Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Rules of Golf Are Not Always Black and White

Anyone who takes an interest in the Rules of Golf will know that, despite the preciseness and complexity of the 34 Rules and the 1,200+ Decisions on the Rules, there are still many subjective areas, some of which may require an understanding of the intent of the player before a ruling can be assessed.

One example of a situation for which a subjective ruling may have to be made is when a player claims that they are entitled to relief from an immovable obstruction, or abnormal ground condition, that only interferes with their intended stroke if they adopt an unusual stance, or direction of play. Normally, they would not be able to claim relief just by adopting an unusual stance for the stroke, because of the exception that is quoted at the end of this paragraph, but there are instances where it may be justified, because an unusual stance is reasonable in certain circumstances. So, if a player’s ball lies immediately behind a tree they may choose to play it left-handed, or in a direction that is not towards the hole. If a nearby path does not interfere with a stroke to the hole, but does come into play if the stroke has to be made in a different direction, or with a different stance, then it may be reasonable for the player to be seek relief. However, in many cases, it is these Exceptions to Rule 24-2, Relief from an Immovable Obstruction, and Rule 25-1, Relief from Abnormal Ground Condition, that prevent the player from taking unfair advantage of relief by claiming that they will have to use a non-orthodox stance or swing, or play in an unlikely direction.

A player may not take relief under this Rule if (a) interference by anything other than an immovable obstruction makes the stroke clearly impracticable or (b) interference by an immovable obstruction would occur only through use of a clearly unreasonable stroke or an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play. (The exception to Rule 25-1 relating to interference by an abnormal ground condition is similarly worded. I have highlighted the key words).
The purpose of these Exceptions is to prevent the player from fortuitously obtaining free relief when it is clearly impracticable for them to make a stroke because of interference by something from which free relief is not available. In the diagram above, I have tried to illustrate a scenario where there is an artificial path close to the tree that the player’s ball lies behind. In adopting their normal right-handed stance the path does not interfere, but the player claims that to extricate their ball they would have to adopt a left-handed stance for which the path would interfere, allowing them to take relief without penalty by dropping a ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief that avoided the path, not nearer the hole (point X in the diagram). In many cases, after taking the drop away from the path, the ball would come to rest where the tree was no longer in the line of play and the player could play their next stroke right-handed, having turned an ‘impossible’ stroke into a relatively straightforward stroke, without incurring a penalty. So, before the player takes relief the marker, fellow competitor, opponent or official must decide whether, in their opinion, the left-handed stroke would be reasonable in the circumstances. The question that has to be asked is if the path was not there would the player have decided to play to the side of the tree with a left-handed stroke, meaning that they would have to reverse the club face (assuming that the player did not carry a left-handed club). Most players would not have the ability to be certain that they would; a) hit their ball using this unnatural stroke, and b) advance their ball far enough to ensure that their next stroke was unobstructed. (Note in the diagram that if the player misjudges their left-handed stroke their ball could end up in dense trees). So, in many (most!) cases, the stroke would be unreasonable and relief would not be available. However, it has to be accepted that there are rare occasions where the 'manufactured' stroke could be deemed reasonable and relief could then be taken from the path if it interfered with the stance for the left-handed stroke. The ruling is obviously subjective, depending on such factors as, the position of the ball, the size of the tree, the line of play to the hole, other adjacent features (e.g. trees, bunkers and water) and the ability of the player; scratch players are obviously more likely to successfully execute this type of stroke than high handicappers. Where there is doubt, the ruling should be against the player taking relief. If they disagree, they should play a second ball, carefully following the procedure laid down in Rule 3-3, which includes reporting the facts to the Committee as soon as the round has finished.

