Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Immovable Obstruction or Integral to the Course?

Nick Faldo playing from the road on 17th hole, St. Andrews
I received a question last week similar to this;
I have noticed that on some score cards Club Committees identify immovable obstructions from which free relief can be taken under Rule 24-2, e.g. cart paths, maintenance shed, sprinkler heads and manhole covers. But other immovable obstructions on the course are not listed, e.g. ball washers, fixed furniture and permanent course signage. Does this mean that anything artificial and not easily movable is integral to the course if not included in the list?
I have often wondered why some Committees feel the need to condense a Rule of Golf (in this case Rule 24-2) into a few words and incorrectly include it as a Local Rule on their score cards. Appendix l, Part A, Local Rules, includes this sentence;
As provided in Rule 33-8a, the Committee may make and publish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy established in this Appendix.
Here is the Definition of Obstructions;
An "obstruction" is anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice, except:
a.    Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes and railings;
b.    Any part of an immovable artificial object that is out of bounds; and
c.    Any construction declared by the Committee to be an integral part of the course.

An obstruction is a movable obstruction if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage. Otherwise, it is an immovable obstruction.

Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule declaring a movable obstruction to be an immovable obstruction.
It is evident from this definition that most obstructions are definitely not local abnormal conditions, though the note at the foot of the Definition provides an exception. An example of a movable obstruction that may be defined as an immovable obstruction is a water hazard stake, Decision 33-8/16. However, this Local Rule is not recommended, as it may result in players who are not aware of this unusual practice being penalised under Rule 13-2 for moving such a stake.

Another reason for not listing immovable obstructions in a Local Rule is that it is almost certain that there will be omissions, as in the question above, where ball washers, fixed furniture and permanent course signage were not included in the list, though free relief from them is available under Rule 24-2. Even if a totally comprehensive list is provided, other unforeseen instances can arise, e.g. a golf course mower that has broken down on a fairway.

Ideally, to avoid unnecessary confusion, the only reference to obstructions in Local Rules should be where an immovable obstruction is defined as being integral to the course. So, for example, a Local Rule for the Old Course, St. Andrews Links, states;

Roads and Paths (Rule 28):
All roads and paths are integral parts of the course. The ball must be played as it lies or declared unplayable.
As a pedant (!), I recommend that St. Andrews Links Trust should remove the word ‘declared’ and replaced it with ‘deemed’, which is more accurate, according to the wording of Rule 28.

In summary, my recommendation to Golf Club Committees is that they check their Local Rules and remove anything that is already covered by the Rules of Golf, especially anything contained therein that does not deal with local abnormal conditions.

Video Example of a Rule 18-5 Incident:
Click here and scroll down to view a short video of Rickie Fowler’s bouncing ball hitting Jordan Spieth’s stationary ball on the putting green at last week’s Tour Championship by Coca-Cola. The action provides an excellent reminder of Rule 18-5;

If a ball in play and at rest is moved by another ball in motion after a stroke, the moved ball must be replaced.
Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Conceding the Next Stroke

