Saturday, 29 January 2011

Defining Water Hazard Margins

My subject for this blog is not on a Rule of Golf, but it is one that concerns many golfers. It is a fact that many golf course Committees wrongly define the margins of water hazards, especially lateral water hazards, by not including the sloping banks leading down to the water level within the margin. As can be seen from the rough sketch above, this may result in players who are taking relief from a lateral water hazard, under Rule 26-1, having to drop their ball on sloping ground, or at least having to take their stance on a slope with the ball above the level of their feet. This penalises the player twice, as they have already incurred a penalty stroke in taking relief from the hazard.

The R&A publish a book that I recommend that all Golf Committees should obtain, ‘Guidance on Running a Competition’. You can view a copy on-line at this link. Here is the most relevant paragraph, from Chapter 4, Section 3;
In general, lines or stakes defining the margins of a water hazard should be placed as nearly as possible along the natural limits of the hazard, i.e. where the ground breaks down to form the depression containing the water. This means that sloping banks will be included within the margins of the hazard. However, if, for example, there is a large bush just outside the natural margin of the water hazard, it is suggested that the bush be included within the hazard margins. Otherwise, a player whose ball entered the hazard in this area may not have a reasonable spot at which to drop.

It is especially important in the case of lateral water hazards to ensure that the sloping banks of the hazard are included within the margins so that a player dropping a ball within two club-lengths of the hazard margin will be dropping on ground from which he will have a reasonable opportunity to make a stroke. Where the margins are situated a reasonable distance away from the water itself and there is a likelihood that a player’s ball could be playable on the bank of the hazard, it is essential that the hazard is well marked so that the player realises that his ball is in a hazard and does not unwittingly breach Rule 13-4. (Rule 13-4 prohibits testing the condition of the hazard, grounding the club, or moving a loose impediment in the hazard.)
If any course that you play has water hazard stakes/lines in the wrong place make sure that the Committee is made aware of the above, authoritative recommendation.

• Author of the book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’
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Friday, 21 January 2011

Padraig Harrington Disqualified for Moving His Ball

I’m sorry to be writing this second blog in a week for many different reasons. Padraig Harrington is a near neighbor of mine in Dublin, he is one of life’s gentlemen, he has suffered from an innocuous disqualification penalty on a previous occasion (The Benson & Hedges International in 2000), and he is probably one of the most knowledgeable players on the Tours in terms of his understanding of the Rules.

Here is the incident for which Padraig was penalised in Abu Dhabi. As he did not replace the ball, which was judged to have moved forward as he was picking up his marker, he then played it from a wrong place, Rule 20-7(ii), even though it was only a question of millimetres. This breach incurs a penalty of two strokes, but because he signed and returned a score card
that did not include the penalty, the only option open to tournament referee, Andy McFee, was to disqualify him.

If you cannot view this video go to
[edit] He was later quoted as saying;
"I'm comfortable with the whole idea that there's people there watching, and I believe when I'm on the golf course I'm not going to do anything untoward. I hope that this many people watch The European Tour. I hope there's 100 million people watching me play and checking me out. It's good for the game."
This is yet another unfortunate occurrence that will no doubt feed fuel to those that argue that the Rules of Golf are unfair, draconian and out of touch, and that players that are subject to television scrutiny are at a disadvantage to those that are not so closely monitored. As you will know from my previous blogs, this is not my opinion and I prefer to concentrate on the positives. Yet again we see that golfers are different to almost any other professional sports players. Padraig Harrington accepted his fate without complaint, as did Camilo Villegas two weeks ago, and many others before them. His detailed explanation of the circumstances of the penalty can be viewed at this link following a short advertisement. 

Edit (April 2011) The R&A and USGA Announce Score Card Rules Revision. Click on this link for details.   
Another positive arising from this latest incident is that it has highlighted the Rule that when a player moves their ball accidentally they must replace it at the spot where it was when they moved it, even if it was still marked (Rule 18-2). Every high-profile Rules situation increases golfers’ understanding of the particular ruling involved.

