Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Golfing in Bad Weather

Many of us will be familiar with seeing ‘Course Closed’ signs at this time of year, and there will probably have been other times when we have played and then wished that the course had been closed because of inclement weather. This week I am going to explain some of the Rules that apply when conditions on the course are less than favourable.

The first point that may surprise some readers is from the Definition of Loose Impediments;

Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player.
So, in the photo above, the player did not have to play his ball from the snow, he could have picked it out of the snow and dropped it in the sand within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole, without penalty, as for casual water in a bunker. However, he was not entitled to remove the snow around his ball, as this would be treating the snow as loose impediments, which may not be removed while the ball is lying in the same bunker (Rule 23-1).

I wonder how many of us have breached Rule 6-8a from time to time. This Rule clarifies that bad weather is not of itself a good reason for discontinuing play. The penalty for breaching Rule 6-8 in stroke play is disqualification. In match play, players may agree to discontinue their match for any reason, including bad weather, providing the competition is not delayed by them doing so. If the players do not agree, in other words one side wants to continue play and the other does not, then the match must proceed. There is one circumstance where players may discontinue play for bad weather and that is when the player believes there is danger from lightning. There have been several instances where players have been struck by lightning on a golf course, some with fatal consequences, so it is eminently sensible that the Rules permit players not to put themselves at risk when there is an electrical storm in the locality.

There is nothing in the Rules about playing in fog or thick mist, but for safety reasons courses should obviously be closed as soon as players cannot see where their ball may land. Unfortunately, the nature of fog and mist means that there can be poor visibility on one area of the course, but clear conditions on another. In my opinion, it would be wrong for a Committee to disqualify a player who insisted on discontinuing play in circumstances in which it could be dangerous to other players if they continued with their round.

Other Rules situations relating to bad weather are;

  • A player may protect themselves with an umbrella while they make a stroke (e.g. a tap-in putt), but they may not accept protection from the elements from anyone else while making a stroke (Decision 14-2/2). 
  • Frost is not a loose impediment, so unlike hailstones and natural ice, frost may not be removed before making a stroke (Definition of Loose Impediment). 
  • A player may use a hand warmer to warm their hands, but not their golf balls once they have started their round (Decision 14-3/13).
  • As has been covered in this earlier blog of mine, Committees should not take bunkers out of play just because they are waterlogged (Decision 33-8/27). Decision 25-1b/8 details the relief options that a player has when a bunker is completely covered by water. Of course, Committees may, in exceptional circumstances, introduce a Local Rule providing that specific bunkers, which are known to be flooded prior to the competition commencing, are deemed to be ground under repair and classified as through the green (Decision 33-8/27).
Good golfing,

    From time to time the 'Search This Blog' facility, found towards the top right hand side of my blog pages , does not work. However, it seems to be working now, so if you have any questions on the Rules of Golf, enter a query term in this box and there is a good chance that I will have covered it over the past four years.

    The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

    Tuesday, 21 January 2014

    The Rory McIlroy Rules Incident

    Caddie, Dave Renwick, advises McIlroy of his breach -

    It is only the third week of a new golfing year and we already have a major Rules incident involving one of the sport’s highest profile, young stars, Rory McIlroy, who was No.1 in the official world golf rankings less than a year ago.

    During last Saturday’s third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, (Northern) Ireland’s brightest star failed to take full relief from a spectator crosswalk, incurring a penalty of two strokes. He finished the competition in joint second place, so arguably this penalty cost him his first win of the year and approximately $200,000 in prize money, but of course history would have changed had his infraction not been penalised and for all we know he might have had a terrible final round, or even been disqualified in the changed circumstances.

    I am linking here to a post-round interview in which Rory handles the stressful situation very well, until the last few seconds, where in my opinion, he lets himself down badly;

    Let me clarify exactly what Rory said at the very end of that interview, as it is not too clear;

    “Yes, stuff like this is … it’s sort of stupid. There’s a lot of stupid Rules in Golf and this is one of them.”
    I am prepared to give Rory the benefit of the doubt here, as it must be difficult to have a microphone thrust in your face at the end of a good round that had suddenly turned sour, but the Rules permitting relief without penalty from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions have been around for a long time, are regularly faced by players at all levels of the game and it is difficult to see how golf could be played without them.

    Now for my thoughts on this matter, starting with the Rule that was breached. Rory’s ball had come to rest on a spectator crosswalk that had been defined as ground under repair (GUR) with a white line. Note that the Committee had done this to help the players avoid lies that had been trampled down by spectators, not as a trap to penalise them. He could have chosen to play the ball as it lay, but decided to take relief, under Rule 25-1b. When a player is taking relief from GUR they must first determine the nearest point, not nearer the hole, where there is no interference from the GUR to the lie of their ball, their stance or the area of their intended swing, and then drop the ball within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. The dropped ball must come to rest in a position that affords complete relief from the GUR area they are taking relief from. So, why did Rory drop his ball so close to the line that one of his feet was standing on it as he made his stroke? His area of drop was one club-length from the nearest point of relief, which could have taken him several feet away from the line. As his ball came to rest so close to the line that he had to stand on it to make a stroke, he was entitled to re-drop it, without penalty, to take complete relief from the interference. This Rule is there to assist and protect players and not to catch them out. I covered the subject of taking complete relief in this blog.

