Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Flagstick - Rule 17

Rule 17, and the Decisions arising from it, deals with most aspects concerning the flagstick. I recommend that all golfers read this Rule for themselves, but in this blog I am going to highlight the most salient points;
  • The first one is one that in my experience surprises many players. The flagstick may be attended, removed or held up before making a stroke from anywhere on the course. But I recommend that you don’t ask for it to be attended if you are playing to a putting green that is 150 yards away, as you may soon run out of people to play with! (Rule 17-1).
  • If a competitor sees that a ball is going to hit a flagstick that has been removed, typically when it is lying on the putting green beside the hole, they may move it to avoid the ball striking it, without incurring a penalty (Decision 17-1/7). Before 1st January 2008 such an action incurred a penalty of one stroke. (Edit: This Decision was withdrawn when the principle was included in Rule 24-1 in January 2012.)
  • If an unattended flagstick is still in the hole when a player makes a stroke, no-one may remove it while a ball is in motion if doing so might influence the movement of the ball (Rule 17-2). Breach of this Rule incurs the general penalty**.
  • Here's one that not many people know. Anyone standing close to the flagstick (i.e. within reach of it) is deemed to be attending it, even if the player making the stroke has not authorised them to do so. So, when playing a stroke be very careful and ask anyone standing close to the flagstick to move away, or you could incur the general penalty** if your ball strikes it, even though you may have been playing from off the green (Decision 17-1/1).
  • There is nothing in the Rules stipulating where a player must stand when attending the flagstick (Decision 17-1/4).
  • A player may hold the flagstick with one hand and tap their ball into the hole with the other. But they should make sure that they remove the flagstick so that their ball does not strike it (Decision 17-1/5.) and they may not use it for assistance.
  • If a ball strikes the flagstick, while it is being attended, the player making the stroke incurs a general penalty** (Rule 17-3). This may seem unfair as it could be due to the carelessness of the person attending the flagstick for you, but that is the Rule. However, if a fellow competitor, or opponent, purposely allows a ball to hit the flagstick, so that the player will incur a penalty, then they are disqualified under Rule 1-2 for influencing the movement of the ball.
  • If your ball is on the putting green you should always ask for the flagstick to be attended, because if your ball hits the flagstick you incur the general penalty** (Rule 17-3).
  • The flag is part of the flagstick and the same rulings apply if a ball hits the flag (Decision 17-3/5).
  • Be extremely careful if your ball comes to rest against the flagstick. Rule 17-4 states that when you remove the flagstick, the ball must fall into the hole. If a player picks up their ball before it has completely dropped below the level of the lip of the hole they incur a penalty of one stroke, under Rule 18-2, and must place it back on the lip of the hole.
  • When a player is making a stroke they may leave the flagstick positioned as it is or centre it in the hole, but they may not adjust it to a more favourable position than centred (Decision 17/4).
**The general penalty in stroke play is two strokes and in match play is loss of hole.

Please let me know if you have any other questions regarding the flagstick.

Good golfing.

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com
999Q on Twitter

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Best (Make that Easiest) Way to Learn the Rules

People who know about my interest in the Rules often ask me how they can get a better understanding of them, without boring themselves silly. It seems that most players avoid looking up the Rules of Golf book, as jointly published by the R&A and USGA, as they find it difficult to read and even more difficult to locate to the particular sub-section that deals with the query that is troubling them. So, I thought that it might be useful to give you my views on some of the other ways that golfers might use to assimilate the Rules, leaving the best until the end.

Ask an ‘expert’ in the Club restaurant or bar. This is not always a good idea. Typically, there will be lots of members who will answer your query quickly and authoratively. The problem is that their answers may not concur and will often be completely wrong. In most cases they will be acting in good faith, but their responses may incorporate mistakes, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, misconceptions and myths. I have observed that the louder and more forcefully a contributor expounds their ruling, the more
likely it is that they are wrong.

Ask the Club professional. This is far more likely to give you an accurate reply than the suggestion above. Most golf pros have encountered many of the situations that can occur on the course during their playing careers. The problem is that they are very often not present when the need arises, due to them giving lessons, taking part in ProAms, or taking well-earned rests at weekends.

Learn from watching golf tournaments on television. This doesn’t work as well as you might expect it to. You could be watch
ing for hours before an interesting Rules situation occurs. Then, the chances of the commentators giving a useful and accurate interpretation of the ruling are slim. Also, the Rules of Competition for tournaments shown on TV can differ in several ways from the amateur game. For example, relief from temporary immovable obstructions (TIOs), practicing putting or chipping when play of the hole is completed, and playing with one type of ball throughout the round.

Read books that attempt to simplify the Rules. Whilst this is definitely a preferable option to reading the official Rules of Golf book, the most popular tomes are still not light readings and require a certain dedication to study the subject.