Ironically, another Irishman was involved in a very similar Rules situation during the same opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. A television viewer reported that Graeme McDowell’s club had moved his ball as he addressed it to hit into the 18th green. On this occasion, the television evidence showed that although he had touched his ball it did not move off its spot and therefore no penalty was incurred, Rule 18-2(i). I know that many readers disagree with on-course spectators and television viewers being able to affect a player’s score by reporting breaches that the players did not know they incurred, or did not report. But these two incidents show the complete equity of the situation. The player that did breach the Rules was penalised and the one that did not was not. I stand by my opinion that in golf, anyone who breaches the Rules, whether or not they are aware of it, should incur the penalty. It is not a question of whether they benefited or not in the particular circumstances. This becomes subjective, which can then lead to arguments. A breach is a breach and is penalised accordingly.

Finally, I am sad to report that only the third player in the European Tour’s history has been sanctioned for ‘cheating’; the first for almost 19 years. Elliot Saltman, a 28-year-old Scottish professional, was banned from competition for three months by a disciplinary panel, including several senior players, after he was found guilty of a "serious breach" of the Rules. During a Challenge Tour event in Russia last September he repeatedly replaced his ball on a slightly different spot from where he had marked it and this was reported by the two fellow competitors playing with him. He may appeal the decision.

Play to the Rules, there is no other way.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Information on the Rules ........on the Course

As an ‘expert’ on the Rules of Golf I am often asked about Rules situations whilst playing competition golf. I don’t have a problem with this, as I am more interested in helping others to understand the Rules than I am in winning prizes or lowering my handicap. But is it permitted to ask for, or give advice on the Rules whilst playing?

Part of the Definition of Advice states;
Information on the Rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice.
So, if a player is asked about a ruling by a fellow competitor or opponent, he may freely tell them what he knows (or thinks he knows!). He may also offer information about the Rules without being asked. However, there is an important caveat. If a Rule offers a number of options (e.g. taking relief from a water hazard or unplayable lie) a player may not suggest which option another player should take. This does constitute advice, because it could influence the player in determining his play. Decision 8-1/16 confirms;
Q. B's ball was lying badly. B was deliberating what action to take when A, his fellow-competitor, said: "You have no shot at all. If I were you, I would deem the ball unplayable." Was A giving advice, contrary to Rule 8-1?
A. Yes. A's suggestion could have influenced B "in determining his play." Thus, it constituted advice — see Definition of "Advice." It did not constitute "information on the Rules," which is not advice.
Here are some examples of what is permitted;
  • “You can deem your ball unplayable for a one stroke penalty.”
  • “Stop! Don’t touch your ball without marking its position first”
  • “When you lift your ball, which is interfering with my stroke, you mustn’t clean it.”
  • “Your teed ball is in front of the tee markers, you can't play from there”.
  • “You mustn't move any of those leaves by your ball in the bunker".
And some examples that would incur a penalty;
  • “If I were you I would drop a ball back on a line from the hole through the point where your ball is unplayable.”
  • “Should I try and play this ball out of the water hazard or should I take a penalty drop?”
  • “Don’t look for your original ball because your provisional ball has finished very close to the hole.”
One last point, is that even on the course a player may consult an electronic device, such as an iPhone, to obtain information on the Rules, providing that they do not delay play and that they do not use the device for accessing any information that might assist them in making a stroke (Rule 14-3).

I hope that I can encourage you to stop others incurring penalties on the course, when you are in a position to do so. But be tactful, you may not always be thanked for your trouble!

Golf Club Members
Here is something that I would like you to consider. All Golf Clubs would like their members to know the Rules better. Why not suggest that your Club purchases 12 signed copies of my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ to give as competition prizes. 12 copies sell at €179.88 retail but I am pleased to offer Clubs a heavily discounted price (over 40%, including postage to anywhere in the world) of just Eu €109 (which is approximately US $145 or St £91). Payments may be made through PayPal to barry at barryrhodes dot com.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Padraig Harrington - Working for Golf Ambassador


Congratulations to my fellow countryman, Padraig Harrington, who has today been announced as The Royal and Ancient’s first ‘Working for Golf Ambassador’. He will promote the work of the St Andrews-based governing body around the world.

