Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Do You Always Play Golf by the Rules?

Photo: One Tree Hill Studios

Here’s a leading question that I would like you to think about;

Have you ever been guilty of any of the following actions on the golf course, without declaring a penalty on yourself?
  • Moved a ball while searching for it in the rough?
  • Touched a ball in play, perhaps to identify it, without marking it first and asking a fellow competitor to witness the lift?
  • Finished out a hole with a ball that you are not absolutely certain was the one that you were playing with?
  • Discontinued play during a competition while a heavy rain shower passes over?
  • Given advice to a fellow competitor on his grip, swing or which option to take, during a round?
  • Moved your ball fractionally while removing a leaf, twig or stone that was lying close to your ball?
  • Played a ball from the fairway, or on the putting green, that moved just as you were starting your downstroke?
  • Improved your intended area of swing by knocking down a small branch of an overhanging tree with a practice swing?
  • Placed a ball when preferred lies are in operation and then placed it again because it rolled of the original spot?
  • Moved something growing (e.g. a bramble), thinking that it was a loose impediment?
Well, all of the above instances do incur a penalty under the Rules of Golf. I strongly suspect that there are very few of us that can honestly answer that we have always penalised ourselves in these situations. So, under what circumstance do you call a penalty on yourself and when do you ignore it, because it does not seem to be relevant? Here are a few sample situations to consider;
  • You are playing a practice round on your own.
  • You are playing casual golf with friends and there are no bets on the result.
  • You are playing casual golf with friends and the loser has to buy the lunches.
  • You are playing winter golf at your Club in a non-counting sweep of 20 players.
  • You are playing in your Club’s monthly medal.
  • You are playing in your Club’s Captain’s prize.
  • You are playing in an Open competition at a neighbouring Club.
  • You are representing your Club at provincial level with a referee monitoring the game.
  • You are playing in a qualifying round of The Open Championship.
  • You are playing in a match and your opponent did not witness your breach.
You may have guessed by now that it is my contention that it does not matter which of the above situations apply, players must be totally honest to themselves, their fellow competitors, or their opponents. Whatever game you play there has to be rules. There is no personal satisfaction in finishing out a game of solitaire if you have bent the rules along the way. Surely, there can be no pleasure in winning any game if you know that you have deliberately deceived others in order to do so. Rules have to be respected and observed in order that the competitors are playing against each other on an equal footing. It makes no sense at all for one player to be penalised for an action if others are not also penalised for the same action. If players participate in the same game but apply different rules it will almost certainly lead to arguments, confusion, disagreement and mayhem. Without rules and regulations there cannot be a satisfactory outcome to the game, competition or match

Golf is very special in that the vast majority of rounds are played without the intervention of any referee, umpire, judge or arbiter being present, so it up to the players to apply the Rules to the best of their ability and integrity. Ignorance of the Rules cannot be used as any kind of excuse, as Rule 6-1 states;
“The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules.”
My conclusion is that if you are not playing golf to its Rules, you are not playing golf.

Best regards,

Barry Rhodes

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Friday, 22 January 2010

Loose Impediments in Bunkers - Correction


It seems that I may unwittingly have found an anomaly in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf book that needs to be clarified. I have received several emails and comments about my last blog entry that have suggested that I arrived at the wrong conclusion in the following example of a player touching a loose impediment in a bunker;
“Mary steps well away from her ball and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - no penalty.
Many readers consider that this action incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

First, let me quote the Decision that I was relying upon, 13-4/13;
Q. A player accidentally moves a loose impediment in a hazard. Does the player incur a penalty?
A. No, provided the loose impediment was not moved in making the backswing and the lie of the ball or area of the intended stance or swing was not improved.
Here is a definition of ‘accidentally’;
“Occurring unexpectedly, unintentionally, or by chance.”
In my example Mary walked well away from her ball to make a practice swing. Unintentionally, she unexpectedly moved a twig lying in the same bunker. Moving the twig was purely accidental. The loose impediment was not moved during a backswing and she did not improve her lie, area of intended swing or stance. So, I reasoned that under Decision 13-4/13 no penalty was incurred. I now concede that I was wrong.

At first sight it would seem clear that Rule 13-4 deals with this;
“Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard ... the player must not:..
...c. Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard."
However, part of Exception 1 to Rule 13-4 states;
"Provided nothing is done that constitutes testing the condition of the hazard or improves the lie of the ball, there is no penalty if the player (a) touches the ground or loose impediments in any hazard or water in a water hazard as a result of or to prevent falling..."
So there is a concept of ‘accidental’ within this Rule.

But, here’s the crunch; Decision 13-4/28 seems to be completely at odds with Decision 13-4/13 and is directly relevant to our example;
“Q. In stroke play, a competitor's ball is in a hazard. He takes a practice swing and in so doing moves loose impediments and touches the ground in the hazard. He also bends a shrub with his hand, improving the area of his intended swing. What is the penalty? A. As a single act (i.e., the practice swing) resulted in two Rules being breached (Rule 13-4b and Rule 13-4c), in equity (Rule 1-4), a single penalty of two strokes is applied. However, the competitor also incurs a penalty of two strokes for improving the area of his intended swing by bending a shrub (Rule 13-2)."
I can report that this apparent anomaly has been a hot topic over the past week on the esteemed Leith Society’s 'In Depth Analysis & Discussion' board. One of those that corresponded with me has requested a ruling from the R&A, but the consensus is that 13-4/28 overrides Decision 13-4/13. In my opinion, Decision 13-4/13, on which I based my example and answer, without being aware of 13-4/28, needs to be revised to prevent others falling into the same trap that I did.

