How the 2023 Golf Rules changes affect your game

2023 Rules Changes

How the 2023 Golf Rules Changes affect your game

The R&A and USGA announce an update to the Rules of Golf, which will come into effect on 1 January 2023.

The new rule updates are part of the R&A's regular four-year review process of modernisation. In 2023, they will include relaxed penalties in certain situations, and modified language to make the rules clearer to understand. Also, they will feature modified Rules for players with disabilities.

2023 Rules of Golf Infographic

Key 2023 Golf Rules changes include:

  • Modifications for Players with Disabilities: The modifications to the Rules for players with disabilities are in effect for all players who fall under the categories covered in Rule 25.
  • Handicap Usage in Stroke Play: Players are no longer required to show their handicap on their scorecard in stroke play. The Committee will be responsible for calculating the player’s handicap strokes. They will use that to calculate the player’s net score.
  • Club Damaged During Round: The Rule now allows a player to replace a club that is damaged during a round. This is provided that the player did not damage it through abuse.
  • The "Rickie Fowler Rule": Ball Moved by Natural Forces: A new Exception provides that a ball at rest must be replaced if it moves to another area of the course or comes to rest out of bounds after being dropped, placed or replaced.

    This is casually referred to as the Rickie Fowler rule, following an incident in 2019. At the WM Phoenix Open, Fowler's chip on the 11th ran through the green and into the water. Fowler took a penalty drop onto a steep bank (placing it after two initial efforts rolled into the water). As he walked up to the green to plan his next shot, his ball rolled down the bank and back into the water. He took penalty relief again and went on to record a triple bogey. This new "exception" helps to alleviate this type of bad luck.

  • Simplified Back-on-the-Line Relief

    This relief procedure, often used for penalty area and unplayable ball relief, is now simplified. The ball is now dropped on the line, and may roll up to one club-length in any direction. EVEN IF IT ROLLS CLOSER TO THE HOLE. (Previously, a drop could be taken anywhere within one club length, but if the ball rolled forward, it would have to be re-dropped.) Now, a re-drop is not required. This change represents a return to the easy-to-apply, pre-2019 process.

Video: Penalty Area Relief

Video: Unplayable Ball

2023 Golf Rules Back on Line

Hard Copy Rulebooks to be discontinued

Hard copies of the rules will no longer be distributed to club members. In future, access to the Rules will be via R&A-approved websites and apps. Golf Australia is currently working with the R&A to upgrade the GA Handicap App to include 2023 R&A Rules content. The work on the GA Handicap App is projected to be completed in February 2023.

Until then, to access to the 2023 Rules, golfers are encouraged to use the new R&A Rules of Golf app:

Golf Rules Resources

Golf Basics – Your Guide to Golf Handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

The beginner’s guide to golf handicaps

Golf Ball and driver

Whether you’re brand-new to golf, or have played the occasional social game with friends, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “Golf Handicaps” mentioned at some point .

But just what is a golf handicap? And why is it important?

What is a handicap?

In Brief: A number that shows a golfer's (general) skill level.

More Depth: Basically, a Handicap is a numerical rating (usually between 0-54 for amateurs) that indicates how many strokes “over par” you are likely to shoot in a round of golf. Most courses, for example, have a “par” of 72. A golfer with a handicap of 0 (also known as a “scratch” golfer) regularly shoots somewhere around 72 strokes in a round. A golfer with a handicap of 18, on the other hand, usually shoots in the vicinity of 90 shots (i.e. 18 shots more than the par of 72).  True beginners are given the maximum handicap (54), and this number goes down as the player improves.

How are Golf Handicaps calculated?

In Brief: An average of the 8 best scores from your last 20 rounds.

More Depth: Handicaps are essentially calculated by the computer looking at your last 20 rounds of golf, picking the eight lowest rounds, and the determining the “average” of those eight.

Your handicap is re-calculated after every round you play. It can go up or down depending on the average of those eight rounds. For example, if you play really well, the average will go down, and your handicap will reduce).

The beauty of the global handicapping system is that it is all automated via a sophisticated computer system managed by Golf Australia (The country’s national governing body). So, you don’t have to crunch any of the numbers yourself.

