Saturday, 24 July 2010

Golfers with iPhones Risk Disqualification

A warning: this is probably my most controversial item since I started blogging on the Rules of Golf nearly two years ago.

Most golfers who play in organised competitions, whether they are run by their national associations or by their Club or Society, will be aware that the use of distance measuring devices are not permitted on the course, unless the Committee has introduced a Local Rule specifically allowing them. A note to Rule 14-3 states;

“Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only.”
You will see that I have highlighted the word “only”. A very important clarification to this change to the Rules by the R&A and USGA, that became effective in January 2006, is that the device must measure distance only; it must not be capable of measuring other conditions such as wind speed or direction, the slope of the ground or the temperature.

Now, it seems that there could be a problem with players taking an iPhone 3GS onto the course(*), apart from the obvious nuisance that can be caused by players making an receiving telephone calls, which I am sure most of us consider to be extremely bad manners and highly disrespectful to others on the course. My understanding is that all iPhone 3GSs, and presumably iPhone 4s, have a hardware feature that provides a compass reading to complement GPS data (a magnetometer) and that this cannot be deleted. Decision 14-3/4 states;

Q. A player uses a compass during a round to assist him in determining wind direction or the direction of the
grain in the greens or for some other similar reason. Is the player in breach of Rule 14-3?
A. Yes. A compass is considered to be an artificial device and must not be used for these purposes.
(Edit 20th December 2013: Decision 14-3/4 is being reversed from 1st January 2014. The answer now reads. "No, a compass only provides directional information and does not gauge or measure variable conditions or assist the player in his play. (Revised))

Like many others I have spoken to, I am not sure how the use of a compass can be of much assistance to a player on the golf course, as it is obviously a matter of public information where North is and by studying a map of the course you can therefore tell in which direction you are playing, where the wind is coming from etc. However, it is clear that any device that may be used as a compass is not permitted on the course.

In a joint statement from the R&A and USGA, issued in November 2009, they list features that would render a device nonconforming and then, surprisingly affirm;

“There would be a breach of the Rules even if all of the above features can be switched off or disengaged, and in fact are switched off or disengaged.”
It would be easy to deduce from the above that if any golfer takes an iPhone 3GS onto the course, whether or not it is switched on, and whether or not there is a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices, they should be disqualified from any competition under the Rules of Golf. That should cause a few disputes in monthly medal competitions around the world! However, Decision 14-3/16 seems to contradict this joint statement where it states;

The use of an electronic device such as a mobile phone, hand-held computer, calculator, television or radio is not of itself a breach of Rule 14-3.
Paradoxically, the R&A have recently published, and are now promoting, their official ‘Rules App’ for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. It allows users to quickly find information about all aspects of the laws of the game from etiquette, through a summary of the fundamental Rules, to the complete Rules of Golf (2008 – 2011).
“The Rules App is a fantastic reference tool that allows you to find any Rules information you might require, on the move,” said David Rickman, The R&A’s Director of Rules and Equipment Standards.
Maybe you will find it as ironic as I do that, strictly speaking, if you take this officially approved R&A app onto the golf course on an iPhone 3GS, which has an inbuilt compass, you should be disqualified from any competition. Do I approve of this situation? Definitely not!
* Edit: Following correspondence with other Rules experts I now believe that the situation regarding the use of iPhones during competitions is at follows;
1. If there is a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices a player may not use an iPhone 3GS for measuring distances because it has a compass feature that cannot be removed. However, it may be used for any non-golfing purpose.
2. If there is not a Local Rule permitting distance measuring devices then a player may take an iPhone 3GS onto the course, providing they do not access any feature that might assist them in their play.

*Edit 2: In March 2012, the R&A further clarified the Rules regarding Distance Measuring Devices at this link.
Good golfing,


Naturally, I have to take this opportunity to plug the iPhone app that I have been involved with. ‘Golf Rules Quiz’ has been developed by remote eLearning company, Ossidian Technologies, with multiple choice questions, answers, references and explanations provided by me.

Each quiz consists of 20 randomised situations experienced on the golf course, selected dynamically from a repository of several hundred. The questions are in a multiple choice format offering four alternate answers. Your challenge is to pick the correct one. An explanation of the correct ruling is delivered after each question has been answered, ensuring that the user will absorb and obtain a better understanding of the Rules of Golf while entertaining themselves testing their knowledge. As players advance within each quiz they can keep track of their scores. They can then see how they perform over a period of time, as they repeatedly assess their improving knowledge over a number of different quizzes and compare their results with their friends.

