Golf Rule Changes for 2023

These rules changes for 2023 will bring more forgiveness, inclusivity to the game.

When the big ball drops on New Year’s Eve, a few updates will be dropped into the Rules of Golf.

The modifications, which take effect on Jan. 1, are part of an ongoing effort by the USGA and the R&A to make the game’s guidelines easier to understand and apply, and more in sync with the way that golf is played today.

These latest tweaks emphasize inclusion and sustainability, and include updates to rules for golfers with disabilities. Penalties have been relaxed as well, and language has been clarified to help golfers of all skill levels.

Here’s an overview of the changes.

1. Modifications for players with disabilities

The current Rules make a number of accommodations for players with disabilities. (A blind player, for example, can have an aide help with marking and alignment). But these are treated as local rules that committees can enact if they wish. As of Jan. 1, the modifications will become part of the Rules, meaning that they will always be in effect for all players with disabilities covered in the guidelines. No need to have a local committee adopt them.

2. No penalty if you don’t write your handicap on your scorecard

Long gone are the days when scores were kept exclusively with pencil and paper. The rise of scorekeeping apps and other technology has changed all that. In recognition of the new reality, players will no longer be penalized for failing to put their handicap on their scorecard in stroke play. It will be up to the committee overseeing play to ensure the accuracy of handicaps and their application.

3. Go ahead and replace that damaged club

Crack your driver with your DeChambeau-like swing speed? No problem. As of Jan. 1, you’ll be allowed to replace it, or any other club that you damage during a round. There’s just one caveat. The damage must be inadvertent. If you shatter your driver in anger, or snap your putter across your knee, you’re out of luck. Temper, temper, people. The governing bodies are trying to help you. But you also need to help yourself. 

4. More forgiveness for a ball moved by natural forces

At the 2019 Waste Management Open, Rickie Fowler made a bizarre triple bogey after a ball he’d dropped on a bank by the green rolled back into the water as he was walking up to survey his next shot. Rules are rules. And under the guidelines as they’re currently written, those are the breaks: A ball that moves due to natural forces is played as it lies (except on the green, where it is replaced). If it happens to lie in the water or out of bounds, tough luck. The player’s only option is to take stroke-and-distance relief. Come Jan. 1, that rule will change. Under a new exception, a ball that rolls to another area of the course or comes to rest out of bounds will be put back where it was before natural forces moved it. No penalty.

5. Simpler procedure for back-on-line relief

When you knock a ball into a penalty area or an unplayable spot, the drop you take is known as back-on-line relief. And the procedure for it can get complicated and time-consuming. If, for example, you drop the ball as it rolls closer to the hole, you have to drop again. Come Jan. 1, the procedure will be more forgiving. Your ball merely must come to rest within one club-length of where you drop it, even if it is one club-length closer to the hole.

In an eco-conscious gesture, the governing bodies are promoting online access to the Rules while reducing the number of printed books they produce. For more information on the changes and to review the official 2023 Rules of Golf, you can click here.