In this role, for which he is the ideal candidate, he will coach young people in R&A-funded golf development programmes, appear in Rules of Golf multimedia productions, promote the etiquette of the game, take part in biomechanical equipment testing sessions and support the work of The R&A Foundation at events spread throughout his global playing schedule. Each year, The R&A distributes a substantial sum of roughly five million pounds to deserving causes from grassroots initiatives, through coaching and regional championships, to professional tours all over the world.

I understand that Padraig offered his time to the R&A to support their golf development and rules education activities. He has already played a significant role in golf’s successful bid to be re-instated as an Olympic sport, at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, which is undoubtedly as a key development for the future growth of the game.
“The R&A has been a constant feature of my development in the game, from playing in boys and amateur events through to winning The Open Championship, and I appreciate all the guidance and opportunities they provided along the way. I am delighted to have this opportunity to give something positive back to the game, particularly in those countries around the world where golf is still in its infancy, introducing boys and girls to golf so they can benefit from the values that the game teaches you. I am constantly amazed at how much The R&A do for the game worldwide from development to the rules, etiquette and other areas. The more I learnt, the more I wanted to get involved in their work, and, given that I play a global schedule, I am well-placed to assist on various projects around the world.
Working for Golf Ambassador, Padraig Harrington
Regular readers will know that I have often complimented Padraig for his knowledge of and respect for the Rules of Golf. Here are three examples;

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Armchair Rules Officials and Penalties

As I expected, there has been a lot of heated discussion following the disqualification of Camilo Villegas in Kapalua last week (see last week's blog). There are two main points of contention. Should Pro Golf Tours officials review Rules incidents reported by television viewers? Should a player be disqualified after returning a score card that does not include a penalty that they did not know they had incurred?

It appears that many amateur golfers and a handful of tournament professionals think that viewers should not phone in when they witness a breach of the Rules and if they do, the officials should pay no attention. For example, these were two tweets that Ian Poulter posted on Twitter;
“An armchair official tweeted in to get Camilo DQ, what is wrong with people have they got nothing better to do?”
“Yes the rules r the rules it was a mistake on Camilo's behalf, he didnt know he had done wrong, but people calling in, no 1 likes a snitch.”
On the other hand, more reasonably, former US Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger tweeted,
“A TV viewer calling in a DQ stinks for the player, but no player wants to get away with breaking a rule, TV protects the field.”
Where is one supposed to draw the line about reporting the breach of a Rule, which obviously affects the rights of all the other competitors in the same competition? The Rules require a marker to include any breach of Rule incurred by the player whose card they are marking before signing it. Most of us would agree that anyone else playing in the same group also has a responsibility to report any penalty infringement. If there is a referee or rules official following a group they are duty bound to report breaches. Why then is it so wrong for a spectator, on or off the course, to bring attention to penalties incurred by players, most of whom would prefer to take the penalty rather than ‘get away with it’ to the detriment of every other player in the same competition? As Paul Azinger said, “TV protects the field”.

One Rules incident that did not result in a tour player being disqualified arose in February 2009. Long after the competition was over, video evidence was produced of Kenny Perry purportedly improving his lie in the rough before taking his stroke. There has been so much controversy over this issue since then, that I would wager that Kenny Perry would rather it had been brought to the attention of the Rules Officials before the close of the competition, so that he could either have been penalised or exonerated, and the incident would have long been forgotten. Click here if you have not seen this incident.

I have even read a suggestion that the Pro Tours should have rules officials watching every moment of every golf telecast and that they should be the only ones permitted to report any problems. Talk about taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut! This would be a totally unnecessary additional expense and would not stop viewers phoning in anyway. Surely, in any competitive golf competition, if a player breaks a Rule they should be penalised, it shouldn’t matter who reports it.

I feel just as strongly on the second point as to whether a player should be disqualified for signing a score card that did not include a penalty that they did not know they had incurred. In my opinion, this is a major reason why the game of golf is widely recognised as having higher integrity amongst its players than any other sport. Golf is the only major sport where the player is responsible for knowing the Rules (Rule 6-1) and for declaring their own penalties. If a player was in a situation where they were unsure whether an action incurred a penalty, or not, e.g. lifting a leaf lying alongside their ball in a bunker, and they knew that if it was a breach it would be a two stroke penalty whether they declared it straight away or whether it was discovered long afterwards, they would be less likely to check the ruling before returning their card. Disqualifying a player who returns a score card without including a penalty ensures that every effort will be made to get a correct ruling before the card is signed and returned. If it wasn’t for this Rule players would have no incentive to call penalties on themselves, to the eventual detriment of the sport. Why is that so hard for some to understand? Any non-reported penalty results in just one golfer benefiting and every other competitor in the competition losing.