    What about the roles of the two caddies in this incident? In addition to the physical tasks of carrying and cleaning equipment, raking bunkers, repairing divots, attending flagsticks, etc. caddies at the professional end of the game are expected to be able to advise their players on such things as yardages, lines of putt, motivation, relaxation and the Rules. Unfortunately, considering they are usually full-time professionals at their job, very few of them seem to study the Rules enough to be of any benefit to their player in this respect. In an earlier blog, I asked for any caddie amongst my ~10,000 readers to make contact with me and I did not receive one reply. That is not a very scientific survey, but I suspect that it does indicate a lack of interest in the subject by the caddying community. So, where was J.P. Fitzgerald and what was he looking at when Rory made his stroke with one foot on the white GUR line? To be fair to Rory, he has not blamed his caddie in any of the reports that I have seen, but I would be surprised if he did not place some of the blame on him behind the scenes. Of course it was another caddie, Dave Fenwick, who did observe the breach and bring it to Rory’s attention at the end of the round. You may ask why he did not step in before the stroke was made? Well, apparently he was 40 yards ahead of McIlroy when he noticed that his foot was still on the GUR line. He didn’t want to shout back to him as he prepared to make his stroke, nor did he want to approach him immediately after the hole, which might have upset the players for the rest of the round (they were only on their 2nd hole). Why did he mention it at all? Quite rightly, he reasoned that the infraction might have been noticed by someone else (e.g. a course spectator or television viewer) and it may come to light after McIlroy had signed his card, leading to his disqualification. The game would be poorer if caddies who observed Rules violations are encouraged to overlook them. In my opinion, Fenwick handled the situation professionally and properly.

    Finally, in answer to those that see this incident as another example of why there should be a Rules official walking with every group in tournament events, I would like to offer a different opinion. One of the problems is that most professional players and their caddies do not have an acceptable knowledge of the Rules of Golf and having someone on hand for every hole played could worsen this situation by absolving them of the responsibility for bothering to learn them. We should not forget that part of Rule 6-1 states;

    The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules.
    Also, breaches of the Rules still happen when there is a walking official present, e.g. Tiger’s wrong drop at Augusta last year, and when the official misses something it will likely be them that gets criticised and not the player or their caddie, which is where the real responsibility rests.

    My conclusion is that Rory McIlroy has now suffered twice for simple Rules violations (the other time was when he brushed sand from the fringe of the green, also in Abu Dhabi, in 2012), and that he should brush-up his knowledge of the Rules and insist that his caddie does the same. It is not good enough to blame the Rules, which are there to ensure a level playing field for all golfers whatever their ability, which should work to his favour, as one of the best golfers in the world.

    Good golfing

    Is your Club or Society thinking of ways to improve the Rules knowledge of its members? A Rules Quiz is a great way to achieve this in a fun way. I have done all the work for you with my 3 quizzes; General, Match Play and Juniors. Check out the details at this link.
    The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

    Tuesday, 14 January 2014

    Amendments to Decisions on the Rules Revisited

    Of the many amendments to the Decisions of Golf that became effective from 1st January, the one that received the most media coverage concerned the use of video and other visual evidence (such as HDTV, digital recording and on-line visual media), which has brought a new level of scrutiny to Rules issues arising in elite golf tournaments**. However, I am going to highlight a number of minor amendments that are probably more relevant to the amateur golfer.
    • The amendment to Decision 14-3/4 permits the use of a compass during a round. More importantly, it clears the way for players to use an iPhone with a distance measuring application, providing a Local Rule permits the use of distance measuring devices. Previously, the presence of an inbuilt compass that could not be deleted from a smart phone meant that they could not be used for this purpose. (Edit 16th January: This R&A article, 'Your Distance Measuring Device Questions Answered' confirms that the inbuilt spirit level on an iPhone does not preclude it from being used, provided that spirit level is not used in a manner that might assist play.)
    • Amendments to Decisions 1-1/1, 1-3/7, 2-1/1.5 and 2-1/4 clarify that opponents in match play will not be disqualified for breaching Rule 1-3, if they are not aware that they are agreeing to breach a Rule.
    • Note that this paragraph will no longer be relevant after the Rules of Golf revisions dated 1st January 2012 become effective.                                The new Decision 18-2b/1 (the old Decision with the same number was withdrawn) clarifies that the effects of gravity do not satisfy the Exception to Rule 18-2b. So, if a player has addressed their ball, by grounding their club immediately in front to or behind their ball, and it subsequently moves in calm conditions, the player does not escape the penalty of one stroke if the cause of the movement was gravity, and the ball must be replaced.
    • To supplement the amended text of Decision 25-2/0.5 there is an accompanying diagram. This is an important area for all golfers and so I am reproducing the Decision in full;
    A ball is deemed to be embedded in the ground only if:
    the impact of the ball landing has created a pitch-mark in the ground,
    the ball is in its own pitch-mark, and
    part of the ball is below the level of the ground.
    Provided that these three requirements are met, a ball does not necessarily have to touch the soil to be considered embedded (e.g., grass, loose impediments or the like may intervene between the ball and the soil).
    Any doubt as to wheth
    er a ball is embedded should be resolved against the player. (Revised)

