Florida,” Alice said. “So, he taught Tom how to play golf so they could play on our trip.”
Tom quickly fell in love with the game. He soon was spending all his off-hours playing golf, and Alice was not going to be left out of the fun.
“I told him, I am already a restaurant widow, and I will not become a golf widow,” Alice said. “So I found an instructor and took lessons. Thus, our golfing career started.”
Since then, Tom and Alice have played countless rounds together. They have traveled throughout the country on golf vacations and raised their two kids to love the game, as well. In the mid-1990s, both underwent joint replacement surgeries. Despite slowing down as players, the Wohlgemuths found a new way to stay involved.
“With my hip issue, I started to think about the time that I wouldn’t be able to play,” Tom said. “So I thought doing Rules would be the best way to stay in the game and be associated with it. I went to Rules school in Nashville and started getting involved with the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association of St. Louis. Alice and I do everything together, so the following year she came to Rules school and got started in it also.”
Through the years, Tom and Alice have volunteered as Rules officials for three different amateur golf associations (Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association, Arizona Golf Association and the Texas Golf Association). They have worked with different tournament officials, players and golf courses. They have seen the game they love grow and develop together.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience for both of us,” Alice said. “We get to go together and we have a great time doing it. I find being a Rules official is a very honorable job and that you are responsible to help the players.”
Tom and Alice share the same mindset when it comes to the role of a Rules official. They want to protect the integrity of the game while making sure the players are the top priority. They don’t hesitate to seek help over the radio on a Ruling and they cherish the fellowship and camaraderie.
“The majority of people in golf are very friendly,” Tom said. “They’re so accepting of other people and we have built many friendships along the way.”
Today, Tom and Alice continue to volunteer with various golf associations across the country. They still play golf together, travel together and even ride a tandem bicycle together. Their dedication to each other and the game of golf has not gone unrecognized.
“I was lucky enough to learn from them during my internship with the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association of St. Louis,” TGA Tournament Director Ian Davis said. “Tom and Alice showed me what it means to be passionate about the Rules of Golf and the game as a whole.”
The TGA extends its sincere appreciation to Tom and Alice for their efforts in making our championships a success. The work and dedication from all our volunteers allows the TGA to grow and continue to support the game we all love.
To learn more and volunteer in 2020, click here.
Winter Golf and Loose Impediments
One of the many great things about Texas is our year-round golf season. It might mean an extra layer or two of clothing, but plenty of Texans already are playing golf and posting scores. And, while playing this time of year can be wonderful, it does lead to some extra challenges we don’t face in the summer. If you play this weekend, you’ll probably encounter more objects on the ground than usual, such as fallen leaves and branches. These and other natural objects are classified by the Rules as loose impediments. Luckily, you can move loose impediments out of your way without penalty.
By definition, loose impediments are unattached natural objects like stones, loose grass, leaves, branches, pine needles, clumps of compacted soil (including aeration plugs), etc. Dead animals, worms, insects and other similar life forms that can be removed easily, and the mounds or webs they build (such as worm casts and ant hills), are also loose impediments.
However, and be careful here, such natural objects are not “loose” if they are attached or growing, solidly embedded in the ground (that is, cannot be picked out easily) or sticking to the ball. Those are not loose impediments.
Neither is loose soil, sand, dew, frost and/or water. Snow and natural ice (other than frost) are either loose impediments (meaning they can be moved) or, when on the ground, temporary water (meaning free relief is available), at your option. While sand and loose soil are not loose impediments by definition, you may remove them on the putting green.
With the new Rules that were implemented in 2019, players now are able to remove loose impediments that lie anywhere on the course without penalty, see Rule 15.1a. There previously were restrictions against moving them in a penalty area, but you may now move loose impediments that lie in any area of the course, including in a bunker or a penalty area.
While you may remove loose impediments anywhere, you should take care to not move your ball in doing so. If the removal of a loose impediment causes your ball to move, you must replace the ball on its original spot and you usually get a one-stroke penalty, see Rule 15.1b. There are exceptions to the Rule though. When your ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if you accidentally cause it to move when removing a loose impediment. Also, you can remove loose impediments by any means! Go ahead and use your towel or hat to remove any such items that may be in your way.
Another common question related to loose impediments is what happens if your ball deflects off a loose impediment while it’s in motion? If your ball in motion hits a loose impediment, you must play it as it lies with no penalty. This applies whether the loose impediment is moving or at rest and whether your ball is on the putting green or elsewhere.
In addition to loose impediments being more pervasive in the winter, it’s also the time of year when many courses undergo various maintenance projects, so you may encounter some abnormal conditions on the course.