Some other potentially subjective areas of the Rules include;

  • Where did a ball that comes to rest in a water hazard last cross the margin of the hazard?
  • Was the area of intended swing improved to the advantage of the player after they had knocked down some leaves from an overhanging tree branch during a practice swing (see this blog)?
  • Did a conversation about weather conditions (public information) constitute advice because it may have convinced a player to change their club selection after it started?
  • Did a player address their ball by grounding their club immediately behind (or in front of) their ball just before it moved (see this blog)?
  • Where was a ball at rest when it was mistakenly played by another player in a different group?
  • What was the exact position of a ball at rest on a putting green when it was moved by a fellow competitor’s ball played from the fairway?
  • Did a player cause their ball in the rough to move as they approached it, or was it due to the wind, gravity, or vibrations as a train passed?
  • Does placing a ball in a pocket breach Rule 22-1, which states that a ball lifted because it is interfering or assisting in the play of another ball may not be cleaned by the player, unless it was lifted from the putting green (see this blog)?
  • A player may not repair a spike mark that is in the vicinity of a hole until play of the hole has been completed. How far does this area extend?
  • And perhaps the most subjective of all golfing situations, has a player unduly delayed play by their slow play?
I hope that readers will see that not all Rules situations are black and white; players must examine all the facts and make their best judgement. Where there is doubt seek the opinions of others and do not try and take advantage.

Good golfing,


As your season gets under way in the Souther Hemisphere, why not focus your Club or Society members on the Rules of Golf by running a social event including a Rules Quiz. I have done all the hard work for you and my three quizzes (General, Juniors and Match Play) include all the questions and answers, with references to the relevant Rules to prevent arguments. Click here for details.

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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Teeing Grounds

Staggered tee boxes at Branson Creek Golf Club, Hollister, Mo. USA
First, let me clarify the distinction between a teeing area (or tee box), which is the whole area (or areas) that have been prepared by the greens staff for locating various teeing grounds, and the teeing ground itself, which is defined as follows;
The “teeing ground’’ is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers. A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground.
Committees, or those taking responsibility for running a competition, should give careful consideration to the siting of teeing grounds. As I have no expertise in course set-up, I have taken much of the following content from the excellent R&A publication, 'Guidance on Running a Competition’.

Ideally, teeing grounds should be located in different places for each competition, to ensure that the whole teeing area is worn evenly over the course of a golfing season. Committees should decide on the teeing grounds to be used for each hole in advance of any major competition, to allow the greens staff to protect them from play in the run up to the event.

If players are playing practice rounds before a major event, it is suggested that the Committee places the tee-markers for practice as far back on the teeing areas as possible, while still enabling a stroke to be made. As the teeing ground is an area two club-lengths in depth, when placing the tee-markers for a competition they should never be closer than two club-lengths from the back of the tee. So, if the tee-markers are a club-length from the back for practice rounds, the area that will be used for the competition will be unaffected. This allows the players to play the course at its full length when practicing. Whereas, if the tee-markers are placed well ahead of the competition course length during practice, the players are more likely to go back and play from where they think the tee-markers will be for the competition, potentially causing damage to that area instead of protecting it.

Whether it is the Committee or the greens staff setting the tee-markers on the competition days, it is important that the markers are set pointing towards the ideal hitting line. This can be achieved by eye or, to be absolutely sure, by using something like a T-square. It is also preferable that, where possible, there is consistency in terms of the width of the teeing areas. The R&A recommends that tee-markers are positioned six or seven yards width apart (seven tends to be for par 3s). If the tee-markers are much farther apart, it increases the area of damage and also increases the likelihood that a player may tee up in front of the tee-markers. If the teeing area is small, and there is, for example, four days of competition, it is necessary to plan out where the tee-markers will be for each day to ensure that there is enough undamaged space remaining for the last day.

The person(s) responsible for running the competition should keep a close eye on the weather forecast. If there is a strong wind forecast, it could mean that players may not be able to reach the fairway from the planned teeing ground, so serious consideration should be given to moving the tee forward for that day’s play. Another recommendation is that once the tee-markers are positioned, a mark should be painted beside them, in case they are accidentally moved or go missing. This also provides a useful reference for the following day.

