Sunday, 29 March 2009

Was This the Best Golfing Headline Ever?

I came across an interesting rules incident recently, which in my opinion gave rise to possibly the best Golfing headline ever. I was browsing through an interesting book, ‘Golf Anecdotes: From the Links of Scotland to Tiger Woods’ by Robert Sommers, when a story caught my eye concerning the great English professional golfer, Henry Cotton, while he was playing in the 1956 U.S. Open. It is all the more interesting because it concerns one of the few occasions where a professional golfer has been openly accused of cheating. The brief circumstances were as follows. Henry Cotton, past his prime at age 49, was playing well as he started play of the long, par-4 17th hole, during the first round at Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York. Having missed the green with his second stroke he chipped on and then putted to an inch or so past the hole. Reaching across the hole to tap the ball back in, he either did, or did not, stub the putter on the ground, missing the ball completely, depending on whose version of the incident you believe. In the Rules of Golf the definition of stroke says,

“A stroke is the forward movement of the club made with the int
ention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke."

So, if Cotton had intended to move his ball into the hole with his action it was clearly a stroke and must be counted as such. His fellow competitors on the day were Cary Middlecoff (the eventual winner) and Jimmy Demaret, both of whom were convinced that Cotton had definitely made a stroke at his ball, whereas he claimed that he had merely lost his balance as he stretched across the hole and had only stabbed his putter to the ground to steady h
imself. Where there is such a dispute over the facts Rules officials have no choice but to accept the player’s word, but at the end of the round neither Middlecoff nor Demaret would attest his score for that hole. Was it a case of cheating, or not? There is no doubting what the local Rochester, newspaper editor thought. The following day, his classic headline over the report of the incident read, “Britannia Waives the Rules”.

Henry Cotton (right) receiving the Claret Jug - 1937
Credits: Popperfoto / Getty Images
Wishing you good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
Author of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’

Monday, 23 March 2009

Rule 28, Ball Unplayable

Rule 28 is one of the shortest Rules in the book but is one that every golfer should take the time to study and fully understand, as sooner or later you will find your ball in an unplayable lie.

Because it is so short I am going to copy it here, in full, highlighting some salient points;

The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

If the player deems his ball to be unplayable, he must, under penalty of one stroke:

a. Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or

c. Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, the player may proceed under Clause a, b or c. If he elects to proceed under Clause b or c, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.

When proceeding under this Rule, the player may lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball.

Penalty for Breach of Rule:
Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes.

To assist you to understand the relief options that are available I have prepared a short video explaining them. I think that most golfers will find that it is easier to follow this visual presentation than the formal wording of the Rule.

You will have noted that the player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable. Well, a consequence of this is that if you don’t fancy your next shot you can always take the ball back to where you last played, for a penalty stroke. Let me illustrate this with my favourite situation. You have a downhill putt and you stroke the ball too hard, so that it rolls right off the putting green and into a bad lie in a green side bunker. You are now perfectly within your rights to declare your ball unplayable, pick your ball out of the bunker, replace it on the putting green at the spot where you played from and take another putt, under penalty of one stroke, of course. I’m sure that some of your golf buddies may doubt that you can do this but they would be wrong. Refer them to Rule 28a above.

It is true that you can improve your scores by knowing the Rules.

Barry Rhodes

P.S. If this article has helped you to understand the Rules better then why not subscribe to an RSS feed, or email delivery, notifying you as soon as I post a new blog entry. Of course it’s a free service and you can unsubscribe whenever you want. Go to the top right of the home page to see the options.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Thanks for Your Patience

In an earlier post I noted that my book ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ would be available from Monday 23rd March. Unfortunately, my publishers, Green Umbrella Publishing, informed me last week that they have had to postpone the launch by two weeks. Apologies to all of you that have been eagerly waiting to test your knowledge of the Rules by quizzing yourself on the 999 questions, answers, references and explanations in my book, but there’s only a few extra days to wait!

Best regards,

Barry Rhodes

Assisting golfers of all capabilities to improve their understanding of the Rules of Golf.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Take Care in Those Water Hazards!

Aaron Baddeley

An unfortunate incident concerning Australian, Aaron Baddeley, highlights that there is more to playing golf than shot making and course management. Aaron disqualified himself from the CA Championship at Doral Golf Resort last week, when he realised that he had signed an incorrect card for his second round. The circumstances were that having hit his tee shot into a water hazard on the 3rd hole, during his 3rd round, he called for a Rules Official to see whether he was permitted to move a stone that was lying under his foot after taking his stance. He was correctly advised that he could not intentionally move the stone, a loose impediment. So far, so good, but Baddeley then realised that he had been in the same water hazard the previous day and on that occasion he had moved a stone lying underneath his foot. He therefore belatedly called a penalty on himself and, because that meant that he had signed for an incorrect score the day before, he was automatically disqualified.

