Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Public Information or Advice?

Golfers should be acquainted with the concept of ‘Public Information’ in the Rules of Golf. The main reference to it is contained in the Definition of Advice;
"Advice" is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke.
Information on the Rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice.
Unfortunately, there is very little guidance other than this on what constitutes public information, even in the Decisions book. The term appears to include any information that is ‘factual’ and does not involve any evaluation or interpretation. Following discussion on this matter with other Rules experts I offer you these additional examples of public information in relation to the Rules;
  • The line of play from the tee (e.g. if there is a right or left dogleg).
  • The length of a hole.
  • The location of due north.
  • The change in elevation from tee to green.
  • The contours of a putting green (e.g. if it slopes front to back or has a diagonal ridge from left to right).
  • If there is a water hazard on the hole.
  • If there is a slope down to a hidden water hazard and if there is, how steep it is.
  • The condition of the ground between a water hazard and the putting green.
  • The length and positioning of the rough in a particular area.
  • The stimpmeter reading of a putting green.
A grey area, which players need to take care over, relates to wind conditions. It is generally accepted that discussing weather conditions in broad terms is OK and fits the description of public information. However, wind rarely blows constantly in a single direction; it shifts in direction and intensity and is often affected by the surrounding environment, such as hills, trees and water. As soon as a player uses their judgement to estimate the effect of the wind on a golf ball they move into the area of giving advice, which of course incurs a penalty. For example, player A asks fellow competitor, B, the direction of the wind. B throws some grass in the air and it drops straight to the ground, but he notices that the flagstick in the hole is fluttering from left to right, as are the tops of the trees behind the green. He then replies that there is no wind at ground level, but above the tree level it is gusting from the west. This would incur a penalty of two strokes for both A, for asking for advice and B, for giving advice.

I am aware that there is confusion about whether players may discuss the distance between two points. Decision 8-1/2 confirms that information regarding the distance between two objects is public information and is not advice. It is therefore permissible for players to exchange information relating to the distance between two objects. For example, a player may ask anyone, including his opponent, fellow-competitor or either of their caddies, the distance between his ball and the hole. Also, where a Local Rule has been introduced permitting the use of distance measuring devices, the information obtained from a conforming device may be freely shared between players without penalty.

Finally, we have seen from the definition at the start of this article that information on the Rules is also not advice. I covered this subject in an earlier blog. The main point to remember is that whilst a player may provide information about the Rules, whether or not they have been asked, they may not recommend what option the player should take. If they say anything that could influence the player in determining their play they are penalised for giving advice.

Good golfing,

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Anonymous said...

Just curious:
If the flag is fluttering for all to see and the treetops are also visibly influenced by the wind, why would you consider this not publicly available information?

Barry Rhodes said...


The point of my example is that A asks B's opinion on the wind direction. A tests the wind with the grass. He then qualifies the result of the test with visual evidence of the flag and trees at the putting green (which A may not have noticed) and gave a reply. I may be wrong, but in my opinion this goes further than passing on public information as there are elements of expertise and judgement included in the response. A fine line, I agree, but in my opinion enough to incur a penalty.