Friday, 24 February 2012

Differences in Match Play Rules (1)

Photo by Isifa/Getty Images

With the Accenture Match Play Championship taking place this week in The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Marana, Arizona this week, and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere preparing for our Inter-Club match play competitions, I thought that it would be timely to summarise the main differences between stroke play and match play.

The first point to make is that the Rules of Golf state that certain specific Rules governing match play are so substantially different from those governing stroke play that combining the two forms of play is not practicable and isn’t permitted, Rule 33-1. Hands-up those of you that enter a singles stroke play competition, but because there are four of you in a grouping, you also play a four-ball better ball for a wager. I thought so!

Here are four of the main differences why combining the two formats is impracticable;
•    In stroke play the general penalty for a breach of the Rules is two strokes; in match play it is loss of hole. However, any breach of the Rules that incurs a one stroke penalty in stroke play is also a one stroke penalty in match play.
•    Whereas in stroke play the player must finish every hole by holing out, in match play a player may concede a stroke to his opponent so that he can pick-up without holing out. A player may also concede the hole, or the match. Once given a concession can’t be declined, or withdrawn under any circumstances. So, if you concede a short putt to your opponent, but he putts anyway and misses, it doesn’t matter because he is still considered to have holed out with the putt for the purposes of the match. Rule 2-4.
•    If you are unsure of a Rule, or a procedure, in match play the Rules don’t permit you to play a second ball, as they do in stroke play. What you have to do, is try and resolve the issue with your opponent. If you can’t agree, a claim has to be made before teeing-off at the next hole. You must notify your opponent that you’re making a claim, agree the facts of the situation and make it clear that you’ll be asking for a Committee ruling. Rule 2-5.
•    In both stroke play and match play when balls are to be played from the teeing ground the person with the honour plays first and anywhere else on the course the ball farthest from the hole is played first. However, there is no penalty in stroke play for playing in the wrong order, unless players have agreed to do so to give one of them an advantage, in which case they’re both disqualified. It is different in match play. If a player makes a stroke when his opponent should have played first, there is still no penalty, but the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel that stroke and play again, in the correct order, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played. In other words, if you think your opponent played a bad shot when he played out of turn you say nothing, but if he played a good shot you can ask him to replace his ball where it was and play again, after you, in the hope that his next shot won’t be as good.

There are a few more differences between the stroke play and match play formats, which I will save for another week.

Good golfing,

If your Club/Society plays match play golf you should check out my quiz on Match Play Rules. It could mean the difference between your side winning and losing. Click here for more information.
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Peter Whiteford's Disqualification

Photo: Press Trust of India

Scot Peter Whiteford, who has yet to win on the tour circuit, was disqualified from the final round of the Avantha Masters in New Delhi over a ball-moving incident on the 18th hole of his third round, when he was lying just one stroke off the lead. He had just double-bogeyed the 17th hole and was about to play his third stroke to the par-5 18th when he thought that his ball may have moved. Although he asked his caddie, fellow competitor and at least one other outside agent standing close by, none of whom saw his ball move, he unwisely went ahead and played the ball as it lay. I was not watching the TV coverage of this incident and no video has appeared on the web yet, but he had obviously addressed his ball when it moved, which meant that he incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2b. (Edit Feb 20th 2012: There is now a YouTube clip of the incident here.In my opinion, it is clear from his body language that he thought that his ball had moved.) Here is an official statement from The European Tour’s Chief Referee, John Paramor, regarding the disqualification;
“On the 18th fairway during the third round while playing his approach shot, Peter Whiteford felt that his ball may have moved and for confirmation asked his caddy, a fellow competitor and a TV cameraman, who said they didn’t think it had, and so he continued on to finish the hole and sign his scorecard for 72.

Overnight several viewers contacted the European Tour website saying that Peter Whiteford’s ball had in fact moved on the 18th hole. This was reviewed by the Rules Committee who were able to determine that the ball had in fact moved. Peter Whiteford should have incurred a penalty of one stroke and replaced the ball. As he did not do so, he was disqualified for signing for a score lower than taken for failing to include the penalty he had incurred.

The Rules Committee considered the decision 33-7/4.5 which allows a committee in certain circumstances to modify the disqualification penalty and apply the appropriate penalty stroke(s) if the player could not have reasonably known he had incurred a penalty. If Peter Whiteford had contacted a member of the Rules Team before signing his scorecard, the footage would have been reviewed at the time and he would have averted the disqualification penalty.”
So, what should Peter Whiteford have done in this situation where he was not sure if the ball had moved, or not? As he was playing in a tour event he could have summoned a walking Rules Official to make a decision, having reviewed the evidence. Most of us do not have that luxury in our weekly competitions, but whenever there is a doubt as to procedure the Rules provide a solution whereby we may play a second ball, under Rule3-3, and report the facts of the matter to the Committee immediately after the round. See my blog on ‘When May You Play a Second Ball’.

