Some golfers are confused as to the difference between a practice swing and a practice stroke, neither of which appear in the Definitions section of the Rules book. The main feature of a practice swing is that there is no intention by the player to move any ball. It occurs when a player simulates a stroke, usually in preparation for making one. It may also be used as a loosening-up or training exercise while waiting to play. Conversely, a practice stoke is made with the intention of striking at and moving a ball, even if it is a plastic ball. The only practice strokes that are permitted during a stipulated round of golf are practice putting or chipping on or near the putting green of the hole last played, a practice putting green, or the teeing ground of the next hole to be played in the round. But wait until your fellow competitors or opponents have also finished playing the hole before you indulge in practice chips or putts. A practice stroke may never be made from a hazard during a round (Rule 7-2) and the player must not unduly delay play because they are practicing (Rule 6-7). Strokes made in continuing the play of a hole, the result of which has been decided, are not practice strokes. Any other practice stroke made during a round that has not been suspended incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play (Rule 7-2).
A practice swing may incur a penalty if the player stands too close to their ball while practicing and accidentally causes their ball to move. Unless this accidental striking of the ball occurs on a teeing ground, when the ball has not been put into play, there is a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced. Otherwise, a practice swing is not a practice stroke and may be taken at any place on the course, provided the player does not breach the Rules.
There are a few Rules myths about practice swings. It is a fallacy that a player must not make a practice swing on a teeing area, although some courses may wish to impose such a restriction so as to protect these areas. The casual flicking of a range ball for the purpose of tidying up the course, is not a breach (Decision 7-2/5), nor is hitting a ball to a player who is standing some way away as an act of courtesy (Decision 7-2/5.5), but a player who takes their usual stance and set-up before striking a stray ball back to the range area would incur the general penalty. Contrary to what many golfers might tell you, a penalty is not incurred when a player knocks down leaves of a tree while practicing his stroke, if there are still so many leaves or branches remaining that the area of intended swing has not been materially affected (Decision 13-2/0.5). See this earlier blog of mine for more detail on this situation.
When play of a competition has been suspended by the Committee, a player may practice anywhere other than on the competition course, until the resumption of play.
The Masters signals the start of a new season of golf for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. If you are involved in Club or Society Golf Committees you may be interested in using one of my three quizzes to remind players of some of the most commonly breached Rules of Golf. There are three quiz sets; ‘General’, ‘Match Play’ and ‘Juniors’, each containing 36 questions and answers with the appropriate references for the doubters and a handy check sheet for fast and accurate marking of the answer sheets. Click here for details.
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2013 and may not be copied without permission.