In the Solheim Cup spotlight – Dan Maselli, LPGA Rules Official

I am sure that the title of this week’s blog will not have come as a surprise to most regular readers. It was unfortunate that another wonderful match play tournament between teams representing the USA and Europe will be remembered for a single Rules incident, rather than for the truly magnificent golf and the nail-biting final day’s singles matches that was on show at the Solheim Cup at St. Leon-Rot, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Many readers will have had their fill of the detail of the incident that occurred between Alison Lee and Suzann Pettersen, on the 17th putting green on Sunday, with a variety of opinions that are heavily weighted against the two European players and their captain, so I will restrict my own opinion to the bare minimum.
•    The referee’s ruling was absolutely correct (click here to hear LPGA Referee, Dan Maselli, explain his ruling in detail).
•    The putt was not conceded under the Rules as nothing was said by either player on the opponent’s side.
•    At worst, the Europeans should have recognised the misunderstanding and requested that the ball be replaced and putted out, without penalty, although this is not strictly provided for in the Rules in the circumstance that prevailed.
Now for a summary of the Rule 2-4 issues relating to the concession of the next stroke, usually made on the putting green; I am not covering the additional points relating to the concession of a hole or a match in this blog.
•    A player may concede their opponent's next stroke at any time, provided the opponent's ball is at rest. The opponent is considered to have holed out with their next stroke, and the ball may be removed by either side.
•    A concession may not be declined or withdrawn under any circumstances.
•    In a four-ball or foursome, either partner may make the concession.
•    No-one else has the authority to make a concession (e.g. a caddie, team captain or spectator).
•    If a player makes a statement (note, not an action) that could reasonably have led their opponent to think their next stroke had been conceded, in equity (Rule 1-4), the opponent should replace their ball as near as possible to where it lay, without penalty. Decision 2-4/3 is relevant;
Q. In a match between A and B, B made a statement which A interpreted to mean that his (A's) next stroke was conceded. Accordingly, A lifted his ball. B then said that he had not conceded A's next stroke. What is the ruling?

A. If B's statement could reasonably have led A to think his next stroke had been conceded, in equity (Rule 1-4), A should replace his ball as near as possible to where it lay, without penalty.
Otherwise, A would incur a penalty stroke for lifting his ball without marking its position - Rule 20-1 - and he must replace his ball as near as possible to where it lay.
•    Whilst the action of going over to an opponent and shaking hands with them is sufficient implication that a concession has been made, there is nothing in the Rules or Decisions that suggests that a concession is implied by the player turning away from the hole or walking off the putting green.
Returning to the Solheim Cup incident; in my opinion, the European team captain, Carin Koch could have stepped in during play of the 18th hole and asked her players to concede the 18th hole, resulting in a drawn match. If this had happened, the 2015 Solheim Cup would have forever been remembered as a match where good sportsmanship trumped the Rules of Golf.

Good golfing,

Footnote: I was very pleased to see that Suzann Pettersen has now made a contrite apology on her Instagram account and hope that this will help to build the bridges for future Solheim Cup tournaments.

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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

September Miscellany

Overhead power lines at the Royal Golf Club, Copenhagen, Denmark
Thorbjørn Olesen Gets a ‘Mulligan’
Don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned my principles! Olesen didn’t really get a ‘mulligan’, but the effect was the same. Last month, during the Made in Denmark European Tour event, he hit a wayward drive from the 4th teeing ground. As he was teeing-up another ball he received word that his ball had struck an overhead power line. Most courses that have elevated power lines, including this one, have a Local Rule that includes this statement, taken from the specimen Local Rule in Appendix l. Part B, 7b;

If a ball strikes an elevated power line or cable, the stroke is cancelled and the player must play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played in accordance with Rule 20-5 (Making Next Stroke from Where Previous Stroke Made).
This provides an excellent example of why golfers should never commence a round without familiarising themselves with the Local Rules, whether they are permanent, usually printed on the back of the score card, or temporary, usually posted on a notice board located in a prominent place.

If you are interested in viewing this Rules incident, click on this Golf Channel link and wait until for the advertisement to finish.

Continuing Play of a Hole after the Result Has Been Decided
I am regularly asked whether a player who cannot score any points on a hole in a Stableford competition may continue play of the hole, or whether this constitutes practice and incurs a penalty. This phrase from Rule 7-2 clarifies;
Strokes made in continuing the play of a hole, the result of which has been decided, are not practice strokes.

Decision 7-2/1.7 further clarifies;

This phrase covers situations in which a player plays the remainder of the hole with one ball in play. Its interpretation is not restricted to continuing the play of the hole in accordance with the Rules and includes, for example, situations where a player plays a ball from a spot close to where his original ball went out of bounds or in the area where it was lost.
The same principle applies in match play where a player putts out after their putt has been conceded. Decision 2-4/6;
Rule 2-4 does not cover the question of whether a player may putt out after his next stroke has been conceded. A player incurs no penalty for holing out in such circumstances. However, if the act would be of assistance to a partner in a four-ball or best-ball match, the partner is, in equity (Rule 1-4), disqualified for the hole.
The last sentence in this Decision also applies in stroke play. A four-ball player must not continue play, if by doing so it would be of assistance to their partner. The penalty for doing so is two strokes for each partner. Decisions 30-3f/6 and 30-3f/7 are relevant.

