Monday, 5 September 2011

Knocking Down a Leaf or Leaves with a Practice Swing

Last weekend, I was a spectator at the final of a team match play competition at which a Rules incident occurred that caused much confusion and disagreement. My guess is that the circumstances that I am about to describe have been the cause of spirited debate in most Golf Clubs, as it concerns a ruling that is much misunderstood

A player had sliced his ball into an area of trees with low-hanging branches covered in small leaves. In preparing for his stroke he took one or more practice swings, to judge how much the overhanging branch may interfere with his backswing. After he had played out from the trees his opponent claimed the hole saying that at least one leaf had been knocked down during the practice swing, incurring a loss of hole penalty under Rule 13-2, for improving his intended area of swing. A Rules Official was summoned and his initial ruling was that the player had indeed incurred the loss of hole penalty. Although we had not witnessed the incident another spectator and I had visited the location of the alleged infringement and were both doubtful that the correct ruling had been made. We approached the Rules Official and requested that he check-out Decision 13-2/22 (see below), suggesting that because there were dozens of small leaves on the branch of the tree involved it was highly unlikely that the player’s area of intended swing had been improved to the extent that a penalty had been incurred. After much discussion he agreed and reversed his original ruling. This is an area of the Rules that many consider to be subjective, but in my opinion, the wording of the Decision 13-2/22 clearly leans in favour of the player in situations where many leaves remain after the practice swing and only a few had been knocked down.

Q. A player's ball lies near a tree or bush. The player takes a practice swing near his ball and knocks down leaves in the area of his intended swing. Is this a breach of Rule 13-2?

A. The answer depends on whether the area of the intended swing is improved. In some cases, the knocking down of a number of leaves would not improve the area of the intended swing as the player still has to swing through a number of remaining leaves when making his stroke. In such circumstances, there would be no breach of the Rules. In other cases, the knocking down of one leaf might improve the area of the intended swing, in which case there would be a breach of Rule 13-2.

If a player has improved the area of his intended swing by knocking down a leaf or a number of leaves, he cannot avoid penalty under Rule 13-2 by subsequently changing the area of his swing when he actually makes the stroke.
(Edit: From 1/1/2012 this Decision was withdrawn and the principle is now included in Decision 13-2/0.5)

The acid test for me is whether the fact that leaves have been removed from the area of intended swing by a practice swing, or swings, has lessened the distraction that the player will experience when they make their actual stroke. I suggest that this is not usually the case and therefore knocking down a small number of leaves does not incur a penalty in most instances. Of course, where any part of a branch has been knocked down then the reverse is probably true, as even the removal of a small branch is likely to reduce the distraction caused to the player.

Good Golfing,

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I receive many emails asking me whether my weekly blogs and ‘Rhodes Rules School’ issues can be printed and posted on Golf Club notice boards for the general benefit of members. I am always pleased to grant permission for my content to be used in this way, providing the pages include this copyright statement:
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes ©2011 and may not be copied without permission.

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