Thursday, 28 April 2011

Player Unable to Identify Ball

A rewarding consequence of my weekly blog and 'Rhodes Rules School' series is that I am contacted by many interesting people and golfing organisations from around the world. I have recently become aware of the College of Golf at Keiser University, located in Port St. Lucie, Florida, which offers a 16 months program to achieve an Associate of Science degree in Golf. You will see that I have recently added a link on the Recommended Links on my home page, titled ‘Golf Program’.

This week I received an interesting Rules question from one of the Golf Program Directors at College of Golf;

“Here is a situation that occurred recently. A player hit his ball toward an area where he thought he may not be able to find it. He followed correct procedure and announced to his group he was going to play a provisional ball to be used in case he could not find his original ball. He played his provisional and it headed off in the identical direction that his original went. Upon reaching the location where he believed his original ball was, he found both his original and his provisional ball within a few feet of each other. There is only one problem – both balls were of the same brand and type and were marked identically to each other. Since he could not determine which ball was the original and which ball was the provisional, what does he do?”
Before I clear up this particular situation let me first point out that in stroke play if two players who are playing identical balls with no identification marks on them find their balls lying close together, but are not able to determine which ball belongs to each player, then both balls are lost, Decision 27/10. This is logical when you realise that neither player can be sure that they are not going to play a wrong ball, and if they play a wrong ball without correcting the error before making a stroke at the next teeing ground, they are disqualified, Rule 15-3b. However, this ruling would be inequitable in the circumstances detailed above, because it would result in the player having to return to the tee to play their 5th stroke, even though they found both their original and provisional balls but cannot identify which is which. Accordingly, they must select one of the balls, treat it as their provisional ball and abandon the other. They would then be playing their 4th stroke from where they found both balls. Decision 27/11 clarifies this and other similar situations where a player cannot distinguish between their original and provisional balls.

I cannot finish without making the obvious but fundamental point that every golfer who is serious about his or her game should ensure that every ball they use has a personal identification mark on it. This tip will save you many strokes over the course of a year; not so much from the somewhat rare situations detailed above, but by avoiding two stroke penalties for playing ‘wrong balls’. If you draw easily identifiable marks on your golf balls you will soon reach the stage where you are subconsciously checking for these marks, no matter what the brand or number is on the ball that you are playing.

Good golfing,

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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spectators and the Rules of Golf

Most of us play our golf without anyone other than our fellow competitors or opponents watching us, thank goodness! But there are times when occasional spectators, other players that are not in our group or even casual onlookers around the boundaries of the course may have a direct influence on our game, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The first thing to note is that in the Rules of Golf a spectator is an outside agency. In fact, in stroke play, any person other than a playing partner (i.e. someone on the player’s own side) and any caddie of the side is an outside agency, including fellow competitors. Knowing this helps in arriving at the correct ruling where a spectator is involved. The most common occurrence is when a ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by a spectator, a true example of a ‘rub of the green’.

A "rub of the green" occurs when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency (see Rule 19-1).
If this happens following a stroke from anywhere other than the putting green, under Rule 19-1 there is no penalty and in most cases the ball must be played as it lies. However, if the ball comes to rest in or on the spectator or their belongings, the ball must through the green or in a hazard be dropped, or on the putting green be placed, as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where the ball came to rest in or on the outside agency, but not nearer the hole. If the stroke was made from the putting green when it is deflected or stopped by an outside agency the putt must be cancelled and the ball replaced and replayed.

The ruling is different if a spectator deliberately deflects or stops a ball in motion. On the putting green, in equity, the stroke should be cancelled, the ball replaced and the stroke replayed, without penalty (Decision 19-1/4). Through the green Decision 19-1/4.1 rules;

In a case where the ball might have come to rest where X was situated if he had not deliberately deflected or stopped it, the player should be required to drop the ball at the spot where X was situated. For example, if another spectator (Y) had been behind X, the ball might have struck Y, if X had avoided it, and come to rest where X was situated.

If there is no question that the ball would have come to rest somewhere else if X had not deflected or stopped it, the Committee must make a judgement as to where the ball would have come to rest, giving the player the benefit of any doubt. For example, if no person or object had been behind X and without any doubt the ball would have come to rest either in a lateral water hazard behind the green or in the rough just short of the hazard, the Committee should require the player to drop the ball in the rough just short of the hazard.
An instance of this situation occurred to Japanese golfer, Ryo Ishikawa, in 2009, when one of his fans picked-up his ball while it was still rolling and walked off with it. See this link for details.