The status quo ensures that players are encouraged to obtain a better understanding of the Rules and if you are not respecting the Rules of Golf when you play, then you are not playing golf.

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Friday, 7 January 2011

Camilo Villegas Breaches Rule 23-1 in Kapalua

Well, it did not take long for the first Rules controversy of the year to unfold. As I write, it is likely that Camilo Villegas will be disqualified from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii, following an incident during his first round. (edit: On Friday morning Camilo Villegas was indeed disqualified from the event.)

Click here if you are receiving this blog by email and cannot view the video.

This video shows that Camilo definitely moved a loose impediment from the likely path of his ball in motion. This is a clear breach of Rule 23-1, part of which states;
When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.
In stroke play the penalty is two strokes, but the fact that Camilo returned his signed score card without including the penalty, which he obviously did not realise he had incurred, means that he will have to be disqualified.

This is a Rule that is not breached very often by players themselves. Obviously, most balls that are struck are moving in a forward direction faster than the player could catch them up. So, this Rule is more likely to be breached by a competitor, who thinks that another player’s ball may be influenced by a loose impediment and removes it as a ‘favour’.

If the object moved by Camilo had been an obstruction (artificial) and not a loose impediment (natural) the ruling would be the same. Part of Rule 24-1b states;
When a ball is in motion, an obstruction that might influence the movement of the ball, other than equipment of any player or the flagstick when attended, removed or held up, must not be moved.
The latter point is worth repeating as the moving of a removed flagstick by a player whilst a ball is in motion used to incur a penalty, until 1st January 2008 when the Rule was revised.

Good golfing,

Edit: In a statement released by the tournament, Villegas said,
“While it’s obviously a disappointing way to start the season, obviously the rules are the rules, and when something like this happens, it’s important to me that you’re respectful of the game and the people involved.”
Once again the integrity of the game of golf and the professionals that play it are the winners.

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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

My Golf Predictions for 2011

Image from

Like many other bloggers I cannot resist the temptation to make some predictions for the coming golfing year. Here they are;
1. A few professional golfers will again be penalised as a result of not carefully reading Local Rules and Conditions of Competition… and so will thousands of amateur golfers.

2. Commentators will continue to mispronounce the names of Irish golfers Pádraig (Paw-rig) Harrington and Graeme McDowell (mic-doo-uhl).

3. Among the four-yearly revisions to the Rules, which will be announced in December 2011, will be;
a) relief for all balls embedded through the green,
b) permitting the grounding of clubs in hazards,
c) clarification of usage of iPhones and similar digital handsets on the course (see this blog), and
d) a reduction in the penalty of disqualification for not including penalty strokes for a breach that the player did not know he had incurred.

4. Some golf pundits will start campaigning for bigger golf balls to reduce the distance that they can be hit.

5. The inclusion of golf in the 2016 Olympic Games will stimulate the growth of course infrastructure in many developing golfing nations, including India, China, Brazil and several Eastern European countries.

6. The time taken for golfers to complete 18 holes will increase for the 20th year running (this statistic is a guess!) and yet no professional golfer will be penalised for slow play during a televised event.

7. Michelle Wie will not be disqualified for a Rules violation this year and will enjoy her most successful golfing year to date (fingers crossed).

8. Lots of newborn babies will be named Rory, Ricky, Ryo and Matteo.

9. There will be another major scandal over a tournament player’s dalliances whilst away from home.

10. I will reduce my handicap by five strokes (OK I’m dreaming now!).
I would be interested in hearing any of your predictions that concern the Rules in the comments section below.

Happy golfing in 2011.

P.S. Thanks to all of you that ordered my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ as Christmas presents. Monthly sales continue to increase, as do the compliments I receive from golfers who find it a useful tool for obtaining a better knowledge of the Rules that affect them on the course. All copies are personally signed and discounts are still available for multiple copies. Click here for details.