Thursday, 16 September 2010

Replacing a Damaged Club

A few days ago, I received an interesting communication from a new subscriber to my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ series. It concerned an incident that had occurred during a regular Saturday stroke play competition at his Club;
A player, who was carrying 14 clubs, discovered that his putter was broken. He declared that he did not intentionally damage the club, but it just broke. It was not damaged during the play of a shot. Thinking he was allowed to replace the club, he left his group to go and purchase another putter in the golf shop. Now the shop was quite a distance from the hole so it took him a while. The other members of his group finished putting out and proceeded to play the next hole without him. After purchasing a putter he went to the hole he hadn’t completed, putted out and played from the next teeing ground, taking three strokes to reach the second green, where his group was waiting for him. By this time 2-3 groups were backed up waiting for him to finish his incomplete hole and play the next hole catching up with his group. It seems to me that more than one rule was broken?
This situation raises three interesting Rules issues. As the writer intimated, the broken putter should not have been replaced once the round had started as it was not broken in the normal course of play. The penalty is disqualification, Rule 4-3b:
b. Damage Other than in Normal Course of Play If, during a stipulated round, a player's club is damaged other than in the normal course of play rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristics, the club must not subsequently be used or replaced during the round.

c. Damage Prior to Round
A player may use a club damaged prior to a round, provided the club, in its damaged state, conforms with the Rules. Damage to a club that occurred prior to a round may be repaired during the round, provided the playing characteristics are not changed and play is not unduly delayed.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 4-3b or c: Disqualification.
Note that the player was carrying 14 clubs, the maximum permitted by the Rules. If the player had been carrying fewer than 14 clubs he would have been permitted to acquire another putter during his round.

Even if the putter had been damaged in the normal course of play the player’s actions were completely unacceptable and he undoubtedly incurred a minimum penalty of two strokes for unduly delaying play. Decision 6-7/1 rules on what on the face of it would appear to be a far less serious breach than the one outlined above;
Q. A player arrives at a green and discovers that he has left his putter at the tee. He returns to the tee to retrieve the putter. If this delays play, is the player subject to penalty?

A. Yes. Rule 6-7 (Undue Delay; Slow Play) and not Rule 6-8a (Discontinuance of Play) applies in this case.
Note the words, “if this delays play”. This is not necessarily a ‘get out of jail’ card when there is no following group within a couple of holes. At the very least the player is delaying the play of his fellow competitors, or opponents, in the same group. Of course, if they willingly give permission to go back to retrieve the club and no-one else is affected, then it would be unlikely that they, or a Committee, would seek to impose the penalty.

The third issue that this scenario raises is the responsibility of the marker, who may not have witnessed all of the strokes made by the player that left the group to visit the golf shop. I think that this is a subject that merits a blog on its own (next week) and will leave you to ponder whether a marker should sign the score card of a player who has played a number of strokes when the marker was not present.

In the meantime, good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

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