Principal Changes - Code Two (December 17, 2012)

Abnormal Ground Conditions

The Definition is amended to deem a hole made by any animal (whether a 'burrowing animal' or not) to be an abnormal ground condition. Previously the Rules did not grant automatic relief from a hole made by a non-burrowing animal (e.g., a dog) — why not? Why should a hole made by a gopher be treated differently from a hole made by a cat?

Addressing the Ball

The Definition is withdrawn as it is no longer a relevant factor in any of the rules.


The Definition more narrowly defines "advice" by restricting it to counsel on the swing and/or club selection. Counsel on the line of play, line of putt and strategy are no longer advice.

Ball in Play

The Definition has been simplified as a result of the revised treatment of play of a ball from outside the teeing ground when starting the play of a hole (i.e., treating this situation the same as any other in which a stroke has been made from a wrong place).


Added Note 1 to authorize the Committee to clarify the status of areas that are similar to bunkers by allowing the Committee to deem (and/or mark) such areas as bunkers or as through the green. Added Note 2 to specify that a bunker that is deemed or marked as ground under repair loses its status as a hazard (formerly in Decision 25/13). This change was clearly inspired by the situation at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island with the 2012 PGA Championship, and there would now be authority in the Rules for what the PGA of America did. With a bunker that is ground under repair, where possible and reasonable, it is better for information to be in the Rules than in the Decisions, given that several million copies of the Rules book are in print, compared to 50,000 copied of the Decisions book.

Burrowing Animal

The Definition is withdrawn as it is no longer needed due to revision of Definition of "Abnormal Ground Conditions."

Environment of the Ball

Added Definition for use of rules that limit the player to playing the course as he finds it i.e., without making prohibited improvements to the Environment of the Ball. This Definition is added solely for economy of words - four words to stand in for 42 words.

Lateral Water Hazard

Removed the Definition of "Lateral Water Hazard" as the Rules no longer recognize different types of water hazards.


Specified that the tee-markers of the player's teeing ground are immovable obstructions during play of the hole. There has been too much confusion over the status of tee-markers and at what point they become movable obstructions. As it is so rare for a tee-marker to interfere with a ball in play, we thought it would be simpler to treat them as immovable obstructions during the entire play of that hole. The tee-markers for the other teeing grounds (e.g., the white tee-markers for someone playing from the blue tee-markers) are movable obstructions during play of the hole. Also, artificial objects located off the course (including objects that define out of bounds) are now obstructions from which the player can take relief. This change allows all artificial objects to be treated the same, regardless of whether they are located on or off the course. There has been much confusion over the years with regards to the status of boundary markers.

Provisional Ball

Eliminated Definition as there is no longer a reason to play a provisional ball due to the change in penalty (no points earned for that hole) when a ball is lost or out of bounds.

Standard Relief

Added Definition creating a common relief technique (subject to certain variations specified within the rule) for relief from Abnormal Ground Conditions, Obstructions, Water Hazards and when the player has deemed his Ball Unplayable.


Clarified the Definition regarding the status of aborted strokes (information previously contained in Decision 14/1.5).

Temporary Water

To find a term that better matches its meaning, "casual water" has been renamed temporary water.

Rule 1 — The Game

Specified that each hole is to be played on a points-basis (points awarded based on the player's score relative to a fixed score, generally 'par', for a hole). In stroke play, the points are summed to determine the winner; in match play, the winner is determined by the side that wins more holes (by earning the most points at a hole). The general penalty for a breach of a Rule is that no points are earned by the player at that hole — such a penalty eliminates the need to correct a breach of certain rules (e.g., play of a wrong ball). A 'no points' cap on most penalties allows for removal several of the more complicated aspects of the Rules of Golf (e.g., Rule 3-3 (Doubt As To Procedure) is no longer necessary as a player in stroke play need not protect himself from proceeding incorrectly and possibly being disqualified from the competition).

Rule 2 — Clubs

Required use of a driving club listed on the List of Conforming Driver Heads (formerly an optional condition of competition) to simplify the question of whether a player may use a certain driver. Allowed player to specify, before starting his round, that certain clubs in his possession are not part of his selected 14 clubs (reversing Decision 4-4c/1, perhaps the least popular Decision). Eliminated authority to repair or replace a club damaged in the normal course of play as rights under this Rule led to confusion (and the player does have as many as 13 other clubs to use). While a player may be disadvantaged by the loss of the use of one of his clubs, the simplification of the rule is warranted. If a player faces a shot from an awkward spot (e.g., against a tree root), he should consider that he might lose the use of that club for the rest of the round.