Why have a handicap?

In Brief: To compete against other golfers on an "even" playing field.

More Depth: One of the great things about golf is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Whether your age is 8 or 88, you can enjoy the great game of golf. But if you want to play against another golfer—especially one that is more experienced than you—then a handicap can effectively “level the playing field”. For example: An 18-handicapper who shoots 90 gets to subtract 18 shots off their final score following the round. Thus, they have a nett score of 72. If a scratch player shoots, say, a 73, then the 18-marker is the winner by one shot.

Is my handicap good at just one course, or any course?

In Brief: Any course on Earth.

More Depth: Once established, your handicap is valid at any course around the world. However, the number of strokes you get on the day will vary slightly from course to course. On easy courses, for example, an 18-handicapper may only get, say, 16 shots. Whereas on a very difficult course, that same player may get, say, 21 (or more) shots. You can also get more or fewer shots if you play from a different set of tees on a course. For example, while women traditionally play from the red-coloured tees, most courses these days are rated for women to play from the “longer” tees. These can be white, blue or even the extremely long black tees (also known as playing from “the tips”). If you play from a longer set of tees, you will get more handicap strokes for that that round.

How do I get a handicap:

In Brief: Click here

More Depth: There has never been an easier or better time to get a golf handicap. In the past, getting a handicap required you to become a member of a private club. Today, however, you simply need to apply for a handicap via an official, nationally-recognised handicap provider (like SGA) and pay your handicap fee. Then begin playing golf. After every round you play, your score will be submitted to Golf Australia’s GOLFLink system for calculation. Note: Just like getting your L plates for driving a car, to establish your handicap you’ll need to play golf with someone who already has a handicap, and they will mark your score. Once you have submitted your first three rounds (the minimum to get started), your introductory handicap will be calculated. It’s that simple.

For more information on the handicap system, visit the Golf Australia website:

For more information on getting an official handicap through Social Golf Australia, click here.

Golf Basics – Your Guide to Golf Scoring formats

The Golf Beginner's Guide to Scoring

When marking your score, there are various golf scoring formats played in Australia. Here are the most common, and how they work.


One of the simplest golf scoring formats. You simply play each golf hole, then mark the total number of strokes taken. At the end of a round, your gross score (i.e. all shots) is totalled, and your handicap is deducted to calculate the nett score. The player who completes the round with the least nett strokes is the winner.


A standard Stableford card, showing the scores for both a 7 marker and a 20 marker
A standard Stableford card, showing the scores for both a 7 marker and a 20 marker

This is a basic points-based system, and the most common of golf scoring formats in Australia. Instead of aiming for the lowest total/nett score (as in stroke play, above), a golfer aims to accumulate the highest number of total points in a round. Points are awarded on each hole, depending on how well you score.

The points system goes like this:

  • Double-bogey or higher= No points (also known as a "wipe")
  • Bogey= 1 point
  • Par= 2 points
  • Birdie= 3 points
  • Eagle=4 points
  • Albatross=5 points

Let's say you are a scratch golfer (i.e. handicap of 0). If you score a par on every hole, you will end up with 36 points. (i.e. 2 points per hole x 18 holes = 36 points).  If you had scored 16 pars and had two birdies, your total would be 38 points, etc.

What about players with handicaps?

As part of the World Handicap System, at nearly every course around the world, each hole is ranked 1-18 by difficulty. The hardest hole is ranked number 1, while the easiest hole is ranked 18th, etc.  The ranking is called a hole's index, and they are listed on the scorecard (sometimes they are called the Hole's Handicap Index.)

Here's where it gets interesting: The index on the scorecard determines how many strokes a player receives on the hole, depending on their handicap. These strokes are like "extra shots" that give you a better chance of scoring points.


Let's say a player has a GolfLink Handicap of 5. He or she will thus get a shot on the 5 hardest holes as noted by the course scorecard (again, every course has all 18 holes "indexed" from 1 (hardest) to 18 (easiest).).