Was Rickie Fowler’s Ball Moved by a Spectator?

I came across an interesting Rules incident that, as far as I can tell, was only reported by 3AW, a radio station operating out of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It concerns Rickie Fowler at last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Massachusetts, a PGA Tour event that he went on to win. It seems that following an errant drive into the trees, Fowler’s ball was probably picked-up by a spectator and thrown into a more favourable position. There is blurry ‘evidence’ of this incident at this 3AW link, but I have not been able to corroborate its authenticity with any other source. 

However, the ruling involved is clear. As Rickie Fowler, or his caddie, were obviously not aware that Rickie’s ball may have been moved to a favourable position by a spectator prior to him making his next stroke, he did not incur a penalty. Decision 18-1/3 explains;

Q. In stroke play, a player's ball was moved by an outside agency. Neither the player nor his caddie was aware that his ball had been moved, so the player played the ball without replacing it. He then learned that his ball had been moved. What is the ruling?

A. As it was not known or virtually certain that the ball had been moved by an outside agency when the player played the ball, he proceeded properly and incurred no penalty - see the Note to Rule 18-1.
Good golfing,


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Monday, 7 September 2015

Starting and Finishing a Stipulated Round

I am not aware of any interesting Rules situations in last week’s tour events, so I am going to return to the subject of stipulated rounds. Two weeks ago I blogged about ‘Shortened Stipulated Rounds’ (less than 18 holes) and it started me thinking about the possible consequences of a player knowing when they start and finish their stipulated round. Warning: this week’s blog will probably only be of interest to Rules of Golf enthusiasts.
The reference to the extension of the stipulated round in match play in Rule 2-3 is quite obvious to those of us that play this format of the game;

If there is a tie, the Committee may extend the stipulated round by as many holes as are required for a match to be won.
Note that the number of holes in a stipulated round is 18 or less, so a 36-hole match or competition consists of two separate rounds of 18 holes each.

Note that the Definition of Stipulated Round does not state when it starts and finishes. For that we need to go to the Decisions on the Rules. For example, Decision 2/2 clarifies the situation in match play;

In all forms of match play other than threesomes and foursomes, a player has begun his stipulated round when he makes his first stroke in that round. In threesomes and foursomes match play, the side has begun its stipulated round when it makes its first stroke in that round.
The stipulated round has ended in match play when all of the players in the match have completed the final hole of the match (although a player may lodge a subsequent claim under Rule 2-5 or correct wrong information under Rule 9-2b(iii)). With the first round of a 36-hole match, the stipulated round has ended when all the players in the match have completed the final hole of that stipulated round.
Decision 3-3 clarifies the situation in stroke play;
In all forms of stroke play other than foursomes, a competitor has begun his stipulated round when he makes his first stroke in that round. In foursomes stroke play, the side has begun its stipulated round when it makes its first stroke in that round.
In individual stroke play, the competitor's stipulated round has ended when he has completed play of the final hole of that round (including correction of an error under a Rule, e.g., Rule 15-3b or Rule 20-7c). In foursomes or four-ball stroke play, the stipulated round has ended when the side has completed play of the final hole of that round (including correction of an error under a Rule).
To show why it is important to know when a stipulated round starts and finishes here are a few scenarios, which assume the stipulated round in a singles, stroke play competition starts on the 1st hole and finishes on the 18th;
  • A player is not penalised for giving advice to a fellow competitor before they have made a stroke on the 1st hole.
  • Similarly, a player is not penalised for giving advice to a fellow competitor who has yet to complete their round after they have holed out their own ball in play on the 18th.
  • A player may make adjustments to a club before they have made a stroke on the 1st hole.
  • A player is not penalised for bringing 15 clubs onto the 1st teeing ground, providing they dispose of one before they make their first stroke.
  • A player may bring balls that have been artificially warmed onto the 1st tee in a lined bag that will retain their heat. Decision 14-3/13.5 (But please don’t think that I condone this practice.)
  • A player is only responsible for the actions of their caddie during a stipulated round, so even in a stroke play competition, a player's caddie may practice on, or test the putting green surfaces of the course, before their competitor tees off at the 1st hole.
  • When a stipulated round has been suspended players may, prior to resumption of play, practice anywhere other than on the competition course, Exception to Rule 7-2.
  • Players may change clubs between two stipulated rounds of a 36-hole competition, but not when play of a round has been suspended.
To sum up, during a round there are many Rules restrictions, but between stipulated rounds there are very few other than not being permitted to practice on the course.