Watch videos showing a variety of Rule
s situations. There is no doubt that golfers can learn from watching others’ mistakes on video. The DVD, ‘Golf Rules in Action’, produced by the R&A to explain and demonstrate the rules of the game, uses footage from top-level tournaments showing some of the world's best golfers in over 70 situations where the rules have affected them. For those that do not want to purchase videos there are some very good Rules and Decisions videos on the USGA’s web site, and I have four of my own at (on water hazards, lateral water hazards, nearest point of relief and ball unplayable). This is a good way to learn the Rules.

Gently absorb and understand the Rules by quizzing yourself on a regular basis. Yes, yes, yes! At last, there is an easy and enjoyable way to absorb and understand the Rules for golfers of all playing abilities. With my new book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ , readers can work through a series of questions, answers and, most importantly, explanations to the myriad situations on the golf course that they will recognise and relate to. Answers are conveniently located immediately beneath each question and are directly referenced to the applicable Rule of Golf, or Decision on the Rules. A detai
led index provides an easy and convenient way for readers to reference specific situations as they arise. This has to be the best way of getting to know the Rules for most players. It is a fun format for learning, where five minutes, or five hours, can be spent on it anytime, anywhere, and you can test yourself to see how you are progressing. Let me encourage and urge you to purchase at least two copies of ‘999 Questions’; one for yourself and one for a friend, or family member, who also needs to improve their knowledge of the Rules. If you play golf you will know that almost everyone would like to know the Rules better than they do at present.

As always, wishing you good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Author of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’

Sunday, 19 April 2009

After the Masters – the Harrington and McIlroy Incidents

The dust has settled on another wonderful Masters at Augusta National, surely the best golf tournament of the year. Or, is it that I am biased because, for those who play our golf in Europe, it signals the start of a new golf season after the long winter months?

You will no doubt be familiar with the two major Rules incidents, both concerning Irish stars, which occupied so much of the print space before the enthralling last few holes of the fourth round and the 3-way play-off that followed. Padraig Harrington, having consulted both the Referee accompanying his match and the senior Rules Official who was then called in, penalised himself one stroke, because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, even though the movement was obviously caused by the gusty wind blowing around the course. Rory McIlroy avoided disqualification when, having been interviewed late in the evening by the Masters Committee, it was determined that he had earlier ‘smoothed’ the sand in a bunker, prior to taking his second stroke out of that bunker, rather than ‘kicking’ it in frustration, which would have incurred a penalty under Rule 13-4.

I do not see any benefit in contributing further to the detail of these two incidents. If you are not familiar with the circumstances, especially the McIlroy ruling, I recommend that you check out Rory/Padraig Rules issues. On this occasion, what I prefer to focus on is the wider issue of how strictly the Rules of Golf should be applied by those of us that do not play golf for a living, or are involved in the higher echelons of the amateur game. I perceive that there are two main lines of reasoning on this subject. The hard-line view is that if you ignore any Rule of Golf (or Decision on the Rules) you are not playing golf, because it then becomes arbitrary as to which ones you are going to abide by and which ones you are going to ignore. Every player will have a view on where to draw this line, leading to controversy, confusion, and occasionally even conflict. Others will say that the vast majority of golfers are merely playing the game for entertainment, exercise and enjoyment and so the participants shouldn’t get fixated on the finer details of the Rules, which most players are not aware of anyway. As a Rules aficionado, I face this dilemma almost every round of golf I play. Should I interject every time I see a Rule breached, or about to be breached, or should I keep silent, therefore exposing myself to the risk of being disqualified for ignoring a breach of Rule in stroke play (Decision 33-7/9)? My attitude has softened over the ten plus years that I have studied the Rules. Initially, I was of the opinion that every single breach, should be penalised on every occasion and that this would result in players taking the Rules more seriously, with the consequence that they would then bother to learn and understand them. Now I am not so sure and have definitely been guilty of not reporting minor breaches that I have witnessed as a marker or fellow competitor, even in competitions. I hasten to add that I have only done this when the person involved is not in a position to figure in the prizes, and yes, I do realise that this may have an effect on their playing handicap, but only in as much as they might not get .1 of a stroke back for having a worse score due to the penalties being added. I find that discussing the situation after the round is over is just as useful in spreading knowledge on the Rules and avoids frustration, and possible friction, on the course for both the player and for me. Of course, I keep such incidents to myself after the round if I'm the one that has a chance of a prize, as I wouldn't want to be disqualified for ignoring another competitor’s Rules infraction! As a Rules Official once told me when discussing this poser, “Players who are ignorant of the Rules are a different case. Some are new to the game, and know that they need help - they rarely cause problems and are happy to learn. But some are seasoned veterans, and then I have to ask myself, is it worth trying to change their ways, and can it be done in a friendly manner? If the answer to either question is, ‘Maybe not’”, then silence is golden”.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com

You can follow me as 999Q

Friday, 10 April 2009

My Book on the Rules Is Now Available

At last! On Tuesday I took delivery of a shipment of my book ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ and have sold 263 in Dublin to date.