The player approaches the first hole of the day (let's say it is a par-4), and sees that it has an index of 3 (i.e. the third-hardest hole on the course). He or she thus gets a stroke on the hole. Let's say this player takes 5 shots on the hole. In stroke golf, this would be a bogey. However, in Stableford, since the player gets a stroke on the hole, their "nett" score is 4 (i.e. 5 shots minus the handicap stroke). Therefore, they have made a "nett par" and get two points.

On the scorecard, the player marks "5" for score (i.e. actual strokes), and marks 2 in the points column.

If, on that same hole, the player had taken 6 shots, then they would mark 6 for score, and 1 in points. However, If they had taken 4 shots (gross par), they would mark 4 for score, and 3 for points (nett birdie).

Scores are totalled and the player with the best (highest) stableford score is the winner.

Par (or vs Par)

A "Vs Par" Scorecard, showing the +/0/- scoring for a 7-marker and a 20-marker
A "Vs Par" Scorecard, showing the +/0/- scoring for a 7-marker and a 20-marker

Par is similar to the stableford scoring above, in that you use the hole indexes to determine if you get a shot on a hole. However, there are only three possibile outcomes for a hole:

  • Win (also called a "plus", scored as a +)
  • Half (also called a "tie", scored as a 0)
  • Lose (also called a "minus", scored as a -)

The stroke index on the scorecard (see Stableford, above) determines how many shots a player receives on the hole depending on their handicap. A hole is either won, lost or halved, depending on your your stroke score.


Let's say a player has a GolfLink Handicap of 5. He or she will thus get a shot on the 5 hardest holes as noted by the course scorecard (again, every course has all 18 holes "indexed" from 1 (hardest) to 18 (easiest).).

The player approaches the first hole of the day (let's say it is a par-4), and sees that it has an index of 3 (i.e. the third-hardest hole on the course). He or she thus gets a stroke on the hole. Let's say this player takes 5 shots on the hole. In Par format, since the player gets a stroke on the hole, their "nett" score is 4 (i.e. 5 shots minus the handicap stroke). Therefore, they have made a "nett par", which gives the player a 0 (i.e a Half or Tie).

On the scorecard, the player marks "5" for score (i.e. actual strokes), and marks 0 in the points column.

If, on that same hole, the player had taken 6 shots, then they would mark 6 for score, and a minus (-) in points. However, If they had taken 4 shots (gross par), they would mark 4 for score, and a plus (+) for points (nett birdie).

Scores are totalled and the player with the best (highest) points score is the winner.
For more on golf scoring formats, and how they work with golf handicaps, see our Golf Handicaps FAQs page

Golf Basics – Pace of Play: Quick Golf Tips for a quicker round

Quick Golf Tips for a Quicker Golf Round


Slow play is one of the most frustrating aspects of golf. Here are some ways that you can speed up your pace of play, and make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Remember “The ABCs” of Pace of Play

To help ensure your group has a quick 18, always follow the ABCs throughout your round:

  • Be ALERT: continually pay attention to the position of your group, the group ahead, and the group behind. (…and aim to keep up with the group ahead, and NOT just ahead of the group behind)
  • Be BUSY: Don’t just stand there. Always be doing something. (Whether choosing a club, or preparing to hit, etc.)
  • Be COURTEOUS: Remember that there’s a full field of golfers all around you. Your pace can affect every other golfer on the course.

With that in mind, here are some tips, tricks and practices to ensure a speedy round:


  • Be at the course as early as you can. Don’t rock up late.
  • Be at your first tee at least 10 minutes before your scheduled tee time. (early = on time. On time = late)
  • Chat with your playing partners about all being mindful of pace of play.
  • Determine which player in your group is the low marker. That person will be ultimately responsible for your group’s Pace of Play.


Play “Ready Golf”. (The traditional tee “Honours” are a thing of the past - except in Match Play).

  • If the fairway/green ahead is clear, then someone in your group should already be hitting.
  • If the group ahead is still in range of the longer hitters, then the shorter hitters should play first (if safe)
  • When it’s your turn, be immediately ready to hit your shot. (You should have your club in hand, ready to swing.)


Lost balls are a main contributor to slow play. So…

  • When you hit your ball, watch the ball UNTIL IT STOPS MOVING.
  • If a wayward ball lands in the rough/trees, etc, immediately choose a landmark (bush, tree, rock, etc) near the spot and note it aloud to your playing partners.
  • Have each player do the same for EVERY BALL IN YOUR GROUP. (8 eyes are better than 2)
  • If in doubt, hit a provisional.