As soon as Whiteford’s ball moved after he had addressed it he incurred a penalty of one stroke. However, when he failed to replace it where it was before it moved and then played it, the penalty increased to two strokes, under Rule 20-7, for playing his ball from the wrong place. He could still have avoided the ultimate penalty of disqualification if he had gone to an official and told them about his concern as to whether his ball had moved or not before handing in his score card. Because he did not do so, the card that he returned had a score lower than that taken, due to the two strokes penalty not having been recorded, and the Rules Committee had no option but to disqualify him.

Naturally, there have been many comments decrying those that phoned-in to report the breach, but once again I have to make the point that most Pro golfers would rather incur the penalty (even disqualification) than go through the rest of their career with an accusation that they only won (or had done well) in a competition because they avoided a penalty for a known breach of the Rules. In my opinion, European Ryder Cup professional, Oliver Wilson, did not do his reputation much good with this tweet on his Twitter account;

“One reason it takes so long to play is because you have to call ref to cover your back at the slightest things. Better rules would help”
He then made it worse with this one;
“agree we should know rules,but I was crap at school which is why I play sport, I don't trust myself under pressure to get them all right.”
So, hire a caddie who does!

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Known or Virtually Certain

In order to obtain relief without penalty from GUR
it must be known or virtually certain that the
ball came to rest in the abnormal ground condition.
In the absence of such knowledge or certainty,
a player must proceed under Rule 27 (Lost Ball).

When I was preparing last week’s blog on the main changes that have been made to the Rules over the past 20 years I was reminded that it was in the 2008 changes to the Rules that the term “reasonable evidence” was replaced by the much stronger requirement of “known or virtually certain”. This revised term is used in the following Rules in circumstances when a player cannot find their ball;
•    Rule 18-1 Ball at Rest Moved by Outside Agency
•    Rule 24-3 Ball in Obstruction not Found
•    Rule 25-1c Ball in Abnormal Ground Condition not Found
•    Rule 26 Water Hazards (Including Water Hazards)
•    Rule 27-1 Stroke and Distance; Ball Out of Bounds; Ball Not Found Within Five Minutes

It is obvious that by changing “reasonable evidence” to “known or virtually certain” the Ruling Bodies wanted to emphasise that this is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for a player that cannot find their ball. Whilst the Ruling Bodies do not go as far as putting a percentage on the degree of certainty that is required to avail of relief options, they have provided us with a lengthy explanation of how ‘known or virtually certain’ is to be applied to rulings in Decision 26-1/1;

When a ball has been struck towards a water hazard and cannot be found, a player may not assume that his ball is in the water hazard simply because there is a possibility that the ball may be in the water hazard. In order to proceed under Rule 26-1, it must be "known or virtually certain" that the ball is in the water hazard. In the absence of "knowledge or virtual certainty" that it lies in a water hazard, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost somewhere other than in a water hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27-1.

When a player's ball cannot be found, "knowledge" may be gained that his ball is in a water hazard in a number of ways. The player or his caddie or other members of his match or group may actually observe the ball disappear into the water hazard. Evidence provided by other reliable witnesses may also establish that the ball is in the water hazard. Such evidence could come from a referee, an observer, spectators or other outside agencies. It is important that all readily accessible information be considered because, for example, the mere fact that a ball has splashed in a water hazard would not always provide "knowledge" that the ball is in the water hazard, as there are instances when a ball may skip out of, and come to rest outside, the hazard.

In the absence of "knowledge" that the ball is in the water hazard, Rule 26-1 requires there to be "virtual certainty" that the player's ball is in the water hazard in order to proceed under this Rule. Unlike "knowledge," "virtual certainty" implies some small degree of doubt about the actual location of a ball that has not been found. However, "virtual certainty" also means that, although the ball has not been found, when all readily available information is considered, the conclusion that there is nowhere that the ball could be except in the water hazard would be justified.
In determining whether "virtual certainty" exists, some of the relevant factors in the area of the water hazard to be considered include topography, turf conditions, grass heights, visibility, weather conditions and the proximity of trees, bushes and abnormal ground conditions.

The same principles would apply for a ball that may have been moved by an outside agency (Rule 18-1) or a ball that has not been found and may be in an obstruction (Rule 24-3) or an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1c).  (Revised)

So, in circumstances where the ‘known or virtually certain’ test has to be applied players must ask the question, “could the ball be anywhere else on the golf course other than in the obstruction/abnormal ground condition/water hazard?” If the answer is “yes,” then the ball must be treated as lost under penalty of stroke and distance, Rule 27-1. Known or virtually certain is to be taken literally. It is not a best guess or maybe. The ball cannot be anywhere else, even if it is subsequently discovered in a different place!