Other Rules situations concerning spectators (or other outside agents) 
  • If a spectator picks-up or moves a player’s ball at rest there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced, Rule 19-1. 
  • A player may receive help from spectators to remove a large loose impediment, Decision 23-1/2.
  • Information received from a spectator may be used to identify a player’s ball, Decision 27/12.
  • A Committee may take into account the testimony of a spectator when there is doubt as to the number of strokes that a player has made on a hole, Decision 6-6d/5.
  • A spectator is permitted to advise a player how far from the flagstick his fellow competitor’s or opponent’s ball lies, Decision 8-1/5.
  • A spectator is permitted to give information on the Rules, Definition of Advice.
Now a thought for the week: Why is it that the slowest golfers are usually in front of you, and the fastest behind you?

Edit - Good Friday: Easter started badly for Ernie Els at The Heritage, Hilton Head, when he was informed in the scoring trailer that he had incurred a two stroke penalty on the penultimate hole of his first round. He had walked through a greenside bunker to survey the green and then raked over his footprints before playing his third shot from that bunker. When asked about this breach of Rule 13-4 Graham McDowell, who was playing in the same group as Els, summed it up perfectly by replying, "It's a pretty basic one".

A happy Easter holiday to all my readers,

If you are a subscriber to my weekly email series, ‘Rhodes Rules School’, and find the illustrated Q&As interesting and of benefit to your game, then please recommend the subscription to your golfing friends. You can either email me with their name and email address (rules at barryrhodes dot com) or forward this sign-up link to them,

Friday, 15 April 2011

R&A and USGA Confirm that Ignorance of the Rules Is No Excuse

The R&A and USGA publish revisions to their joint publication ‘Decisions on the Rules of Golf’ every two years. But last week, they took the unusual, but welcome, action of announcing that Decision 33-7/4.5 has been revised with immediate effect. This is their response to recent criticism from some quarters that players are being disqualified for score card errors that have only been identified due to advances in video technologies, such as ultra slow motion and high definition.

Decision 33-7/4.5 addresses the situation where a player is not aware he has breached a Rule because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his score card. For an example of this see my blog entry concerning the recent Padraig Harrington incident. Under this revised decision and at the discretion of the Committee, the player still receives the penalty associated with the breach of the underlying Rule, but is not disqualified.

However, the Ruling Bodies have made it clear that this revised Decision does not affect score card breaches that arise from ignorance of the Rules of Golf, which do still result in disqualification. For an example of this see my blog entry concerning the recent Camilo Villegas incident. This clarification reinforces the fact that it is a player’s responsibility to know the Rules, while recognising that there may be some rare situations where it is reasonable that a player is unaware of the factual circumstances of a breach.

The wording of the revised Decision 33-7/4.5 is worth reading, but is quite lengthy. It can be viewed at both the R&A web site and the USGA web site


There was an argument at my Club last week as to whether a competitor in a stroke play competition who had retrieved an abandoned ball from the water in a water hazard had breached any Rule. There was all sorts of conjecture about the appropriate ruling, such as; two strokes penalty for testing the condition of the hazard; no penalty if the player used a ball retriever and not a club; no penalty if the player used a different club from the one that they intended to use for their next stroke; and two strokes penalty for undue delay. The correct ruling depends on whether the ball that the player was playing was inside the margin of the hazard when they retrieved the ball. If their ball was not in the hazard then no penalty was incurred, providing they did not cause any undue delay to the play of others. If the player’s ball was inside the margin of the hazard, but they had lifted it so as to take relief under penalty of one stroke (Rule 26-1), then again no penalty was incurred. However, if the player’s ball was inside the hazard and they were going to play it from there, then a penalty of two strokes was incurred under Rule 13-4. Decision 13-4/0.5 contains these words;
Examples of actions that would constitute testing the condition of the hazard in breach of Rule 13-4a include the following:
• intentionally sticking an object, such as a rake, into sand or soil in the hazard or water in a water hazard (but see Rule 12-1)
If you want to know how Kevin Na scored a 16 on one hole during round 1 of the Valero Texas Open, here is a five-minute video of how it happened, courtesy of PGA

Video of Kevin Na (5 mins 50 secs): YouTube link.

