Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Worst Golf Ruling Ever?

Having increasingly immersed myself in the Rules of Golf over the past ten years I argue strongly that they have to be strictly observed, whether it is friends playing casual golf, the Club’s Captain’s Prize or the Open Championship. As soon as players agree to ignore any Rule of Golf it is no longer golf they are playing but some other game that they have chosen to play where the rules are flexible, according to their whims. In my experience this does not work for very long. Have you ever tried playing poker without defining exactly what format you are playing before you start, or indulged in a board game without reading the instructions first? Arguments usually ensue and the game can breakdown in chaos, tears and recriminations.

However, even I am outraged at what I consider to be the worst golf ruling I have heard. It happened in Chandler, Arizona, on Father’s Day 2000, during the Arizona Mid-Amateur tournament. Mark Johnson, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Army, was 11 strokes ahead of the field on the final round. Because it was Fathers’ Day he had asked his 14 year old son, Seth, to caddie for him and he in turn invited his 12-year old friend, Derek, to walk the course alongside them. Early in the round, on a Par 3, Mark had played his tee shot and was walking ahead from the teeing ground to the putting green. Unbeknown to him young Derek had taken the putter from the bag that Seth was carrying for his Dad and was carrying it down the fairway. It so happened that a 69-year old rules official, Doc Graves, was watching the play of the hole and he pointed out to Mark that in his opinion a technical infringement had occurred as you cannot have two caddies at the same time.

Back in 2000, the penalty for this infraction of the Rules was disqualification, under Rule 6-4, and a few holes later Mark Johnson was asked to leave the course, which he did, with the two boys both in tears. At the next Rules change, in 2004, the penalty for a breach of Rule 6-4 in stroke play was changed from disqualification to two strokes for each hole at which a breach occurred, with a maximum penalty per round of four strokes. The change was most probably as a direct result of the incident in Chandler.

The irony is that in 2000 there was already a Decision (6-4/4.5) that ruled that if a caddie, who is walking a ahead of his player to save time, realises that he still has his player’s glove and gives the bag of clubs to another player’s caddie, or friend, to be carried while he takes the player his glove there is no penalty. The casual act of someone assisting the player or his caddie in these circumstances does not constitute a breach of Rule 6-4 and, in my opinion, this Decision should have been used to avoid the unnecessarily harsh penalty of disqualification for an innocent act that neither benefitted the player, nor had any impact on the rights of any other player in the competition.

I think that most golfers would agree this was a bad ruling that could only encourage criticism on the way that the Rules of Golf are applied. Do you think that Doc Graves slept soundly on the night of that third Sunday in June 2000?

Good golfing,



Unknown said...

Dear Barry,
Where a local rule is in conflict with a USGA of R&A rule.Does the local rule prevail.?
Herman Tan

CS said...

2013 I know Doc Graves and he is still a rules official for the Arizona Golf Association. The rules are the rules and Doc sleeps like a baby until 4:00 in the morning. He works over 100 days a year at 82+.

Barry Rhodes said...


Rule 33-8 states;

a. Policy
The Committee may establish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy set forth in Appendix I.

b. Waiving or Modifying a Rule
A Rule of Golf must not be waived by a Local Rule. However, if a Committee considers that local abnormal conditions interfere with the proper playing of the game to the extent that it is necessary to make a Local Rule that modifies the Rules of Golf, the Local Rule must be authorized by the USGA.

So, there should never be an instance where a Local Rule conflicts with a Rule of Golf.


Barry Rhodes said...


I am pleased to hear that "Doc sleeps like a baby until 4:00 in the morning. He works over 100 days a year at 82+."

However, my rhetorical question was, "Do you think that Doc Graves slept soundly on the night of that third Sunday in June 2000?". There was a lot of criticism over his ruling on that day and for several weeks after. Other senior Rules officials confirmed that they would have ruled differently, which must have caused him some concern.


Anonymous said...

Is there ever a situation where a player could deliberately benefit from hitting a ball twice in the course of a stroke - Rule 14.4?
On a few occasions my follow through on a bunker shot has connected with the ball in mid air. An unfair penalty unless you can claim that the initial strike was sand and not the ball.

Anonymous said...

Dear Barry
I'm surprised you bothered to respond to CS. No, on reflection that would have been rude. You have frequently pointed out that players at all levels should know the rules and observe their interpretation and any precedents. The same applies to Rules Officials who should keep up to date.

Barry Rhodes said...


Your question is off-topic for this blog entry. It would have been better addressed to me directly (rules at barryrhodes dot com) or on my May 2010 blog;

There are certainly occasions where a player could benefit from hitting a ball twice, for example making a putt and then hitting the moving ball in motion to redirect it. You have to remember that the Rules have to deal with every imaginable situation. However, a penalty is always incurred whether the double hit is accidental, or not. As someone who has double hit their ball from a bunker on more than one occasion (this year!) I sympathise with your view, but am sure that most players recognise the difference between this and hitting the sand, or even a stone in the sand. I do not consider the penalty for hitting a ball twice with one stroke unfair whatever the circumstances and don't expect this Rule ever to be changed.