Rule 3 — Balls

Required use of a ball on the List of Conforming Golf Balls list (formerly an optional condition of competition) to simplify the question of whether a player may use a certain ball. Moved (and expanded) authority to clean a ball into this Rule (eliminating former Rule 21). For simplicity, a ball may be cleaned or substituted at all times when lifted under a Rule (including a ball lifted for identification or lifted due to being in a position to assist or interfere with play). Removed authority to substitute for a ball that is damaged during play of the current hole as, given the high quality of today's golf balls, that situation is rare and the Rule addressing it was lengthy.

Rule 4 — The Player

Tightened the requirement on the player for declaring (in match play) or recording (in stroke play) his correct handicap. The player is no longer excused from penalty for declaring or recording a lower handicap or a higher handicap than that to which he is entitled when the number of strokes received is unaffected. This simpler approach requires the player to state his handicap correctly. As the Rules do not absolve a player from penalty when he plays from a wrong place that disadvantaged himself, why should the Rules make a distinction with regards to clerical errors. Wrong is wrong.

Simplified discontinuance of play circumstances and procedures.

Rule 5 — Practice

Eliminated the differing treatment (match play vs. stroke play) regarding practice before the round in order to eliminate a prominent difference between the two forms of play. Eliminated authority for the player to make certain types of practice strokes during the round. The question as to where a player may practice and what type of strokes he may make has caused confusion. Also, why allow the player to practice some types of shots (chips and putts) but not other types of shots (e.g., full shots and bunker shots)?

Rule 6 — Advice; Indicating Line of Play

Amended to allow touching the putting green (without improving the line of putt) when indicating an aiming point. If the line is not improved, what's the harm in allowing it to be touched? Also, the restrictions on indicating the line of play and line of putt have been removed.

Rule 8 — Teeing Ground

Amended to state that tee-markers of the teeing ground to be used by the player are immovable obstructions throughout play of the hole. In match play, playing from outside the teeing ground when starting the play of hole results in a loss of hole penalty. In match play, if a player plays from a wrong place (e.g., four club-lengths from his nearest point of relief from a cart path), he loses the hole; why should the result be different when he does not play from the teeing ground? This change eliminates another wrinkle between match play and stroke play.

Rule 9 — Striking the Ball

Clarified 'fairly struck' (with information currently contained in Decision 14-1/4). Amended to narrow the focus on prohibited aids to those used in the stroke itself. Therefore, it is now permissible to use a swing aid for a practice swing. This change also allows the use of distance-measuring equipment (without adoption of a Local Rule) provided that any features of that equipment capable of gauging or measuring other conditions that affect play are not used. There has been a tremendous amount of confusion regarding the use of a distance-measuring device (whether a laser range-finer, a GPS device or an app for a smartphone). By eliminating the need for a Local Rule and allowing the use of any device as long as the non-conforming feature is not actually used, the situation becomes much simpler.

It is also permissible now to play a moving ball.

Rule 10 - Seeing Ball; Searching for Ball

Sanctioned the use of all reasonable actions (e.g., parting long grass, removing sand that may be covering a ball, probing in water) necessary to locate a ball. Eliminated the right to lift a ball for identification (formerly Rule 12-2) in order to eliminate from the Rules the complex procedure for such lifting. This change goes hand in hand with the elimination of the penalty for play of a wrong ball

Rule 11 — Ball Played as it Lies

Grouped Rules together relating to what the player may and may not do to the area affecting his play.

Moved 'removal of loose impediments' (formerly Rule 23-1) authorization into this Rule and expanded it to allow for removal regardless of the part of the course on which the ball lies (including in hazards).

Moved 'exerting influence on a ball in motion or altering physical conditions' (formerly Rule 1-2) into this Rule. Removed the universal restriction on touching the ground in a hazard in which the ball lies; however, players must not test such hazards by probing or by making practice swings that touch the ground. We felt that the prohibition against merely touching the ground in the hazard or water in a water hazard accomplished little other than frivolous penalties. The removal of the prohibitions against touching or moving loose impediments from the hazard in which the player's ball lies removes a complication from the Rules and as well as silly penalties (e.g., when a player removes a loose impediment in the hazard some distance from his ball). In this regard, loose impediments are now treated the same on all parts of the course.

Rule 12 — Substituted Ball; Wrong Ball

Allowed for the substitution of a ball whenever the original ball has been lifted to remove the disparate treatment that existed under the relief rules. Eliminated the penalty for the play of a wrong ball as part of the general theme of eliminating penalties for accidental occurrences that do not assist the player.

Rule 13 — The Putting Green

Removed general restriction against touching the line of putt as the mere act of touching (without improving) the line of putt yields little if any benefit. Knowingly making a stroke from the putting green while another ball is in motion is a breach regardless of whether it was the player's turn to play.

