Every four years, the United States Golf Association (USGA, now partnering with the R&A) releases a revision to the Rules of Golf. The changes can range from a small revision of a rule to the addition of a new rule or the elimination of a rule. In a rare, but not unprecedented move, the USGA and R&A announced the addition of a local rule to the 2016-2019 edition of the Rules of Golf.
The local rule, effective January 1st, 2017, gives courses, golf organizations, and rules committees the option to remove the penalty for a player accidentally moving his ball or marker on the putting green. However, the movement of the ball MUST be on the putting green and accidental.
Normally, a player would face a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 or Rule 20-1. Now, a player may replace his/her mark or ball to its original position without penalty. This local rule also includes provisions for replacing the ball without penalty if the player’s caddie, equipment, or opponent accidentally moves the ball.
The USGA’s CEO, Mike Davis, stated in an interview with Golf Digest that this local rule was the result of the USGA’s policy of reviewing and simplifying the Rules of Golf while also treating the putting green differently from different parts of the course. Mike Davis also stated that the USGA added this local rule to address a number of incidents where players were penalized for their ball moving on the green, most notably Dustin Johnson at the 2016 U.S. Open.
Mike Davis said that the USGA will adopt this rule at all of its tournaments starting January 1st, 2017, and that the rule will most likely be implemented in most major golf tournaments including PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events.
As always, there are a few caveats to this rule. Firstly, the ball must be moved accidentally and must not be moved via any intentional action on behalf of the player, the player’s caddie, or the player’s opponent. Also, players may face a two-stroke penalty for playing from the wrong place if they forget to replace their ball. Furthermore, if the ball moves because of natural causes, such as wind or water, the player must play the ball from its new position, but still without penalty.
Additionally, this local rule is just that, a local rule, meaning that it must be adopted by the rules committee or organization conducting the tournament that you’re playing in.
Nextgengolf and the NCCGA will be implementing this local rule for all tournaments effective January 1st, 2017.