  • When looking for a lost ball, note the position/distance of the other balls played in the group – this may help determine the distance of the lost ball (noting that rough/weeds/etc will lessen the distance, while hardpan/paths may increase it.)
  • If a player has lost a ball, it may sometimes be advantageous for another player in the group (i.e. a shorter hitter) to first play their shot before helping the partner look for their lost ball.
  • If you find a player’s ball, and they are not nearby, consider placing a hat or other object near it to “keep it found”.
  • The rules of golf allow three minutes to search for a lost ball. Thus, when your three minutes are up, they're up. Either take a wipe for the hole, go to your provisional (if taken) or take your penalty drop, etc.
    • NOTE: If a ball is indeed lost, and a Provisional has NOT been taken, you may take a drop according to the special Model Local Rule E5 (AKA the "Irish Drop Rule", SGA Has adopted this rule for all events)



  • Each member of your group should go directly to their ball. Avoid travelling from one ball to the other (unless helping to search for a lost ball.)
  • When sharing a cart, don’t be sitting around, waiting for your cart partner to hit. Instead, drive to one ball and drop off the player (with their rangefinder and a few clubs) and then go to the second ball while they do their pre-shot routine.
  • After hitting, walk/drive quickly to your ball.
  • Plan your next shot on the way to your ball, so you are immediately ready to hit.
  • If the group in front of you is more than one shot ahead (i.e. if they are on the green of a par-4 before you even tee off) you need to speed it up.
  • As above, watch every shot from every player, until their ball stops.



  • If a player in your group is in a bunker, perhaps let them play first. This will allow them time for raking/tidying the bunker while you play your shot.
  • If two players are in the same bunker, one player can offer to rake/tidy for both players’ shots.
  • If a player blades/skulls a shot into trouble, another player can offer to rake the bunker for them while they move to their next shot.


  • Begin reading slopes/breaks for your putt as you approach the green.
  • Always park your cart/buggy on the side of the green closest to the next tee (so you can get to the next tee as quickly as possible). Don’t leave it in front of the green, etc.
  • Take multiple clubs whenever necessary (i.e. if you’re in a green-side bunker, take your wedge and your putter from the cart.
  • If you have brought multiple clubs to the green, place them on/near the green, on a direct line back towards your cart/bag (so you can get them on the way, after you are done putting, instead of running all around).


  • Read the speed/break while your partners are playing their shots.
  • When it’s your turn, be ready to putt immediately.
  • If you miss a putt, don’t stand there angrily. Watch the ball go past the hole (to determine the break for your come-backer) and quickly prepare for your next shot.
  • If you have a tap-in, then quickly tap it in (instead of marking it and waiting).
  • The first player to putt out should manage the flagstick, and/or look ahead to the next tee.
  • If you’ve fallen behind the group ahead of you, have a player (or two) in your group putt out, and hurry to the next tee while the others are putting. Don't wait for all players to finish the hole.
  • If your group has fallen well behind, then let the group behind you hit up or play through.
  • As you leave the green, always look for any golf clubs that you or the group may have left behind (i.e. wedge, chipper, etc.)
  • Mark the scorecard at the next tee, not at the green.


  • If you are out of a hole (i.e. taken too many shots to score), and the comp allows it, and your group has fallen behind, then pick up and move on.


  • If a player or players in your group are being a bit slow, don’t be afraid to speak up. A friendly and casual statement like “We should all get a wriggle on -- we are a bit behind the group in front” is usually sufficient. Especially if you have all discussed slow play on the first tee.

If we all take some (or all) of these Pace of Play pointers onto the course, then we can all enjoy the game together.

Video Fun: Don't be like Peter!

Not all hazards are found on the golf course itself. Some come from the players!

We all know (or play with) someone who has an exceptionally long pre-shot routine, like "Peter", in the video below.

So, the next time you play, don't be like Peter.