The Rule that Aaron Baddely breached during his 2nd round was Rule 13-4c, Ball in Hazard, Prohibited Actions;

Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard (whether a bunker or a water hazard) or that, having been lifted from a hazard, may be dropped or placed in the hazard, the player must not: ……c. Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard.

When we are taking our stance through the green it is only natural to kick away anything that makes our stance uncomfortable, such as a pebble, a pine cone, or a twig. However, as soon as you see your ball lying in a hazard you should focus your attention on what is, and what is not permitted by the Rules. When your ball lies in a water hazard, moving a stone in that hazard before making a stroke, incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play. The reason is that loose impediments may be moved anywhere on the course except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in, or touch, the same hazard. Note however, that there is often a Local Rule permitting stones to be removed from bunkers, for player safety reasons.

So, if the penalty for intentionally moving a stone in a water hazard with his foot was two strokes, why did Aaron disqualify himself during his play of the 3rd round? Because, the penalty was incurred on the 2nd day and he had returned a score card, signed by him and his marker, without including that penalty. The applicable Rule is 6-6b, Signing and Returning Score Card;

After completion of the round, the competitor should check his score for each hole and settle any doubtful points with the Committee. He must ensure that the marker or markers have signed the score card, sign the score card himself and return it to the Committee as soon as possible. Penalty for Breach of Rule 6-6b: Disqualification.

When asked whether he was disappointed, Aaron replied,
“Yeah, just disappointed. You always want to play four rounds and just play as much as you can. And especially in a World Golf Championships like this. Disappointing, but I had to do the right thing. …...You have to be honest with yourself. I've got to be able to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror. That's the great thing about this game. You know you can trust all the guys out there because you know they're going to do the same.”

Well done, Aaron Baddeley. You have done yourself, and the game of golf, a service. It is unlikely that you will make the same mistake again in a water hazard and, as a result of the exposure surrounding this incident, many others will have learned something new about the Rules of Golf and the desirability for total integrity in applying them.

Barry Rhodes

Assisting golfers of all capabilities to improve their understanding of the Rules of Golf

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Tiger’s 2,000 Pound Loose Impediment

I was surprised to hear that it is now over 10 years since the most talked-about ruling in the history of golf. The incident is still fresh in my mind, and it seems in the minds of thousands of other golfers as it continues to rouse passionate opinions, mainly against the beneficiary of the ruling, one Tiger Woods.

Playing the par-five 13th hole, during the final round of the PGA Tour event held at the TPC at Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, Arizona, Tiger pulled his tee shot into the desert to the left of the fairway and his ball came to rest about a yard behind a large boulder that was directly on his line of play to the green.

Tiger asked
the Rules Official accompanying his group if he agreed that the boulder, estimated to weigh around a ton, was a loose impediment. The Definition of Loose Impediment in the Rules of Golf includes these words;

"Loose impediments are natural objects including:
* stones, leaves, twigs, branches and the like,
* dung, and
* worms, i
nsects and the like, and the casts and heaps made by them,
provided they are not:
* fixed or growing,
* solidly embedded, or
* adhering to the ball.”

The Rules Official correctly ruled that the boulder was a large natural stone that was not solidly embedded, thus fulfilling the requirement of the definition of loose impediments. Tiger then asked a number of spectators if they would assist him in moving this abnormally large loose impediment. Naturally, there was no shortage of volunteers and about 10 of them successfully rolled the boulder out of his line of play. In true Tiger fashion he took advantage of their hard work by making a birdie 4 on the hole.

After the event there were, and still are, a lot of detractors who felt that Tiger received a favourable ruling because of who he was. However, there were two relevant Decisions in the book long before this situation occurred;

23-1/2 Large Stone Removable Only with Much Effort
Q. A player’s ball lies in the rough directly behind a loose stone the size of a watermelon. The stone can be removed only with much effort. Is it a loose impediment which may be removed?
A. Yes. Stones of any size (not solidly embedded) are loose impediments and may be removed, provided removal does not und
uly delay play (Rule 6-7).

23-1/3 Assistance in Removing Large Loose Impediment
Q. May spectators, caddies, fellow-competitors, etc., assist a player in removing a large loose impediment?
A. Yes.

An interesting sequel to this most talked about ruling in the history of golf is that although the boulder was removed from its original location on the left side of the 13th hole for a time after the tournament, it has since been replaced to its original spot, with a plaque commemorating the ruling.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Assisting golfers of all capabilities to improve their understanding of the Rules of Golf.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Honour on the First Tee

At my Club, as in many others, there is a common misunderstanding that on the first teeing ground the person with the lowest handicap in the group that it is teeing off shall have the honour. In other words, players will tee off in the order of their handicaps, with the lowest going first.