I have asked Robell Media to fulfil web orders for my book. I recommend that you order online click here for quick an efficient delivery.

The comments that I have received so far have been extremely encouraging. ‘999 Questions’ will definitely help any golfer to absorb the Rules of Golf without effort, and they will enjoy doing so. This is the perfect gift for all golfers, whatever their handicap. They have never have seen anything like it before. At £12.99 it’s a steal, and cheaper that a sleeve of three golf balls!

Remember, here is the best place to purchase 999 Questions online.

Let me know what you think of it.


rules at barryrhodes dot com

Monday, 6 April 2009

When the Wind Moves Your Ball in Play

A ruling mistake in the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club, California highlights how important it is to understand how to proceed when the wind moves your ball in play. The LPGA admitted that an incorrect ruling was given to Ji Young Oh when her ball, at rest on the 18th green, having been marked and replaced, began rolling because of the strong winds and rolled into the lake in front of the green. The Rules Official (RO) told Oh to replace the ball on the green where it had been with a one-shot penalty because the ball came to rest in a hazard, an incorrect ruling. Wind and water are not outside agencies so Oh’s ball was still in play after it had entered the water hazard. Oh should have been told she had three options under Rule 26-1, Relief for Ball in Water Hazard: keep the point where she entered the hazard between her and the pin and play a shot from as far back as she wanted, use the drop zone designated for the hole, or play a shot from where she had played her previous stroke from which her ball landed on the 18th putting green. By telling Oh to replace the ball on the green where it was before the wind moved it, the RO instructed her to play from the wrong place. However, Rule 34-2 states, “If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final”, and therefore the (wrong) decision stands. Unfortunately, Oh still ended-up with a double bogey on the hole.

The Decision that covers the circumstances above is 18-1/12 - Ball Replaced and at Rest Is Thereafter Moved by Wind;

Q. A player replaces his ball on the putting green and the ball is at rest. Before the player addresses the ball, a sudden gust of wind blows the ball farther from the hole. The player plays the ball from its new position. Is that correct?
A. Yes. Wind is not an outside agency — see Definition of ‘Outside Agency.’ Accordingly, Rule 18-1 does not apply.

The way that I remember this Rule is that if a player moves the ball it has to be replaced and they incur a penalty stroke. If God moves the ball then it has to be played it from where it comes to rest and there is no penalty. Of course in Ji Young Oh’s case she did incur a one stroke penalty because her ball was blown into water in a water hazard and was unplayable.

Understanding the Rules is important if you want to avoid unnecessary penalties.

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com

See golfrulesquestions for details on my book ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

When May you Play a Second Ball? - Rule 3-3

I have been playing golf (poorly) for over 20 years. In all that time, I cannot remember anyone that I have played with taking the option of completing a hole with two balls when they are unsure of a Rules situation. And yet, in stroke play competitions, this is what every player should do when they have a doubt as to the correct application of a Rule and are unsure of how to proceed. Let’s take a look at the salient points of Rule 3-3, Stroke Play - Doubt as to Procedure.

In stroke play, if a competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls. In these circumstances, before taking any further action, the correct procedure for the competitor is to
a) Announce to his marker, or fellow-competitor, that he intends to play two balls
b) Declare which ball he wishes to count if the Rules permit.
c) Play out the hole with both balls recording the separate scores

An example of when this might happen is when a competitor’s ball comes to rest in an area that he feels should be marked as ground under repair (GUR). If he thinks that the Committee might subsequently declare the area to be GUR, he may announce to his fellow competitors that he will invoke Rule 3-3 and play a second ball, taking relief from what he considers to be an abnormal ground condition, and that he wishes this score to be the counting score if the Rules permit. He plays his first ball from where it has come to rest and then drops a second ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief from the area of ground he is disputing, not nearer the hole.

Note that this option does not apply in match play competition. I will explain what the player should do in similar circumstances in match play in a later blog.

There is one more very important point to remember after playing two balls under this Rule. The competitor must report the facts of the situation to the Committee before returning his score card. If he fails to do so, he is disqualified. This is the case even if the competitor makes the same score on the hole with both balls and his gross score, or points score, for the competition is therefore not affected.

This is another illustration of how players can gain a fair advantage on the course by knowing the Rules.

Best regards,

Barry Rhodes
P.S. If you Twitter please follow me @BarryRhodes999Q
P.S.S. I am expecting delivery of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ this week.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Update on My Book, '999 Questions on the Rules of Golf'

I have just been informed by my publisher that my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ is being printed today and should be shipped to me and the fulfilment company by the end of this week. As you can imagine, this is an exciting time for me. I am about to see the fruits of the work I have put into writing and progressing this book since January 2008.

You can now check out some specimen questions and answers from the book at a new blog to promote it at golf rules questions.

If you would like to order a signed copy of ‘999Q’ please email me at The pricing, including postage and packaging is UK£14.99, EU€15.99, or USA$19.99.

Best regards,

Barry Rhodes
P.S. If you Twitter please follow me @999Q