Here are some bullet points from Rule 11, Teeing ground;

  • The ball must be played from within the teeing ground and from the surface of the ground, or from a conforming tee in or on the surface of the ground. 
  • A player may stand outside the teeing ground to play a ball within it.
  • If a ball, when not in play, falls off a tee or is knocked off a tee by the player in addressing it, it may be re-teed, without penalty. However, if a stroke is made at the ball in these circumstances, whether the ball is moving or not, the stroke counts, but there is no penalty.
  • In stroke play, if a competitor, when starting a hole, plays a ball from outside the teeing ground, they incur a penalty of two strokes and must then play a ball from within the teeing ground. If the competitor makes a stroke from the next teeing ground without first correcting their mistake or, in the case of the last hole of the round, leaves the putting green without first declaring their intention to correct their mistake, they are disqualified. The stroke from outside the teeing ground and any subsequent strokes by the competitor on the hole prior to his correction of the mistake do not count in their score.
I am aware that many Committees think that they can further protect their teeing areas with a Local Rule that makes it mandatory to take relief when a ball comes to rest on a teeing area other than the one being played. I am strongly against the introduction of such a Local Rule for the reasons that I explained in this earlier blog.

Good golfing,


Many questions that you may have on the Rules of Golf can be answered by searching my 6 years of weekly blogs, by entering a search term in the ‘Search This Blog’ box at the top right corner of each of my web pages.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

“My Ball Is Lost, It Must Be in the Water Hazard!”

Photo: Getty Images
This headline comment, or something similar, is regularly heard on the golf course and provides a good starting point for this week’s blog.

For a ball to be lost in a water hazard (which includes a lateral water hazard) it must be known or virtually certain that it has come to rest within its margins. A player may not assume that their ball is in the water hazard simply because it cannot be found in the vicinity and so there is a possibility that the ball may be in the water hazard. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty that the ball lies in a water hazard, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost somewhere other than in the hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27-1, by returning to where their last stroke was made from under penalty of stroke and distance. To put this into perspective, if players are searching for a ball outside a water hazard, e.g. in long grasses, bushes or trees adjacent to the hazard, then logically  they must have thought that there was a good chance that the ball may be at rest outside of the hazard. Unless a ball has been seen to splash into water from a height, with no chance of it bouncing across the surface, ‘dambusters’ style, onto the other bank, or can be seen to lie at rest within the margin, then there is at least a possibility that it may not have come to rest in the hazard. An example of a rare situation where it may be assumed that a ball is lost in a water hazard is if it has been struck down a fairway with a ditch running across it, marked as a water hazard, and the ball cannot be found on either side of the ditch near the line of flight. In this case, where there is virtually no possibility that the ball could be lost outside of the hazard, the player may take relief from the hazard by choosing one of the three relief options under Rule 26-1, for a penalty of one stroke. Even in this situation, if there are many fallen leaves lying on the fairway then the strict, known or virtually certain requirement may still not be satisfied.

To summarise, a player may not assume that their ball is lost in a water hazard unless it is known or virtually certain that the ball could not have come to rest anywhere outside of the margin of a hazard. If it cannot be found the ball must be treated as lost.

Don’t sign your score card until….
Rule 6-6b, Signing and Returning Score Card, states;

After completion of the round, the competitor should check his score for each hole and settle any doubtful points with the Committee. He must ensure that the marker or markers have signed the score card, sign the score card himself and return it to the Committee as soon as possible.
So, the very last thing that a player should do before returning their score card to the Committee is to sign it, formerly attesting its accuracy and completeness. This was a hard lesson learned for 23 year-old English professional, Holly Clyburn, at the LPGA Qualifying School two weeks ago, when she was disqualified, due to her marker leaving the scoring area without signing her card. Holly checked and signed her score card and had it verified by the officials in the scoring tent, but neglected to ensure that her marker had also signed it. When the officials realised that the marker’s signature was missing they had no option other than to disqualify Holly Clyburn for her breach, Rule 6-6b. So, the lesson is, do not sign your score card before your round, during your round, even immediately after your round. Wait until you are in the designated scoring area, check that your marker has entered all your gross scores correctly, and has signed the card, check that your full 18-hole handicap has been entered correctly and then sign it and return it to the Committee as required for the competition (e.g. by depositing it in the competition box).