The offseason often is a time when clubs schedule regular maintenance, such as aeration or course improvement projects. Let’s take a look at how these practices might affect play on the golf course. Any hole made by the Committee or the maintenance staff in maintaining the course (such as a hole made in removing turf or a tree stump, or laying pipelines) as well as grass cuttings, leaves and any other material piled for later removal are deemed ground under repair by definition. Therefore, you are automatically entitled to free relief, see Rule 16.1.
A Committee may also wish to define certain areas as ground under repair because of course conditions. If the Committee clarifies that an area is treated as ground under repair, you may also take free relief provided your ball does not lie in a penalty area.
Aeration holes do not fall within the meaning of a hole made by the maintenance staff, and thus are not ground under repair. Therefore, you may not repair them on the putting green (or anywhere on the golf course) or automatically take free relief from them in the general area. As such, holes can interfere with the proper playing of the game, a Committee may choose to use a Local Rule to give relief from these holes (Model Local Rule E-4). If this Local Rule is in effect, you may take free relief when your ball lies in or touches an aeration hole.
When playing golf at this time of year, or really at any time of year, there is always a chance that you will encounter loose impediments or abnormal conditions on the golf course. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to proceed in these situations under the new 2019 Rules of Golf. Continue to enjoy golf in the New Year!
For more on the Rules, click here.
Our Experts Weigh In on New Rules
Now that we’ve had one season in the books using the USGA and R&A’s Updated Rules of Golf, we thought it would be interesting to ask the TGA’s Tournament Directors for their perspectives. We sat down with Senior Tournament Directors Kellen Kubasak and John Cochran IV, Tournament Directors Ian Davis and Kevin Porter, who runs the Legends Junior Tour, and Women’s Tournament Director Amy Worthington to find out their thoughts on how the changes in the Rules affected play during the 2019 Championship season.
Of all the Rules changes set in place by the USGA and The R&A at the beginning of the year, which one had the most impact on the championships you conducted?
JOHN COCHRAN IV, Men’s Championships: From my perspective, there were two changes that had the most impact: the reduction of time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes when conducting a ball search in reference to when a ball becomes lost, as well as putting with the flagstick in. The ball search change obviously helps keep up pace of play, but so too does putting with the flagstick in. No longer are players waiting for someone to tend the flagstick, nor are they spending time walking to the flagstick to tend it for others. Instead, they’re using that time to focus on their putt.
KELLEN KUBASAK, Men’s Championships: While the ball search time change and ability to putt with the flagstick in certainly were impactful, from what I experienced, the Rules change that had the most impact on players was the ability to fix more things on the putting green, including shoe damage such as spike marks. This specific Rules change impacted players in the most positive way. Throughout the years prior to 2019, we’ve all seen putts bounce offline because of marks on the green from previous players’ shoe marks and other damage. The fact that players can fix those now had the most impact on their play this year.
IAN DAVIS, Men’s Championships: That’s an interesting take, Kellen, but I have to agree with John about the reduction of time allowed to search for a ball. Trimming the time allowed down to 3 minutes had the largest impact on the Championships I worked this year.
KEVIN PORTER, LJT Championships: Working nearly 20 LJT events this year, I have a different take on this question. The change to dropping the ball from knee height was definitely the most impactful. Early in the year, it was just so easy to incorrectly drop from shoulder height simply out of habit. The LJT players did a great job adapting. They understood that if they dropped from the wrong height, they could correct the mistake and drop it properly to avoid penalty.
AMY WORTHINGTON, Women’s Championships: From an administrative perspective, one of the most noticeable changes for me was the difference in how course marking was approached. The committee now has more flexibility in what can be considered a penalty area. Even if an area of the course isn’t meant to hold water, it can be marked as a penalty area. Being able to mark more of the course as penalty areas also improved pace of play.
Which Rule change was brought up most by players during competition?
IAN: That’s easy. Dropping from knee height.
KEVIN: Yep, same for me. Dropping the ball was brought up a lot at the first of the year, as players wanted to make sure they were doing it right. Also, I’d like to touch on something that isn’t brought up as much. Before the changes, players used to confirm with players in their group that they were only fixing damage from ball marks and not spike marks. It saves time for players now that certain damage isn’t up for interpretation on the putting green. The relaxations to the Rules on the putting green are big for golf.
AMY: The biggest question that came up at TGA Women’s Championships was about a rule that was not in effect for our competitions, Model Local Rule E-5 – Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Lost Ball or Ball out of Bounds. Players brought it up to confirm whether or not the Local Rule was in effect, as some of our players are used to using it at their home club. The Local Rule is appropriate for general play where golfers are playing casual rounds or playing their own competitions.