    • The amendment to Decision 27-2a/1.5 has the effect of permitting a player who has just played a stroke to go forward a short distance (approximately 50 yards) to determine whether it would save time to play a provisional ball. Previously, he could not return to play a provisional once he, or his partner, had left the area of the stroke to go forward to search.
    • I am not going to go into the detail of the amendment to Decision 30/2.5, as the circumstances are uncommon, but it provides an unusual example of an amended Decision resulting in a player incurring a penalty that did not apply previously. (For those that have a copy of my ‘999 Questions’ book, or eBook, the answer to question 990 is now ‘D’).
    • Decision 33-8/8 permits a Committee to introduce a Local Rule providing relief under Rule 25-1, Abnormal Ground Condition, for interference from exposed tree roots when a ball lies on a closely-mown area.
    • Decision 33-8/16 recommends that Committees do not make a Local Rule making water hazard and ground under repair stakes immovable obstructions, as this may result in players being penalised for removing them.
    Good golfing,

    ** Click here for a link to the joint statement by R&A and USGA on use of video and other visual evidence.

    This is a good time to purchase my book, ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf’, as I have just updated it to take account of the amendments to the Decisions of Golf 2014-2015 that became effective on 1st January. Six of the seven reviews on Amazon/Kindle give it the maximum rating of five stars (the other reader gave it four stars). However, if you purchase it through my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ web site it will cost you less and you will receive a .pdf file (for computers) as well as the .mobi file (for eReaders, tablets and smart phones).

    The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

    Tuesday, 7 January 2014

    Water Hazards and Lateral Water Hazards

    Water hazard to left of stakes, lateral water hazard to right.

    It is an unfortunate fact that many golfers, even those that play regularly, do not appear to know the difference between a water hazard and a lateral water hazard, which may be important when deciding which relief option is the most appropriate in differing circumstances. So, why are there two types of water hazard? David Rickman, the R&A’s Executive Director – Rules and Equipment Standards, explains;
    "The use of red and yellow markings and the existence in the game of two kinds of water hazards is an issue that’s been discussed on and off many times over the years. The main reason for retaining the yellow type of hazard is for holes when crossing a water hazard has strategic significance to the play of that hole. Two prominent examples are often sited, namely the 1st hole at St Andrews, where the player needs to negotiate the Swilcan Burn in front of the green and secondly, the 12th hole at Augusta, where the player has to cross Rae’s Creek. In both of those cases it is felt that the fundamental challenge of the hole is to negotiate that water hazard in front of the green and, therefore, any relief option that would allow the player in certain circumstances to drop on the greenside of the hazard is to be resisted. So I think that there are good reasons for keeping two kinds of water hazards. Particularly in elite play, the use of yellow hazards is highly appropriate but I would certainly accept that at recreational level and at lower competitive levels of the game a more general use of red hazards is both common and actually makes considerable sense as it can help players to play reasonably quickly in those circumstances."
    The first sentence of the Definition of Lateral Water Hazard gives us more information on the main factor that a Committee should consider before defining the type of water hazard;
    A “lateral water hazard” is a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-Ib.
    Here is a reminder of the relief option in question, Rule 26-1b;
    Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.
    If you think about this option you will see that in almost every situation this would require a ball to be dropped on the far side of the water from the hole, no matter where the ball was played from. The line is from the hole through the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. Despite what many golfers think, the line of flight of the ball into the hazard is of no relevance to the relief options.

    (This next sentence was edited for clarification on 8th January 2014) If a ball that last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard (defined by red stakes and/or lines) comes to rest within the hazard, the player has an additional two options to when a ball is within the margin of a water hazard (defined by yellow stakes and/or lines). These are detailed in Rule 26-1c;

    As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.
    So, for water hazards there are three options, the one noted above (Rule 26-1b), playing the ball out of the hazard without penalty, and proceeding under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1. For lateral water hazards the same three options are available, plus the two in the previous paragraph under Rule 26-1c.

    If the above explanation has left you in any way confused I strongly recommend that you view my two short, ‘Rhodes Rules School’ videos on taking relief from water hazards and lateral water hazards at this link

    Good golfing in 2014,

    Here is a shameless plug for two of my eDocuments. The complete set of 'Rhodes Rules School photo series' is available at this link. The complete set of the follow-up series, 'How Many Strokes?'  has recently become available at this link. Once you have purchased these sets you will start receiving free, weekly emails of my third series, '9 Questions About .....'.