Finally, I recommend an interesting article by European Tour Chief Referee, John Paramor, on his experiences at last month’s Ryder Cup in Gleneagles. Click on this link.

Good golfing,


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

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

When a Stroke May or Must be Replayed

I have been asked to list those occasions when the Rules permit a player to choose whether they may replay a stroke and when it is mandatory for them to do so. I accept that a list like this is not easy reading, but I hope that it will provide a useful resource for interested Rules enthusiasts.
  • Ball breaks into pieces following a stroke.
The player must replay the stroke without penalty.
Rule 5-3. 

  • Playing out of turn in match play.
The opponent may cancel the player’s stroke and require them to play again in the correct order.
Rule 10-1c.

  • Playing from outside the teeing ground in match play.
If a player plays a ball from outside the teeing ground in match play, there is no penalty, but the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel the stroke and play a ball from within the teeing ground.
Rule 11-4a.

  • Ball replaced on putting green while another ball is in motion.
If the ball of the player who had putted was intentionally deflected by the replaced ball they must replay the stroke.
Decision 16-1b/3.

  • Player attends a flagstick without authorisation while a putt is being made from the putting green and the ball hits the flagstick, the person holding it, or anything carried by them.
In stroke play, in these circumstances, the player making the putt incurs no penalty, the stroke is cancelled and the ball must be replaced and replayed.
Note to Penalty Statement under Rule 17-2.

  • Opponent or fellow-competitor attending a flagstick fails to remove it.
If the player attending the flagstick intentionally permits a ball in motion from a stroke to hit it they may be disqualified for a serious breach. In any case, the stroke must be replayed without penalty.
Decision 17-3/2.

  • Ball in motion after a stroke from the putting green deflected or stopped by an outside agency.
If a player’s ball in motion after a stroke on the putting green is either purposely or accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency the stroke is cancelled and the ball must be replaced and replayed.
Rule 19-1b and Note to Rule 19-1.

  • Ball accidentally deflected or stopped by an opponent, their caddie or their equipment.
In match play, if a player’s ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by an opponent, his caddie or his equipment, there is no penalty. The player may, before another stroke is made by either side, cancel the stroke and play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played or they may play the ball as it lies.
Rule 19-3 (also see Decision 19-3/1).

  • Ball in motion after a stroke from the putting green deflected or stopped by another ball in motion.
If a player’s ball in motion after a stroke on the putting green is deflected or stopped by another ball in motion after a stroke, the player’s stroke is cancelled and the ball must be replaced and replayed, without penalty.
Rule 19-5b.

  • Ball played out of turn in foursomes
If a player in foursomes (alternate shot) makes a stroke when it was their partner’s turn to play, the side is penalised two strokes, they must cancel the stroke(s) and correct the error by playing in the correct order.
Rule 29-3.

  • A Local Rule requires that a stroke may or must be replayed.
A Committee may make and publish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions in which a stroke must be cancelled and played again. A common example of this is when a ball strikes an elevated power line. (Edited with a correction 23rd September 2015).

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

Englishman, Oliver Wilson, was the extremely popular winner of last week’s Dunhill Championship. Having played in the 2008 Ryder, he lost his European tour card in 2011 and had fallen to a ranking of 792 in the world, relying on a sponsor’s invitation to play in the event. This was his first win on tour, although he had been runner-up nine times. Well done Oliver, it is great to see perseverance paying off.

I am only aware of one Rules incident during the Dunhill Championship that happened during the final round. Another English professional, Chris Wood, was joint leader when he was informed early in his round that had been assessed a penalty of two strokes for moving sand off the fringe during his play of the first hole. All golfers should be aware that sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere. Note that it is not just sand, but loose soil as well; so when you are moving a number of loose impediments from bare earth, you should do so by picking them off the ground, because if you use a brushing action to remove them, you are almost certain to move loose soil at the same time, incurring a general penalty.

Good golfing,


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