'Golf Rules Quiz' will definitely help you to understand and absorb the Rules of Golf in a most enjoyable and entertaining way, and at just €3.99 ($4.99) is a must for anyone who enjoys golf and who has access to an iPhone, or similar. It can be purchased direct from the iTunes store (search for ‘Golf Rules Quiz’) or at

Friday, 16 July 2010

Caddies and the Rules at The Open, St. Andrews

Barry Rhodes outside the R&A Clubhouse - May 2009

While watching the riveting BBC coverage of the Open Championship at St. Andrews today I was reminded of the importance of the caddie to tournament players. At the amateur level we tend to think of caddies as bag carriers who may occasionally give us a second opinion on a line of putt, but at the tour professional level their duties are far more widespread. As a Rules blogger I don’t intend to expand on caddies’ skills as organisers, equipment managers, psychologists, meteorologists, surveyors, lackeys, swing coaches and greens readers. Instead, I want to pick-up on a conversation between the two ‘bad boys’ of the 1979 GB and Ireland Ryder Cup team, Ken Brown and Mark James.

Ken was commenting on a tip that he had heard, I forget who from, that players should always have the flagstick attended when their ball is more than about 30 feet from the hole, as having the caddie standing alongside helps the player obtain a better perspective of the slope and distance of the putt. Mark James then added that caddies will always stand above the hole and carried on to say,
“Of course, they will never admit to that because it is almost certainly against the Rules.”
So, which Rule was Mark James referring to? Well, Rule 8-2b states;
8-2b. On the Putting Green
When the player's ball is on the putting green, the player, his partner or either of their caddies may, before but not during the stroke, point out a line for putting, but in so doing the putting green must not be touched. A mark must not be placed anywhere to indicate a line for putting.
The last sentence also explains why a caddie, or anyone attending a flagstick, may not touch the putting green with the end of a flagstick (or anything else) to point out the line of putt. You are permitted to point out a line providing you do not actually touch the surface of the putting green.

Decision 8-2b/2 explains the situation in more detail.
Q. A player's ball lies on the putting green and his caddie attends the flagstick for him. The caddie suggests, before the stroke, that the player aim at the caddie's left foot. Is the player in breach of Rule 8-2b?
A. If the caddie had placed his foot in position for the purpose of pointing out the line for putting, the player was in breach of Rule 8-2b as soon as the caddie placed his foot in that position. The breach could not be corrected by the caddie subsequently moving his foot.

If the caddie did not initially place his foot in such a position for the purpose of pointing out the line for putting but subsequently suggested the player aim at his left foot, the player would be in breach of Rule 8-2b if the caddie did not move that foot to another position that does not indicate a line for putting prior to the stroke.

The same answer would apply if a player's partner attends the flagstick for him.
So, the implication from Mark James was that even if there is a prior agreement between a player and his caddie, e.g. that he will always position his right foot at the point that they have settled on as being the right line for the putt, it would be difficult to penalise the player for the breach if no words had been exchanged at the hole. Is this against the Rules? Strictly speaking, yes, but almost impossible to enforce.

Watching the wonderful coverage at St. Andrews has reminded me of my visit there last year when Andy Brown interviewed me about the history of the Rules and the fact that they are unified across the world. Click here if you haven’t already seen this short video.

Finally, do you remember my blog on slow play a few weeks ago where I commented about the target time of 3 hours and 57 minutes laid down for players at the Old Course, St. Andrews? Well, I received a communication from a correspondent friend of mine, who has long been a Rules Official in Canada, stating that in the 2005 Open Championship at the same venue it was taking groups around five hours to complete their rounds. Coincidentally, he was in Dublin two weeks ago at the start of his vacation and we had an enjoyable four-ball at my Club with both our wives. He told me that after touring Ireland they were moving on to Scotland to enjoy The Open and play more golf there. I have just received an email from him and he confirmed that the very first group that played on Thursday, in benign conditions, took 4 hours and 24 minutes and the last group that they watched took a ridiculous 5 hours and 11 minutes, with 11 more groups still to finish. I can think of no reason why Tour Professionals with caddies, taking an average of only 72 strokes per round, should take over an hour longer than amateur players, who take an average of at least one more stroke per hole. Slow play is a significant threat to the growth of golf. Fewer and fewer people are able to justify spending five hours on the golf course in addition to the travelling, changing, showering and social time that are essential parts of the golfing experience for many of us. We can, and should, all do our bit to speed up play.

