Friday, 20 May 2011

When May You Clean Your Golf Ball
















All golfers know that a ball on the putting green may always be cleaned when marked and lifted. However, elsewhere on the course there may be some confusion as to whether a ball may be cleaned or not. Rule 21 states that a ball that has been lifted under the Rules (e.g. ball unplayable, relief from an abnormal ground condition, relief from a water hazard) may be cleaned, but there are three exceptions;
a. To determine if it is unfit for play (Rule 5-3);
b. For identification (Rule 12-2), in which case it may be cleaned only to the extent necessary for identification; or
c. Because it is assisting or interfering with play (Rule 22).
If a player cleans their ball during play of a hole except as provided in this Rule, they incur a penalty of one stroke and the ball, if lifted, must be replaced.
This week I received this question about cleaning a ball that had been lifted because it was deemed to have been interfering with another player’s ball, as permitted by Rule 22-2.
“Recently I participated in a doubles match play. On the apron of a green I requested that one of my opponents’ balls be lifted as it was lying close to mine and was interfering with my intended chip. The opponent correctly marked and lifted her ball, holding it with thumb and forefinger of her left hand. I watched as she then transferred her ball to her right hand, again holding it between her thumb and forefinger. However, as she intently watched the play of her team member, she dropped her arm so that it was hanging straight at her side. She curled her fingers up causing the ball to roll back into her palm and it sat there 'cradled' until such time as she was to replace it. When it was her turn to play I challenged her, stating that she was deemed to have cleaned her ball. She denied having the ball in the palm of her hand and became very upset.  I can only say that I watched her movements intently and didn't lift my eyes off her ball for one second. Because she was so annoyed, I said that I believed that a breach of the Rules may be overlooked in match play and we then played out the hole. Was I right to call the penalty?”
This question raises two interesting rulings. The first concerns whether the opponent’s actions should have incurred a penalty. From the description of the incident it seems that there was certainly no intention by the player to clean her ball by cradling it in her hand and there is nothing in the Rules about a player being ‘deemed’ to have cleaned their ball. It is a strictly a question of fact. Decision 21-3 states;
Q. A player is asked to lift his ball, which is lying through the green or in a hazard, because the ball interferes with the play of another player. The player authorizes the caddie to lift the ball and, having marked its position and lifted the ball, the caddie throws the ball to the player who catches it. Except when the ball lies on the putting green, it is not permissible to clean a ball lifted because of interference. Does the act of throwing and catching the ball constitute cleaning it?
 A. Whether the ball is cleaned is a question of fact. The action described could result in a ball being cleaned. Any doubt should be resolved against the player.
Obviously, the course conditions have to be taken into account in determining whether the ball was cleaned. If the ball had mud on it then it is likely the action described may have loosened some mud. However, if the course conditions were dry then cradling the ball in a hand (as in the right-hand photo above) is highly unlikely to have cleaned it. The reason that many players pick up their ball using their forefinger and thumb is to show that they are aware that the ball must not be cleaned. There is nothing in the Rules that requires the ball to be handled in this manner.

The second ruling raised by this question concerns the writer’s belief that a breach of the Rules may be overlooked in match play, which is not quite correct. Certainly a player may observe a breach of the Rules by their opponent and not say anything, which differs from a player’s responsibility to all the other competitors in stroke play. But once a player suggests that there has been a breach and the opponent disagrees a claim must be made under Rule 2-5, so that the Committee may make an informed ruling based on the evidence. Players may not ignore a breach of a Rule once it has been brought up, or they would be breaching Rule 1-3, Agreement to Waive Rules, incurring the penalty of disqualification.

Good golfing,




Edit: My thanks to Richard for pointing out that Decision 20-1/0.7 rules that there is another instance where a player may not clean their ball when lifting it. This is when they a player lifts their ball to determine whether they are entitled to relief under a Rule, e.g., to determine whether their ball is in a hole made by a burrowing animal, or is embedded.

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

If this matter once raised was not resolved and no "claim" was made before either team started the next hole can the "claim" be made later? Second, if no "claim" is made, are both teams subject to disqualification if this matter becomes common knowledge later.

What is one's role in stroke play if a rules breach is observed and/or commented on to one's fellow competitors.
thanks

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

The players could agree to halve the hole, as they could not agree on the ruling. This would enable them to continue the match without either of them making a claim. A claim may not be made after they have teed off at the next hole, or have left the putting green of the 18th hole.

In stroke play, if a breach of a Rule is observed the player witnessing it has a responsibility to all the other competitors in the same competition to make the player aware of it. If the player refuses to acknowledge the breach the marker should not sign the score card and bring it to the attention of the Committee. If the player and the marker both sign the score card knowing that the score does not include a penalty that may have been incurred they are liable to disqualification for agreeing to waive a Rule.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,

Could you give me the definitve answer to the rule concerning sprinkler heads on the edge of the greens.How far away can from a sprinkler head can relief be taken? In a recent competition a player wanted relief because the sprinkler head was on the line of his putt( the ball was on the fringe of the green) but I could see the the s/head did not interfere with the players stance or swingt& the s/head was some 7-8 feet away. Look forward to your answer Colin

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

The Rules of Golf only provide relief from sprinkler heads, which are immovable obstructions, if they interfere with the player's lie, stance or area of intended swing (Rule 24-2). However, many Committees introduce a Local Rule permitting relief from sprinkler heads on the line of play close to a putting green. Typically, this will be if the sprinkler head is within two club-lengths of the green and the ball lies within two club-lengths of the sprinkler head. However, you always have to check the Local Rules to see if there is such relief and if so, the exact relief that is afforded.

Barry

Mike Hardwick said...

Hi Barry
Stroke play competition, blue stake lift the ball but a big slug of mud, can the ball be cleaned?

Barry Rhodes said...

Mike,

If the ball moved while you were moving the blue stake, assuming it was a movable obstruction, you could replace it as explicitly stated in Rule 24-1. However, the player should try and remove the obstruction without moving their ball. If the blue stake was immovable (unusual) the ball may be cleaned before it is dropped in taking relief under Rule 24-2.

Barry