Back on the line relief, what dies it mean and what has changed in 2023? Fed up of having to re-drop when trying to use this relief procedure? Our expert reveals how that will all soon be a thing of the past

2023 Rules of Golf

Take the spot of the ball, or the last estimated point of entry, line it up with the hole and then start moving backwards. We can all take back-on-the-line relief without really thinking about it.

But the new 2023 Rules of Golf brought a significant change to the way we use this relief option. Let’s take a look…

What did the old back-on-the-line relief rule say?

Whether it was taking penalty area relief in Rule 17, or unplayable ball relief in Rule 19, the procedure was basically similar. You took a reference line going straight back from the hole and then dropped in a one club relief area. If the ball did not come to rest in that relief area it had to be re-dropped.

There was also a Model Local Rule which allowed committees to provide no penalty in specific circumstances when a ball was played outside that area after taking back-on-the-line relief.

In that case, as long as the ball was dropped in the relief area and came to rest within one club length of where it first touched the ground a player wouldn’t be penalised for playing from a wrong place.

That Local Rule also essentially gave players a choice – allowing them to play it from where it came to rest or also re-drop if the ball was outside the relief area but within one club length from where it first touched the ground when dropped.

It was one of the few examples in golf where players essentially got to have another go if they didn’t like where their ball ended up.

Back-on-the-line relief. Golfer by water

What does the new back-on-the-line relief rule say?

The change is reflected in Rule 14.3b (Ball must be dropped in the right way), Rule 16.1c (2) (Playing from outside bunker), Rule 17.1d (2) (Back-on-the-line relief in penalty areas), Rule 19.2b (Unplayable ball) and Rule 19.3 (Unplayable ball in bunker), as well as in the definition of relief area.

It says the player must drop the ball on the line and the spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground “creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that spot”.

So, to be clear, that can also be forward.

The ability to re-drop that was in the Model Local Rule has been removed. If the ball comes to rest within that one club length, it’s now in play.

What’s the R&A view on the change?

Grant Moir, R&A director of rules, says: “We agonised over the back-on-the-line rule in the lead up to 2019. We wanted that relief procedure to be very much part of the relief procedure family, so that you were always dropping within a relief area that was one club length.

“When the new rules came in, we recognised that there was potential for penalty more often than we would have wanted and that resulted in us introducing the Model Local Rule.

“Reflecting on it, I think what we just had to accept was that back-on-the-line is a unique relief procedure – its own relief procedure – rather than trying to finesse it into the standard relief procedure.

“It now does what it says on the tin. It’s back-on-the-line and then you drop on that line and it can roll up to one club-length in any direction.”

NCG Verdict

This is a very sensible change, if you think about it logically. If you’re taking back-on-the-line relief – and so going backwards to drop – what does it matter if the ball bounces slightly forwards and out of the relief area? You are still behind where the ball had initially come to rest, whether that was a penalty area, a bush, or a bunker.

The addition of the Model Local Rule paved the way for this change in the 2023 Rules of Golf, but I also agree wholeheartedly with the removal of the choice of whether to play the ball or drop again.

It always sat strangely, given how golfers must normally accept their lies when dropping, that here was essentially a chance at a mulligan.

These changes will speed up taking back-on-the-line relief and make it simpler for players to follow.

What do you think of the changes to back-on-the-line relief? Will it make it easier for you out on the course? Let me know with a tweet.

More on the 2023 Rules of Golf update

We’ve painstakingly been through every update to make sure you have everything you need to know about the biggest changes, from penalties in Stableford, handicaps on scorecards, back-on-the-line relief, and much, much more.

Rules of Golf podcast

Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin sat down to discuss the 2023 updates on the From the Clubhouse podcast.

Listen in the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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