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,

I regularly receive compliments from those who have purchased my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’. Here are two from the past couple of weeks;
“Thank you so much, The ladies think this book is fab. I bought 3 for 2 of my friends & one for myself and low and behold somebody else took mine, so I am having to buy another one.”
“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*
Why not purchase a signed copy for yourself at


Anonymous said...

this doesn't seem so cut and dried, a player whose ball is in the hazard can stick something in the hazard..

rule 12-1

Searching for Ball in Water in Water Hazard

If a ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, the player may, without penalty, probe for it with a club or otherwise. If the ball in water is accidentally moved while probing, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced, unless the player elects to proceed under Rule....

Barry Rhodes said...


I accept that this subject is not black or white. However, I am still of the opinion that if your ball is within the margin of a water hazard, but not in the water, then you may not intentionally stick an object into the water, as per Decision 13-4/0.5.