Interestingly, the same limiting phrase forms part of the important exception to Rule 18-2b - Ball Moving after Address;

Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply.
What is the correct ruling if a player grounds their putter immediately behind their ball on the putting green and while they are going through their mental pre-putt routine their ball moves although there is no noticeable wind, rain or other outside agency that could have influenced its movement? The Rules state that the player is deemed to have moved their ball because it is not known or virtually certain that they did not do so. It is possible, even probable, that the movement of the ball may have occurred as a result of them grounding their club, thereby moving blades of grass that might have had a domino effect in disturbing another blade of grass lying under the ball, causing it to move. Note that the wording of the exception above means that there has to be irrefutable evidence that something else caused the ball to move for the player to avoid incurring a penalty after they had addressed their ball.

I want to draw your attention to the introduction of the word “immediately” in the revised Definition of Addressing the Ball;

A player has “addressed the ball” when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance.
This is causing considerable confusion amongst Rules Officials, as there has been no official clarification on how close to the ball the clubhead has to be for it to be addressed. Having engaged in various discussions on this subject, it is now my opinion that a ball is only addressed according to the Rules if the clubhead is grounded within about an inch (~2.5cm) or less behind (or in front of) it. Personally, I used to find it very difficult to hover my club above a ball on a windy day, to avoid the one stroke penalty under Rule 18-2b incurred if it moved after I had grounded it, but I have no problem grounding any club, including my putter, at an inch or more away from my ball, thus avoiding the possibility of a Rule 18-2b penalty. However, I expect that there are others that will disagree with my opinion on this issue of when a ball is addressed under the revised definition and there can be no certainty until there is official clarification from R&A and USGA.
(Edit February 15th 2012: I have received information from an authoritative source that Rules workshops are being advised that the R&A and USGA have agreed that a ball is addressed when the club is grounded within 1/4 inch or less from the ball.)

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Main Changes to the Rules of Golf 1996 - 2012

A regular occurrence when I resolve an argument over a ruling, with the appropriate reference to the Rules of Golf or Decisions on the Rules of Golf, is for the person that supported the incorrect interpretation to say, “They must have changed the Rule”. Of course, the Rules are amended every four years, but often the significant changes are minimal and do not materially affect the play of most golfers. However, with the most recent amendments taking effect from 1st January this year I thought that it might be timely to outline the main changes that have happened in the last five revisions to the Rules, as published jointly by the R&A and USGA.

Please note that what follows is an overview of what I consider to be the three main changes in each four-year period in a shorthand format. Readers should refer to the Rule books for more complete information.

  • Committees may introduce a Local rule prohibiting play from an environmentally sensitive area (ESA).
  • Rule 6-7: Committees may lay down pace of play guidelines and in such a condition modify the penalty the penalty for a first offence, in stroke play, to one stroke.
  • Rule 20-4: If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted to do so they lose the hole in match play or incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play.
  • Definition of ‘Nearest Point of Relief’ introduced for the first time, outlining the recommended procedure for determining that point.
  • Rule 13-2, Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play expanded to cover the improvement of the area of the intended stance and the prohibited actions to include removing dew, frost or water.
  • Rule 14-2: Partner, caddie or partner’s caddie may not stand behind player during their stroke anywhere on the course (previously applied only to the putting green).
30th Edition.  The "most comprehensive revision of the Rules of golf for twenty years", according to the R&A, but most of the amendments resulted from a review of the linguistics employed.
  • Rule 11-1: A Definition of ‘Tee’ is introduced for the first time, together with a penalty of disqualification for using a non-conforming tee.
  • Rule 24-2b(ii): A player may take relief from an immovable obstruction in a bunker by dropping outside the bunker for a penalty of one stroke, keeping the point where the ball came to rest directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.
  • Appendix ll: Introducing a maximum length of a club (other than a putter) of 48 inches (1219.2 mm) and a new maximum head size for woods of 470cc.
  • The Definition of Advice was amended to confirm that exchange of information on distance is not considered to be advice.
  • Rule 12-2: Players are permitted to lift a ball in a bunker or a water hazard to identify it, with a corresponding change to Rule 15-3 removing the exemption from penalty for playing a wrong ball in a hazard.
  • Rule 19-2: The penalty for a player’s ball being accidentally deflected or stopped by himself, his partner, either of their caddies or their equipment was reduced to one shot in both stroke play and match play.
For an overview of the most recent changes see my blog at;

If you are interested in researching when a particular Rule was changed I recommend you visit, You can find the full Rules that were in force for a particular year, or follow a Rule’s development and change over the years by selecting a topic.

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Many subscribers are asking me about the update to my book. I am working hard to update the 999 questions and answers with the recent amendments to the Rules and hope to have news on the availability of '999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2012 - 2015' and other related products in the next few weeks. Watch this space.