A new Local Rule is available as of April 2019. Thus, USGA and the R&A have issued a new “Clarification” (see all Clarifications here).
The local Rule is about the “back-on-the-line” relief option, which is applicable e.g. when proceeding under the Unplayable-ball-Rule (Rule 19) or the Penalty-area-Rule (Rule 17) – you can learn about this relief option in this video from “Oswald’s Golf Rules School”.
1. The Rules of Golf.
The Rules of Golf state that you must drop within one club-length of the line. Normally it is done in one of these two ways:
a) Find a spot on the line, mark it (e.g. with a tee) and drop a ball within one club-length of that spot, not nearer the hole. This is the recommended procedure.
b) Simply just drop a ball on the line or within one club-length of the line (i.e. without marking a spot).
How to find the relief area (i.e. the area in which the ball must land and must end) depends on which of the two above mentioned procedures, you have used:
Procedure a): The relief area is one club-length from the marked spot on the line, not nearer the hole.
Procedure b): The relief area is one club-length from (and not nearer the hole than) the spot on the line, which is in the same distance from the hole as the spot, where the ball landed in the drop. This way seems a bit complicated – but the reason for this procedure probably is that they wanted to ensure, that the ball never is dropped more than one club-length from the line!
If you play your ball from outside this relief area, you play from a wrong place (Rule 14.7) (see this video from Oswald’s Rules School), which as a starting point costs two penalty strokes in stroke play and lost hole in match play.
2. The new Local Rule.
The new Local Rule states, that there is no penalty for playing from a wrong place, as long as the ball (dropped inside the correct relief area) does not end (and thereby is not played from) a spot more than one club-length from the spot, where it landed (in the relief area).
This is true even if the ball rolled closer to the hole!
A bit weird that the principle that you must not play your ball from outside the relief area is thereby departed. The explanation to this probably must be found in the fact that quite a few players this year have proceeded applying the procedure mentioned in section 1.b above, which means that (without such a Local Rule) a they were obliged to re-drop, if the ball rolled any distance closer to the hole in the drop (and if they did not, they were playing from a wrong place). Maybe they found that inconvenient – maybe too many players thereby played from a wrong place – and thus if the new Local Rule is applied, players will not be penalized in such situations (as long as it stayed and was played from within the one club-length).
3. The wording.
The complete wording of the Local Rule is this:
When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.
This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).
This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.
4. Should we apply it?
I don’t know what to think about this Local Rule. Probably I would recommend clubs not to get such a Local Rule in operation, since…
1) … in general I think a club should have as few Local Rules as possible.
2) … the Local Rule is quite difficult to understand and apply.
3) … it (for me, at least) is not clear, why this Local Rule only has been made available under the back-on-the-line relief option, and not also under the “stroke-and-distance” or under the sideways-relief option.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts of this Local Rule in the comment section below.