Faster golf is more enjoyable golf,

Barry Rhodes

P.S. As I post this blog the R&A has just suspended play at the Open because the strong winds are moving the balls, especially at the 8th to 12th holes. Click here to see my blog, "When the Wind Moves Your Ball in Play".

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Friday, 9 July 2010

The Story Behind Phil Mickelson's Quintuple Bogey

Phil Mickelson ran into trouble on the second day of the Scottish Open in Loch Lomond and blew his chance to depose Tiger as golf’s number one for at least another week.

He came to grief on the 455 yard, Par-4, 18th hole, his 9th on the day, which has water all the way down the left hand side. His first drive went into the water and it seemed that his second had fared little better, so he changed his driver for a 3-wood and played a third ball, his fifth stroke, out to the right to ensure that it remained in play. In fact, as he walked down the fairway the TV commentator and previous Scottish Open winner, Wayne Riley, told Mickelson that his second ball was playable, but quite rightly the left-hander said that he had not declared his third ball to be a provisional and under the rules of golf had to play it. If he had played his second ball he would have incurred two more penalty strokes for playing a wrong ball as it was no longer in play. Presumably Phil knew that because he was virtually certain that both his first two balls were in the water hazard he did not have the option of playing a provisional ball (see my April blog on this subject here).

In the absence of a marshal giving him information on where his second shot had finished while he was still on the teeing ground (why did this not happen?) he had chosen to put a third ball into play. Asked why he had played a third ball when his second ball might have been playable from within the hazard Phil made the reasonable point;
"I didn't want to walk 300 yards up and 300 yards back."
I sympathise with Phil’s predicament here. Because there was water all the way down the left hand side and he had started the ball out over the water, his only options were to play again from the teeing ground or walk all the way to where his ball may have landed in the water hazard in the hope that it might be playable, knowing that he would have to walk all the way back to the tee if it wasn’t.

I do take issue with another of Phil’s comments about his round;
“It wasn't too bad of a day except for two swings. Those four penalty strokes hurt the round quite a bit.”
No Phil, you incurred only two penalty strokes on that hole; 1st in the water hazard, 2nd one penalty stroke, 3rd in the water hazard, 4th one penalty stroke, 5th down the right and four more to hole out, making seven strokes and two penalty strokes for a quintuple bogey on the par-4. As a high handicapper, am I mean to find it strangely satisfying that even Phil, currently ranked as the second best player in the world, can sometimes have a 9 on his card? The only consolation for him is that he will almost certainly miss the cut in Loch Lomond, which means that he will have an extra two days practice for the Open Championship at St. Andrews next week.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Author of the book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’. Click here for more information and 27 sample questions/answers taken from the book.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Purposely Touching Your Ball in Play

In my last blog I discussed the consequences of accidentally causing your ball in play to move. One of the most common breaches of the Rules that I witness is related to this subject. It is when a player purposely touches their ball while it is in play. This often happens when a ball lies in long grass and the player wants to ensure that it is theirs before they make a stroke at it. Instead of following the procedure set down in Rule 12-2 they bend down and rotate their ball until they can see their identification mark or the brand and number that they are playing. This action incurs a penalty of one stroke. A player may not touch their ball in these circumstances unless they announce their intention to their opponent(s) in match play, or marker or fellow competitor in stroke play, and then mark the position of their ball before touching it. The player must mark the position of their ball to avoid a penalty even if they do not actually lift the ball when they touch it (Decision 12-2/2).

Note that there is no penalty when a player accidentally touches their ball while removing a loose impediment lying close to it, providing the ball does not move (Decision 18-2a/31).

Of course, a ball at rest on a putting green may be lifted and cleaned without notifying anyone else, but again it must be marked first. If a player rotates their ball on the putting green to line-up the trademark with the hole, without marking it, they still incur the one stroke penalty for touching the ball other than as provided for in Rule 18-2a. Under Rules 16-1b and 20-1, a ball on the putting green may be lifted (or touched and rotated) only after its position has been marked (Decision 18-2a/33).

You will sometimes hear golfers claim that touching a ball with the clubhead incurs a penalty. This is not correct. Providing the ball does not move there is nothing in the Rules to prohibit this. In fact, Decision 13-4/12 confirms that even in a bunker or water hazard there is no penalty if a player accidentally touches their ball with their clubhead, providing it does not move.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

I understand that my good friend Andy Brown still has some of the CDs that I recorded for him; ’99 Golden Nuggets to Demystifying the Rules of Golf’. Click here to read some of the excellent testimonials that we have received and listen to the two extracts that will surely help you to understand the Rules better.