JOHN: Especially early in the season, and for those events where players aren’t playing as much competitively as our “regulars” were, the most questions I answered were about the drop at knee height. This seemed to be a Rules change that, in the heat of the moment, would slip some players’ minds.
KELLEN: Players were surprised to see that when dropping the golf ball, the ball had to remain in the relief area when it came to rest. Under the old Rules, in some cases the ball could roll up to two club lengths from where it first struck a part of the course after dropping. The addition of the relief area changed all that so, I answered more questions about that part of the ball drop than anything else.
In your opinion, which was the best change to the Rules of Golf?
KEVIN: I think the status of the flagstick was a good change because it allows players to putt towards the hole without the fear of striking the stick. It’s also good knowing that if a player hits a terrible putt, they won’t get penalized for hitting a flagstick that was laid down with the thought that there was no way it would be in play.
IAN: For me, it was the new terms for relief area and reference point. Especially when the terms are explained using the images in the Rule book, it greatly simplified when a ball is dropped correctly.
AMY: In my opinion, the best change was the emphasis on pace of play. You tend to hear that golf takes too long to play, so the new changes that encourage playing the game at a prompt pace are important. Additionally, introducing Maximum Score as a form of stroke play not only helps with pace of play but it also encourages new golfers to pick up the game.
JOHN: Going from 5 minutes to 3 minutes on ball searches. 5 minutes used to feel like an eternity, now 3 minutes comes fairly quick. There is a greater effort to find the golf ball and the reduced time allotted for search keeps play moving.
KELLEN: Being able to repair spike marks and other damage on the greens has really allowed players to showcase their putting skills. The putting green is the most sacred area of the course, so allowing players to repair more of that area was a great Rules change.
Which of the Rule changes took you the longest to get used to?
KELLEN: When I’m playing, it was always tough to get used to dropping from knee height because I had only known dropping from shoulder height. It seems that this was a change that players were aware of, but we needed to remind them during the first few events of the season before they actually dropped their ball.
IAN: For me, it was the changes to what happens when a ball in motion is deflected. Also how procedures change when the ball is played from a specific area of the course and what happens next depending on whom or what it was deflected by.
KEVIN: The terminology change was difficult for a while since I was so used to the previous definitions. Calling places penalty areas instead of “hazards” and the general area instead of “through the green”. I’ve gotten much better now, but I still hear those words, and an alarm goes off in my head.
AMY: Kevin nailed it. For me, it was the language changes. I still find myself sometimes saying “hazard” instead of penalty area, or using terms that don’t exist anymore.
JOHN: I’m in the same camp with Kevin and Amy here. From an administrative perspective, learning and using the new terminology (“casual water” is now temporary water, “hazards” to penalty areas, “through the green” to general area, etc.) are things I still catch myself on.
When reviewing the Rules of Golf, do you find yourself using the Rules of Golf App or the Rules of Golf book?
IAN: I typically use the Rules of Golf app on my iPhone.
AMY: I tend to use the Rules of Golf app a lot more because it is easier to search what you are looking for than having to find it in the book.
KEVIN: I’ll always fall back on the book when making a ruling, but the app does a great job as well. It’s nice to have it while I’m out on the course and see something that I need to quickly reference. I also promote the app to our players so they can always be aware.
JOHN: The search function with the Rules of Golf app is very handy. When comparing it to prior versions of the app, this is USGA’s most user-friendly, functional app to date.
KELLEN: I’m more old school. I prefer the Rules of Golf Book with the Interpretations inside, the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf. But, I have used the app a few different times as well.
While playing golf yourself, what change do you use the most?
IAN: Putting with the flagstick in. However, I don’t necessarily need to have it in. I say if the flagstick is in, leave it in. If it’s out, leave it out.
KEVIN: Definitely dropping from knee height. I tend to put myself in situations where taking relief and dropping are key for me to finish the hole.
AMY: I’m with Ian. I putt with the flagstick in. I also fix spike marks or any other repairable damage on my line of the play.
JOHN: I have become very comfortable dropping from knee height and using the 3 minute ball search. Looks like this offseason I should work on trying to hit the ball straighter.
KELLEN: Like Ian and Amy, for me it’s putting with the flagstick in. I’m a fast player, and I don’t think the flagstick in the hole affects a good stroke or the result of a stroke, so anything to continue to improve the game’s pace of play is good for the game and good for me.
For more on the Rules of Golf, click here.