If the video doesn't load, click here

Golf Basics – Repairing a pitch mark

Fixing a Pitch Mark

Golf Basics - Repairing a Pitch Mark

Repairing a pitch mark on a green is one of the most effective ways to preserve the overall playing quality of a course. Here is how to do it properly.

Fixing a Pitch Mark

It takes only a few seconds to fix a pitch mark, yet many players fail to do it properly (and they are usually the ones who complain the most about bumpy greens).

Here is the correct process for repairing a pitch mark on a green:

Step 1: Have the right tool

A dedicated ball mark repair tool is the best item for the task, though you could also use a tee, small knife, key or anything relatively thin.

Step 2: Spot the Spot

After you hit your approach shot to the green, take note where the ball initially lands on the green. This can be different from where the ball comes to rest (after bouncing and rolling, etc). As you approach the green,  keep an eye on that spot.

Step 3: Push and Twist (DON'T lift)

Insert the ball repair tool into the outer edge of the mark, at a 45-degree angle. Gently work the turf back into place by pushing forward towards the crater, with a slight twisting motion.

Note: Do NOT attempt to lift the bottom of the crater back up – this will tear the roots of the grass.

Repeat the repair for the entire circumference of the pitch mark.

Step 4: Pat pat pat

Pat down the repaired area with your putter until the mark is as smooth and even as the surrounding surface.

Step 5: Fix another

Always aim to repair at least one or two more ball marks on the green. Again, it only takes a few seconds, but can make all the difference to the course.


  • Unrepaired ball marks can take weeks to heal (if at all)
  • Incorrectly “repaired” ball marks can take up to twice as long to heal as those that are properly repaired.
  • It isn’t just about etiquette. It’s our obligation to take care of the golf courses we play.

Repairing a Pitch Mark - USGA Video

Golf Basics – Raking a bunker

Raking a bunker

Golf Basics - Raking a bunker

Raking a bunker is a critical part of golf, as it promotes fair play for other golfers. Doing it properly -- entering, raking and exiting -- also helps maintain the playability and health of the golf course.

Here’s how to do it correctly.

Raking a bunker

Find the rake before entering

Before you enter, look for the nearest rake. This will save you time later. Also note whether it is inside or outside of the bunker (every course has different rules). This will ensure you can replace it in the same manner.

If you can, grab the rake and bring it into the bunker with you.  This will save you more time and effort.

Entering a bunker - find the low point

Where you enter the bunker is critical to protecting the sand, and the turf around it.

You should always enter and exit the bunker from the area nearest your ball. Enter from the low side, or the side level with the playing surface.  Some courses even have steps, signs or indicators.  If you enter or exit from the wrong area, like the high side, it can result in serious damage to the lip of the bunker. This can also displace more sand from the face than is necessary. It's also more dangerous.

Tidy as you go

Prior to your shot, you are allowed to tidy up your footprints on the way to the ball if necessary. (Note: there are specific rules against "testing the conditions" of sand in a bunker. To ensure you don't violate the rules, be sure to only use the rake to "Tidy Up", and only your own footprints.) You can place the rake in the sand near your ball before your shot.

How to rake (properly)

After you play your shot (or shots!) from the bunker, begin raking over every disrupted spot in the sand. This includes your footprints, impact zone(s), etc. The proper procedure is to push and pull sand evenly (using both the tines of the rake and even the flat top as well). The direction you mow is also important:

  • Greenside bunkers are usually raked in the direction of play or toward the centre of the green.
  • Fairway bunkers are raked parallel to play from tee to green.

Walking backwards, rake along your path as you exit the bunker.  Be careful not to pull too much sand toward you – if this happens, then simply push some sand away from you. The goal is to leave a completely even surface, in better condition than when you entered.

Replace the rake

To finish, simply step out of the bunker, making sure to repair your exit footprints, and then replace the rake where you found it.

Note: Most courses have local rules about placement of rakes – some prefer rakes to remain inside the bunker, while others prefer out. The general rule is to place the rake in an area that is least likely to influence the movement of a ball. When in doubt, check the scorecard or noticeboard.

Properly raking and maintaining a bunker not only ensures that your course stays in good condition, but it also “pays it backwards” and allows the players behind you to have a fair shot at getting out.

Video Tip - Raking a Bunkder