Monday, 25 July 2011

Are Golf and the Rules Fair?

This is an interesting question that I was asked recently;
I hope you can give some guidance here. The rules in golf in general can be summarised in my opinion, with “is it fair?” In a situation where there is casual water on a fairway and the player’s ball is in this area quite close to the edge of the fairway, but the rough is severe, does this mean in order to take relief he doesn’t actually get relief. This would make the definition of relief nonsensical in my opinion. I guess he would be better off taking a penalty and drop, keeping the point where he picked up between him and the hole. In my humble opinion this would not be in the spirit of the game and if it was match play I would allow my opponent a drop giving him relief not nearer the hole?
Although the Rules of Golf are intended to be equitable their correct application may not always result in an outcome that players perceive to be fair. Of course, this is also true of the game of golf. If you were watching The Open Championship on the wonderful links at Royal St. George’s GC in mid-July you will have seen that an excellent drive might glance off a mound in the middle of a fairway and then roll 50 more yards sideways into a pot bunker. Other examples of golf not being ‘fair’ are when your ball comes to rest in someone else’s divot, or an unraked footstep in a bunker; when you have to take mandatory relief (e.g. from a young, staked tree), dropping your ball at a point where your next stroke will be considerably harder than where it lies next to the tree; or when a well struck ball deflects off course signage and bounces back past you, a true instance of a ‘rub of the green’. Similarly, one poor shot may end up in a clearing, with a direct line of play to the green, while an arguably better shot comes to rest under the only bush on the course; some balls ricochet off trees back onto the fairway and others into the undergrowth, one player’s ball may come to rest just in bounds and another’s six inches away out of bounds (as in the photo above); one ball may rattle through branches and fall to the ground, whilst another may stay lodged in the same tree out of reach. This is golf as we all experience it and it is definitely not fair!

The Rules are the Rules. A player whose ball lies in casual water in the circumstances described by the questioner above does have several options. He may play the ball as it lies in the water. He may take relief without penalty by dropping it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, even though that may be in the deep rough. He may also deem his ball unplayable and take one of the three options afforded by Rule 28, under penalty of one stroke. In the context of the Rules relief does not mean that the player will necessarily get a clear shot from a good lie in the direction that they wish. What it does mean is that the player is permitted to lift and drop their ball in accordance with the Rules to avoid the object, water hazard or abnormal ground condition that was interfering with their lie, stance or area of intended swing. Players have to accept that this will often result in them having to play from a place that is more difficult that where their ball originally lay.

Of course the Rules often work in the player’s favour. If you are a regular follower of my blog you will have read just as many instances where a player has benefitted from knowing the Rules and used them to their advantage, as instances where they have incurred penalties for not abiding by them. Regarding the circumstances of the question above, the ball could just as easily been at rest in casual water in the rough where the nearest point of relief was back on the fairway. Players must accept the bad fortune with the good.

There is one more important observation to make concerning the original question. if you offer an opponent or fellow competitor relief when they are not entitled to it under the Rules, and they accept, knowing that they are not entitled to it, then both sides should be disqualified from the competition for agreeing to waive a Rule of Golf (Rule 1-3).

Good golfing,

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CJC Projects said...

Hi Barry
I have recently joined a small club and it appears most of the members think the Rules of Golf is just a guide. I am amazed at what they think is OK. There is a very slippery slope, but I am trying to raise the standard.
Could you please provide some adice regarding Rule 28? If a player elects to call his ball unplayable (it is sitting on the shade cloth attached to the clubhouse about 3m overhead) and his option under 28 c. would put his ball in a garden bed, can he take that option, and then take the nearest point of relief from the garden bed?
I look forward to hearing back from you.

Barry Rhodes said...


Good luck in trying to raise the understanding of the Rules of Golf in your new Club. I hope that you are pointing your fellow members towards my blog!

In the circumstances that you describe the player is entitled to drop a ball within two club-lengths of the point on the ground immediately below the place where the ball lay in the shade cloth (Decision 28/11). If this means that when dropped the ball comes to rest in a garden bed it will then depend on whether there is a Local Rule affording relief from this feature. If there is not the player must play their ball as it lies; if there is then the player may lift their ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole.


John said...

Hello Barry,I am puzzled by your answer as I would have expected that the shade cloth would be treated as an immovable obstruction. What am I missing?

Barry Rhodes said...


You are correct. Relief would almost certainly have been available under Rule 24-2. However, I was answering the circumstances of the question, in which the player elected to deem their ball unplayable.

There is also the possibility that the Committee had declared that the clubhouse was integral to the course.