Rule 14 — The Flagstick

Removed 'unauthorized attendance' portion of the Rule as 'exerting influence' Rule addresses the situation.

Rule 15 — Ball at Rest Moved

Eliminated penalty for the accidental movement of a ball in play by the player or his partner as part of the general theme of eliminating penalties for accidental occurrences that do not assist the player.

Eliminated penalty when an opponent in match play moves a player's ball in play to remove a difference between match play and stroke play.

Rule 16 — Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped

Simplified rule by treating all accidental deflections the same way — no penalty and ball played as it lies (unless it comes to rest on a person or on clothing).

Rule 17 - Lifting and Placing; Playing from Wrong Place

Dropping is eliminated - the ball is placed always. As the penalty for playing from a wrong place is now no points earned for that hole, there is no longer a need to differentiate between a "regular" breach of playing from a wrong place and a "serious" breach of playing from a wrong place, and the complicated provisions regarding a serious breach have been eliminated.

Rule 18 — Ball Interfering with Play

Given that the principle behind the Rule is at odds with the principle of playing the course as you find it, the authority to have a ball lifted if the player believes it might assist the play of another player has been eliminated. Now, there is a ball in a location that might assist the player, that is his good fortune (although if that ball is on the putting green, its owner may lift it).

Rule 19 — Obstructions and Abnormal Ground Conditions

Combined former Rules 24 and 25 into a single rule as the relief procedures for immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions are essentially the same. Eliminated 'intervention on the line of putt' interference as this rare situation does not merit the complexity necessary to spell out relief from it. Simplified relief by adopting new 'Standard Relief' technique (also simplified relief for a ball in a bunker when complete relief is impossible).

Rule 20 - Embedded Ball; Aeration Holes; Seams of Cut Turf; Wrong Putting Green

Provided full-time relief for conditions that were covered by commonly adopted Local Rules. The R&A (British Open) is the only organization we know of that intentionally does not adopt the Local Rule for an embedded ball, and even then referees occasionally erroneously grant relief at the British Open. The Local Rules for seams of cut turf (sod seams) and aeration holes were moved from Appendix I as they address common situations encountered at most golf courses at some point during the season.

Rule 21 — Stroke and Distance; Ball Lost or Out of Bounds

Eliminated right to play a provisional ball as the penalty for a lost ball or a ball coming to rest out of bounds is no points earned for the hole (and thus a provisional ball has no relevance).

Rule 22 — Water Hazards

Amended to be consistent with the removal of the Definition of "Lateral Water Hazard." Now all water hazards are treated the same, eliminating the need for the tired question of "What is the difference between red and yellow stakes?" The previous justification for the differences of ensuring that certain holes (e.g., the 12th at Augusta National and 17th at TPC-Sawgrass) is not strong enough to let the confusion continue. In addition, the option (currently for a lateral water hazard) of dropping a ball on the opposite margin of the hazard was eliminated as the need for such a relief option is so rare.

Rule 26 — The Committee

Allowed for the combining of match play and stroke play provided that a ball must be holed in order for a player to earn points for that hole in the stroke play competition.

Rule 27 — Disputes and Decisions

Simplified the authority to apply a penalty of disqualification after the competition has closed. This change is much more severe than the current Rule, but it ensures that the same act receives the same treatment, regardless of whether the error is discovered five minutes or five days after the player returns his score card. Moved 'Equity' into this rule as application of equity is a Committee responsibility for resolving disputes and making decisions on matters not explicitly covered by the rules.

Appendix I

Removed redundancy by combining parts A & B into a single Appendix section. Deleted 'stones in bunkers' Local Rule as Rule 13-2 allows such removal. Deleted 'immovable obstruction close to putting green' Local Rule as allowing relief would be inconsistent with the removal of 'intervention interference' on the putting green from Rule 21-2. The Temporary Immovable Obstruction (TIO) specimen Local Rule is modified to specify that TIOs are a class of immovable obstructions and that Rule 21-2 applies for relief when physical interference, as described by that Rule, exists i.e., the Local Rule is used when the TIO solely intervenes. The one club-length intervention zone was also eliminated for TIOs.

Appendix IV

The section dealing with gauging and measuring conditions affecting play has been modified to reflect that distance-measuring devices are permitted (without the need for a Local Rule) and that such devices may contain other capabilities provided the player does not use those capabilities to gauge or measure conditions other than distance that may affect his play. This change treats distance-measuring devices the same way other items are that have non-conforming functions (e.g., a player may wear a watch that has a compass function on it as long as he does not use the compass function).