In fact, Rule 10-2a: When Starting Play of Hole, in stroke play, says, “The competitor who has the honour at the first teeing ground is determined by the order of the draw. In the absence of a draw, the honour should be decided by lot.” So, if there is no official draw, then the players should toss a coin to determine who play first, or use some other method of chance to determine the order of their tee shots.

But, Rule 10-2c: Playing out of Turn, in stroke play, says, ”If a competitor plays out of turn, there is no penalty and the ball is played as it lies. If, however, the Committee determines that competitors have agreed to play out of turn to give one of them an advantage, they are disqualified.”

So, if there is no penalty for starting play from the teeing ground in the wrong order, why should it concern us? Well, at this point I am going to defer to the words of the late Peter Dobereiner, an internationally famed golfing journalist, respected by all who knew him, who wrote the following in his book ‘Golf Rules Explained’, published by David & Charles (Publishers Ltd.) in 1980;

“A note of caution must be sounded at this point. That convention about the lower handicap man playing the first shot in friendly games is one of several customs which have grown up in golf but which are at variance with the rules. What difference does it make, you ask? None at all! It is only a harmless and generous gesture of respect towards the superior skill of the better players. If the law condemns it then the law is an ass! If we want to play it that way, who is to stop us? The answer is that no-one will stop you. The custodian of the laws of golf are not in the slightest degree interested in how golfers behave in their private games of purely social golf. But if you habitually give the low-handicap player the honour in private matches, it is quite possible that you will automatically follow the same practice in an official competition, such as a club medal tournament. Now the whole legal apparatus of golfing officialdom does become involved because the first rule of the tournament will be (or certainly should be), “The competition will be conducted under the Rules of Golf as approved by the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association.” Any query will be referred to one of those two bodies for arbitration. And they, you may be sure, will have no truck with any excuses such as, “But we always do it like that at our club.” The law says the honour shall be decided by lot and that’s that. It is no use pointing out that there is no penalty for playing out of turn in stroke play. That applies only in taking the honour by mistake. If you have tacitly conspired with your fellow competitor to ignore the rule and follow the usual convention, then you are automatically guilty of a breach of Rule 1-3, which forbids, under penalty of disqualification, any agreement to waive a rule. You could be ordered to give back a prize. The sensible thing surely, is to bury the convention about low-handicap men hitting off first and get into the habit of tossing a coin.”

This book of Peter Dobereiner’s may have been written almost thirty years ago, but his words are as relevant today as they were then.

As I often say, you are not playing golf if you are not playing to the Rules of Golf.

Barry Rhodes

Friday, 6 March 2009

FeedBurner Subscription

Following many recommendations I have just installed FeedBurner on my blog, to manage RSS feeds and provide an optional email subscription. The new widget is at the top, right-hand margin of my home page. Those of you that had previously subscribed to feeds will have to re-subscribe using the larger orange icon in order to receive notifications of new posts. I apologise for this but I am assured that the new service will work better and it certainly gives me more feedback. The duplicate feed icons, will be removed over the weekend.

If you're not yet receiving notifications of my new blog entries, please click on the larger orange icon. Or better still, complete the email subscription and receive the text of new entries direct to your desk (or lap!). I promise that you will only receive miscellaneous content on the Rules of Golf from me and that your email addresses will never be passed on to anyone else.

Thanks for your interest,

rules at barryrhodes dot com

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Ball Unplayable in Cactus and Geoff Ogilvy

Prickly lie: Geoff Ogilvy looks for an opening through
a cactus plant after locating his ball in the desert
during his finals match against Paul Casey. Photo: AP#

Congratulations to Australian, Geoff Ogilvy, for beating Paul Casey in the final of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, having already beaten the person (Rory McIlroy), who beat the person (Tim Clark), who beat Tiger Woods on his long-awaited return to competitive golf.
During the final there was an interesting Rules situation on the par-5 11th hole when Geoff’s ball bounced into the desert and came to rest in a jumping cholla. This strange cactus gets its name due to the ease with which the stems detach when brushed, giving the impression that the stem jumped onto you. Often the merest touch will leave a person with bits of cactus hanging on their clothes to be discovered later, when either sitting or leaning on them. Geoff soon realised that he would not be able to take a swing at his ball in the cactus and later confirmed that he did not want to put his hand anywhere near it.
After a brief conversation with the PGA Tour Rules Official, Geoff opted to deem his original ball unplayable, leaving it in the middle of the cactus. He was permitted to do this as all three options for relief under Rule 28, Ball Unplayable, allow the player to substitute a different ball, under penalty of one stroke. The wording of the options use the term ‘a ball’, which means any ball, rather than ‘the ball’, which means that the original ball has to be played. Watch out for this subtle difference as you follow the Rules.
As can so often happen in golf, this story has a happy ending for Geoff Ogilvy. He took his ball unplayable penalty, dropped a new ball 40 yards back along the line from the flagstick through where his ball was at rest in the cactus, and played up short of the green. He then chipped into the hole for a par, winning the hole from Paul Casey who missed his putt for the half.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
Rules at barryrhodes dot com

Sunday, 1 March 2009

60 million Golfers, Very Few of Whom Know the Rules Well Enough!

