Sunday, 5 February 2012

Main Changes to the Rules of Golf 1996 - 2012

A regular occurrence when I resolve an argument over a ruling, with the appropriate reference to the Rules of Golf or Decisions on the Rules of Golf, is for the person that supported the incorrect interpretation to say, “They must have changed the Rule”. Of course, the Rules are amended every four years, but often the significant changes are minimal and do not materially affect the play of most golfers. However, with the most recent amendments taking effect from 1st January this year I thought that it might be timely to outline the main changes that have happened in the last five revisions to the Rules, as published jointly by the R&A and USGA.

Please note that what follows is an overview of what I consider to be the three main changes in each four-year period in a shorthand format. Readers should refer to the Rule books for more complete information.

  • Committees may introduce a Local rule prohibiting play from an environmentally sensitive area (ESA).
  • Rule 6-7: Committees may lay down pace of play guidelines and in such a condition modify the penalty the penalty for a first offence, in stroke play, to one stroke.
  • Rule 20-4: If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted to do so they lose the hole in match play or incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play.
  • Definition of ‘Nearest Point of Relief’ introduced for the first time, outlining the recommended procedure for determining that point.
  • Rule 13-2, Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play expanded to cover the improvement of the area of the intended stance and the prohibited actions to include removing dew, frost or water.
  • Rule 14-2: Partner, caddie or partner’s caddie may not stand behind player during their stroke anywhere on the course (previously applied only to the putting green).
30th Edition.  The "most comprehensive revision of the Rules of golf for twenty years", according to the R&A, but most of the amendments resulted from a review of the linguistics employed.
  • Rule 11-1: A Definition of ‘Tee’ is introduced for the first time, together with a penalty of disqualification for using a non-conforming tee.
  • Rule 24-2b(ii): A player may take relief from an immovable obstruction in a bunker by dropping outside the bunker for a penalty of one stroke, keeping the point where the ball came to rest directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.
  • Appendix ll: Introducing a maximum length of a club (other than a putter) of 48 inches (1219.2 mm) and a new maximum head size for woods of 470cc.
  • The Definition of Advice was amended to confirm that exchange of information on distance is not considered to be advice.
  • Rule 12-2: Players are permitted to lift a ball in a bunker or a water hazard to identify it, with a corresponding change to Rule 15-3 removing the exemption from penalty for playing a wrong ball in a hazard.
  • Rule 19-2: The penalty for a player’s ball being accidentally deflected or stopped by himself, his partner, either of their caddies or their equipment was reduced to one shot in both stroke play and match play.
For an overview of the most recent changes see my blog at;

If you are interested in researching when a particular Rule was changed I recommend you visit, You can find the full Rules that were in force for a particular year, or follow a Rule’s development and change over the years by selecting a topic.

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Many subscribers are asking me about the update to my book. I am working hard to update the 999 questions and answers with the recent amendments to the Rules and hope to have news on the availability of '999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2012 - 2015' and other related products in the next few weeks. Watch this space.

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