I think that all this goes to prove that the Rules of Golf are not always an exact science and even those that study them are learning all the time.

Good golfing, wherever you play,

Barry Rhodes

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Friday, 15 January 2010

Loose Impediments in Bunkers (and Michelle Wie)

Many players are confused as to what they are permitted to touch and move in a bunker when their ball lies in the same bunker. I hope that I can clear this up with a number of examples.

First, let me remind you that you are permitted to move or remove anything artificial (movable obstruction) from a bunker, or water hazard, at any time; but you may not purposely move or remove anything natural (loose impediment). For a detailed explanation of this click here.

Now, let’s take this a step further. The scenario is that Mary has hit her ball into a fairway bunker, which, following a storm, contains leaves, twigs and small branches from nearby trees. Here are some situations, some of which incur a penalty and some of which do not. When a penalty is incurred it is two strokes in stroke play (2s) or loss of hole (loh) in match play.

  • Mary disturbs several leaves as she enters the bunker and walks up to her ball - no penalty.
  • Mary disturbs some leaves as she fairly takes her stance in the bunker – no penalty.
  • Mary picks up a leaf (or any loose impediment) from the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • Mary steps well away from her ball and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh (corrected - see next blog entry).
  • Mary prepares to take her shot and with a practice swing accidentally moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • During Mary’s backswing she moves a small twig lying in the bunker - penalty 2s or loh.
  • During her stroke (which starts with the forward movement of the club) she moves a leaf lying in the bunker - no penalty, because the restriction on touching loose impediments in the same bunker only applies before commencing the downswing of the stroke.
With regard to the penultimate example above, you may not have seen this short video of an incident involving Michelle Wie, when she touched and moved a loose piece of moss that was lying in the bunker, as she commenced her backswing. Take a look at this video clip first and then check out my interpretation below.





I hope that it all makes sense now. Let me know if you have any questions.

Happy golfing,

Barry Rhodes

For those of you that were lucky enough to get an iPhone or iTouch from Santa check out the application ‘Golf Rules Quiz’ in the Apple iStore or click here.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Playing Golf in Bad Weather Conditions

Photo: Murph - Whitling Fog

Sooner or later most of us will experience bad weather and adverse course conditions while playing golf. Three weeks ago, I commenced a round in cold but dry conditions, when a sudden hailstorm left the greens covered in ice for close to an hour. So, I thought that it might be interesting to write about some of the Rules associated with playing golf in bad weather conditions.

Firstly, was I permitted to clear the covering of hailstones from my line of putt? The definition of Loose Impediments says,
"snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player."
Therefore, my options were to either brush away the ice from my line of putt, which I did with the back of a bunker rake, or take relief by placing my ball, without penalty, at the nearest point of relief that was not in a hazard and not nearer the hole (Rule 25-1b (iii)). The same definition states that manufactured ice is an obstruction, so a player may move ice before making a stroke, and that dew and frost are not loose impediments, so a player may not clear them away before making a stroke.

When the wind is howling and the rain pouring down it is important to remember that Rule 6-8 states that bad weather is not of itself a good reason for discontinuing play. In adverse weather conditions the only legitimate reasons for players to discontinue play is if the Committee has suspended play, or if they believe that there is danger from lightning.


It is well worth being familiar with the procedures covering casual water, which under the Rules is an abnormal ground condition and is defined as;

“any temporary accumulation of water on the course that is not in a water hazard and is visible before or after the player takes his stance.”
Simply put, if your ball lies in casual water, or you have to stand in casual water to play your ball, you get relief. You cannot lose a ball in casual water, providing that it is known or virtually certain that the ball lies in it. In this circumstance you may take relief under Rule 25-1c by determining where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the casual water and dropping a ball as prescribed by the Rules, which varies depending on whether the ball was lost through the green, in a bunker, on the putting green or on the teeing ground.

Another important Rule to know is that you are entitled to lift, clean, and drop your ball if it is embedded (i.e. plugs) in its own pitch mark, but only in the ground in any closely mown area through the green, not if it’s in the rough (Rule 25-2).


Regular readers will be aware of my mantra that you should never commence a round of golf without first checking the Local Rules. It is possible, and in some winter climates, highly probable, that Local Rules may be introduced to allow for temporary course conditions that might interfere with proper playing of the game, including mud and extreme wetness warranting relief for an embedded ball anywhere through the green; or permitting lifting, cleaning and replacing a ball within a specified distance anywhere through the green, or on a closely mown area through the green. These are commonly referred to by Golf Committees as ‘Winter Rules’ and unfortunately, are sometimes not defined as accurately as they should be.


Finally, players are permitted to protect themselves from the elements, for example by holding an umbrella over their head while putting, but they may not have someone else assist them by holding it for them.


For those of us that do not hang-up our clubs in the off-season, I urge patience. As Shelley wrote in his poem, Ode to the West Wind,
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Barry Rhodes


For those of you that were lucky enough to get an iPhone or iTouch from Santa check out the application ‘Golf Rules Quiz’ in the Apple iStore or here.