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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Anonymous said...

In a recent mixed friendly foursomes match, I was somewhat taken by surprise when, having driven a tee shot into a seriously unplayable lie, our male opponent stated his intention of moving the ball four club lengths for two penalty shots. Since he was the captain of the opposing club, and there was no prospect of the other couple winning the hole, I made no comment. We won the hole and the match by a substantial margin, but I would be most grateful for your views.

Barry Rhodes said...

No, a player is not permitted to drop a ball within four club-lengths of where he deems it unplayable for two penalty strokes. If they are taking relief under Rule 28c they must drop their ball within two clublengths, not nearer the hole, and if this does not give them sufficient relief they must repeat the process for a second penalty stroke. The reason for this is that after the first drop at the maximum two clublengths relief their ball may roll back towards where it was picked up from, or even to the same unplayable place. Of course, it may also roll up to two more clublengths away from where it was correctly dropped, making the second drop unnecessary. The point is that relief must be taken as per the Rules, one drop at a time.


Bud said...

Barry....along this same line. Michelle Wi last year was assigned a penalty for grounding her club in a hazard "after" her attempt to get out of the hazard. As you may well remember, the ball on her attempt left the hazard by a few feet and then rolled back into the hazard. She stated that she was attempting to catch her balance after her attempt. If she had selected another club for her second attempt would there have been a penalty?

Barry Rhodes said...


I covered this Michelle Wie incident in March 2010;

To answer your question directly, Michelle Wie could not have avoided the penalty by changing her club before making her next stroke from the hazard. The penalty had already been incurred.