I hope that this doesn't happen to you this weekend, or ever!

Good golfing,

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“Just took the USGA Rules test and scored 94. Thought your book and questions were an invaluable aid to studying for the exam!” Ed S*
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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Famous Rules Incidents at The Masters

I am sure that, like me, most golfers look forward to April and The Masters Tournament at Augusta. I am a great believer that one of the best ways to learn and remember the Rules of Golf is from watching televised golf; although you should be aware that the commentators get it wrong more often than they should. The Masters has provided several memorable Rules incidents, some of which I am summarising here for your interest.

2008 Padraig Harrington penalised himself one stroke because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, even though the movement was obviously caused by the gusty wind blowing around the course (Rule 18-2b)

2008 Rory McIlroy failed to get his ball out of a bunker and then kicked/smoothed the sand. If it had been ruled that he had kicked the sand in frustration he would have been disqualified, as Decision 13-4/0.5 states that kicking the ground in the hazard constitutes testing the condition. However, the Committee eventually accepted his explanation that he had merely smoothed the sand with his foot, which does not incur a penalty, as per Exception 2 to Rule 13-4.

2004 Ernie Els
pulled his tee shot deep into the woods bordering the left of the 11th fairway, where it came to rest in loose branches that had fallen from trees during a recent ice storm. Although the on-site referee had judged that no relief was available, this was then overruled by the Masters Competition and Rules Chairman, who allegedly claimed that any loose debris in the impeccably maintained Augusta National must obviously be there for imminent removal by the greenkeeping staff and that relief could therefore be taken under Rule 25-1b.

1968 Robert DeVicenzo signed and returned his scorecard, on which his marker had incorrectly listed a par 4 instead of the birdie 3 that he had actually made on his penultimate hole. The higher score returned had to stand, costing him the place in the 18-hole playoff with Bob Goalby that everyone was expecting. DeVicenzo's famous quote was, "What a stupid I am."

1958 Arnold Palmer landed behind the putting green and plugged in the rough. Under a Local Rule in effect that week Palmer believed that he was entitled to relief because the ball was embedded and Ken Venturi, who he was paired with, agreed. But the rules official on the scene, Arthur Lacey, a former president of the British PGA and double Ryder Cup team player, did not. He ruled Palmer had to play without relief. An argument ensued, and Palmer eventually played the ball, gouging it out of the turf, hitting a poor chip past the hole, then two-putting for a double-bogey 5. Feeling he had received a bad ruling, Palmer announced he was playing a second ball, under Rule 3-3. This time, with a drop to a clean lie, he chipped up near the hole and made par. The twosome played on, waiting for a rules committee to decide Palmer's fate. Of course, Palmer should have declared that he was playing a second ball before playing his original ball from the embedded lie and after declaring which ball he wanted to count provided it was within the Rules. In his book, "Playing by the Rules", he wrote that he told the Rules Official, Lacey, that he was going to play a second ball and appeal to the Rules Committee. But, Palmer said, Lacey wouldn't allow him to do that. Venturi doesn’t accept this explanation, although it is possible that he did not hear the conversation. Palmer and Venturi went to the 13th tee, with Palmer convinced he was right and Venturi convinced he was right. The ruling didn't come until the 15th hole, and Palmer was given a 3 instead of a 5. John Morrissett, the Director of Rules of Golf for the USGA, said he believes Palmer originally got a poor ruling, and perhaps the Committee was trying to make up for that when it allowed the second ball to stand. According to Morrissett, it does not appear that Palmer played the second ball correctly. If it happened today, Morrissett said, Palmer would have had to score the first ball. But the way the rule was written in 1958, there was arguably some ambiguity in the interpretation, which has since been rectified. This is Rule 3-3a, Doubt as to Procedure as it is today;

In stroke play, if a competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls.

After the doubtful situation has arisen and before taking further action, the competitor must announce to his marker or a fellow-competitor that he intends to play two balls and which ball he wishes to count if the Rules permit.

The competitor must report the facts of the situation to the Committee before returning his score card. If he fails to do so, he is disqualified.