Good golfing,


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Monday, 31 August 2015

Jordan Spieth Treads on His Ball

OK, here are two questions for you Rules enthusiasts.
1. Does a player incur a penalty for treading on their ball in play that is lying in a water hazard, but not in water?
2. If the player chooses to take relief from the hazard under Rule 26-1, do they incur a second penalty stroke?
If you have answered, “Yes” to both of these questions then you know more about this Rules situation than the current world No. 1, correction No.2 golfer, Jordan Spieth.

This is what happened to Jordan at The Barclays, Edison, New Jersey, on Friday. After he played his second shot at the par-5 12th hole into a water hazard, he was searching for his ball in the long weeds, when he accidentally stepped on it. He took a penalty drop away from the hazard and made what he thought was 6 for a bogey. But on the next hole, a PGA Tour rules official approached him about the incident. Apparently, Jordan was not aware that he had incurred a penalty for causing his ball to move when he stepped on it, as he is reported by Golf Channel to have offered this rather confusing explanation;

“My intentions were if I see it, I'm going to play it, and if I don't see it, I'm going to take my drop and play it as a water hazard.”
“Because my intention was possibly to still play it, it's a penalty and that was made clear, no matter what I declared to (caddie Michael Greller) ahead of time. I just wanted to be certain about it.”
To clarify the main points of this ruling, when a player treads on a ball it moves, because it is pressed into the ground. Decision 18-1;
Q. A ball lying in long grass slips vertically downwards. Or a ball is accidentally stepped on and pressed down, say a quarter of an inch, in the grass or into the ground. In each case, has the ball moved?

A. Yes, unless the ball returns to its original position. The direction of movement is immaterial.
The penalty is incurred as soon as the ball is moved. Rule 12-1c states;
If a ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, the player may, without penalty, probe for it with a club or otherwise. If the ball in water is accidentally moved while probing, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced, unless the player elects to proceed under Rule 26-1. If the moved ball was not lying in water or the ball was accidentally moved by the player other than while probing, Rule 18-2a applies.
Following the completion of his round, Jordan spoke at length (why, what was there to be discussed?) with PGA Tour rules officials, who informed him the Rules did require him to include the penalty of one stroke for the infraction of stepping on his ball.

I can only think of three possible explanations for this incident;
a) Jordan did not know that by treading on his ball in play he had incurred a penalty, which is why he did not immediately inform his marker of the fact, as is required by Rule 9-3;

A competitor who has incurred a penalty should inform his marker as soon as practicable.
b) Jordan did not know that he had stepped on his ball !!!
c) Jordan realised that stepping on his ball did incur a penalty but chose to carry on by dropping a ball outside of the hazard without saying anything to his fellow competitors (in my opinion, this explanation is extremely unlikely).

So, I conclude that we have yet another example of the lack of knowledge that many professional golfers have about their job of work.

One last point for me to clarify is that when a player chooses to take a penalty stroke relief from the water hazard after causing their ball to move, they do not have to replace the ball before doing so, as is usually the case with a breach of Rule 18-2a.

In conclusion, this additional penalty stroke incurred by Jordan Spieth did not have any material impact on his progress in the tournament, as he missed the cut by five strokes.

Good golfing,

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