Last week I gave a presentation on ‘Common Misunderstandings on the Rules of Golf’ to about 40 members of a well-known Irish Golf Club, whose origins go back a hundred and twenty-five years. Unfortunately, it is my experience that those attending these types of seminar events tend to be Rules enthusiasts already. It is the other; say 95% that are rarely seen at Rules events, who should be making more of an effort to better their understanding, rather than muddling on week after week, with a very limited grasp of the Rules.

The publicity posters announcing my seminar last week posed three teaser questions that I had given to the organisers in advance;

1. Your tee shot hits your golf bag or trolley. What is the penalty?

2. Your shot ricochets off a tree and then hits your foot. What is the penalty?

3. You move the removed flagstick that is lying on the green to stop a ball hitting it. Is there a penalty?

**See below for answers.

I began the evening by asking the audience to all raise one hand above their heads. I then read out the 3rd question above and asked those that were not absolutely sure of the correct answer to that question to put down their hands, and about half of them did, leaving approximately 20 hands raised. I then asked those that thought that the answer was a one stroke penalty to put down their hands and a few more hands were lowered. Next I asked those that thought that there was a two stroke penalty to put down their hands and following this there were just 3 hands still in the air. You have probably realised by now that there is no penalty for moving a removed flagstick that is lying on the green if you think that a ball in movement may hit it (Rule 24-1). It was not the fact that only 3 out of 40 Rules ‘enthusiasts’ got the answer correct that surprised me, it was that 17 others were sure that they knew the right answer to this question, but didn’t!

I believe that this is an ongoing problem in most Golf Club competitions. Players think that they know the Rules a lot better than they actually do. How many times have Captain’s and President’s prizes been won when the winner, and their fellow competitors, unwittingly ignored an infraction of the Rules? Does it matter, as long as the breach was innocently perpetrated? Well, I’m sure that you would think it did if you came second when the winner had failed to record a penalty of two strokes, for removing a pine cone lying in front of his ball in a bunker! On the other hand, you would have to feel very sorry for someone who lost out because their fellow competitors wrongly penalised them two strokes, for moving the flagstick when a ball was in motion, in the circumstances of question 3 above.

So, how do most golfers acquire their limited knowledge of the Rules? They gradually assimilate them, by discussing the various situations that occurred on the course when they get into the locker room, or arrive at the water cooler, or at the ‘19th hole’, with refreshment in hand. If they cannot agree amongst themselves as to the correct ruling they often go to the guy, or the girl, in the Pro Shop, or someone they know who is acknowledged as being an expert. They rarely reference the Rules of Golf book because they have trouble navigating it, and struggle to interpret the formal, precise and verbose language that is necessarily used to avoid ambiguity. Most players are not even aware of the existence of the Decisions book, which contains over 1,200 ‘case studies’ that are intended to clarify rulings on a multitude of occurrences that may not be evident from the Rules book itself.

These are the main reasons for me writing my book ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’, which gives answers, direct Rules references and explanations to the myriad situations that occur on the golf course. Golfers can either dip in and out of the book, testing themselves on a few questions at a time, or they can check out specific scenarios by referencing the index at the back of the book which then points them to the relevant question numbers. I am convinced that players of all abilities can improve their game by understanding more about the Rules and that my book of questions and answers will assist them greatly in their endeavour. Only three weeks to go until it’s launched (March 23rd). Reserve your copy now.

Remember, it’s not Golf you are playing if you are not playing to the Rules of Golf.

Barry Rhodes


1. Your tee shot hits your golf bag or trolley. What is the penalty?

You incur a penalty of one stroke. Rule 19-2. If a player's ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by himself, his partner or either of their caddies or equipment, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

2. Your shot ricochets off a tree and then hits your foot. What is the penalty?

You incur a penalty of one stroke. Rule 19-2. As above.

3. You move the removed flagstick that is lying on the green to stop a ball hitting it. Is there a penalty?

There is no penalty. Rule 24-1. When a ball is in motion, an obstruction that might influence the movement of the ball, other than equipment of any player or the flagstick when attended, removed or held up, must not be moved.