Note: If the competitor takes further action before dealing with the doubtful situation, Rule 3-3 is not applicable. The score with the original ball counts or, if the original ball is not one of the balls being played, the score with the first ball put into play counts, even if the Rules do not allow the procedure adopted for that ball. However, the competitor incurs no penalty for having played a second ball and any penalty strokes incurred solely by playing that ball do not count in his score.
I hope that you enjoy The Masters and all your golfing activity this week.

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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Disqualification Penalties in Golf

No handicap on score card - Disqualification!

In an earlier blog I covered the subject; 'Is it a One Sroke Penalty or Two Strokes?' Just as important, are the circumstances in which a player can be disqualified, the penalty for the most serious breaches of the Rules. Note that in match play, disqualification may apply either to the hole being played or to the match itself.

Disqualification is the prescribed penalty for the following offences:

  1. Not playing holes in the correct order (Rule 1-1 – stroke play only).
  2. Deliberately influencing the position or the movement of a ball (Rule 1-2).
  3. Deliberately deflecting or stopping a ball (Rule 1-2).
  4. Agreement to waive any Rule or penalty (Rule 1-3).
  5. Playing from the next tee without holing out on the previous green (Rule 3-2 – stroke play only).
  6. Playing a second ball and not subsequently reporting the facts to the Committee (Rule 3-3).
  7. Refusing to comply with a Rule affecting the rights of another competitor (Rule 3-4).
  8. Making a stroke with a non-conforming club (Rule 4-1).
  9. Deliberately changing the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round (Rule 4-2).
  10. Applying ‘foreign material’ to the face of a club (Rule 4-2).
  11. Playing with a club that has been rendered non-conforming by damage other than in the normal course of play (Rule 4-3b & c).
  12. Failure to declare excess club (i.e. more than 14) out of play immediately upon discovery, or using an excess club after the declaration during the remainder of the stipulated round (Rule 4-4). 
  13. Using a non-conforming ball (Rule 5-1).
  14. Applying ‘foreign material’ to a ball (Rule 5-2).
  15. Declaring (match play) or recording (stroke play) a higher handicap than entitled to (Rule 6-2).
  16. Failure to record handicap on scorecard (Rule 6-2 - stroke play only).
  17. Failure to start at the time established by the Committee (Rule 6-3). (Amended 1st Jan 2012 to more than 5 minutes late).
  18. Failing to ensure that no more than one caddie is used at any one time, after being penalised for a breach of this Rule, during the remainder of the stipulated round (6-4).
  19. Failing to sign a score card (Rule 6-6).
  20. Signing an incomplete or incorrect score card (Rule 6-6).
  21. Unduly delaying play subsequent to receiving a penalty for the same offence from the Committee (Rule 6-7).
  22. Discontinuing play without Committee approval (Rule 6-8).
  23. Practising on the course on the day of play (Rule 7-1 – stroke play only)
  24. Agreeing to play out of turn in order to gain an advantage (Rule 10.2c – stroke play only).
  25. Using a non-conforming tee (Rule 11-1).
  26. Deliberately moving the tee-markers because the player feels that they are too close together, too far back, aimed in the wrong direction or some similar reason and not replacing them before anyone makes their stroke (Decision 11-2/2b).
  27. Playing from outside the teeing ground and not subsequently correcting the error (Rule 11-4).
  28. Using an artificial device or unusual equipment (Rule 14-3).
  29. Playing a wrong ball and not subsequently correcting the error (Rule 15-3 – stroke play only).
  30. Playing from the wrong place and not subsequently correcting the error (Rule 20-7 – stroke play only).
  31. Agreeing not to lift a ball that might assist any other player (Rule 22-1 – stroke play only).
  32. Playing out of turn in foursomes (or threesomes) and not subsequently correcting the error (Rule 29-3).
  33. Not identifying which partner’s gross score is to count in four-ball stroke play (Rule 31-3).
  34. Committing a breach of etiquette that the Committee considers serious (Rule 33-7).
 Good golfing,

Two years ago, I combined with Andy Brown of to produce an audio CD, ‘99 Golden Nuggets to Demystifying the Rules of Golf’. Andy has made the first chapter of this CD, ‘Before Commencing a Round’ available as a free MP3 format audio file. Click here for details on how to download his gift. You can find out much more about the contents of ’99 Golden Nuggets to Demystifying the Rules of Golf’ including some glowing testimonials from users at this link.