Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Stroke and Distance Penalty

In this week’s blog I want to emphasise a ‘get out of jail’ Rule that still seems to surprise many golfers; Rule 27-1a;
At any time, a player may, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5), i.e., proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

Except as otherwise provided in the Rules, if a player makes a stroke at a ball from the spot at which the original ball was last played, he is deemed to have proceeded under penalty of stroke and distance. 
I am going to highlight what I mean by ‘get out of jail free’ with three examples;
  • A player’s ball embeds in sand under the lip of a bunker. 
They do not have to hope for a miracle or take a penalty drop in the bunker, they may return to where they last played from, under penalty of stroke and distance.
  • A player strikes their ball from a bunker across the green into deep water in a water hazard.
Instead of dropping a ball on the far side of the water hazard to the putting green they may rake the bunker and drop a ball in it, at the point where it was at rest before the stroke was made and play again, under penalty of stroke and distance.
  • A player strikes their ball against a tree and it rebounds 70 yards farther from the hole than where it was played from, into deep rough.
They do not have to have to play the ball where it lies, or take penalty relief using that point as a reference, they can drop a ball where it was at rest before the stroke was made and play again, under penalty of stroke and distance.
Of course, there are two instances where golfers have no option but to incur the penalty of stroke and distance, which are when their ball is lost or is out of bounds. Many players feel that this is an unfair penalty and I am aware that some social golfers, when they are playing casual rather than competitive golf, permit the player to drop a ball on the course close to where they believe the ball was lost, or where it went out of bounds for a penalty. In fact, the Ruling Bodies have experimented with similar options over the years, as follows;

Out of Bounds:1920 Stroke and distance, but now the penalty stroke may be remitted by Local Rule.
1947 USGA and 1950 R&A Distance only, and no provision for change by a local rule.
1952 Stroke and distance.
1960 USGA experimentally changed to distance only.
1961 USGA back to stroke and distance. In addition, the USGA allowed an alternative procedure of stroke only - dropping a ball within two club lengths of where the ball went out of bounds on courses where the penalty of stroke and distance would be "unduly severe".
1964 USGA allowed a local rule to be adopted which allowed a stroke-only option if it was felt that stroke and distance would be "'unduly severe." The player could drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the original ball crossed the out of bounds line. Reasonable evidence was required both that the ball had gone out of bounds and as to the point of crossing. In the absence of either, stroke and distance was the only option.
1968 Rescinded.

Lost Ball:

1902 Stroke and distance, ball to be teed.
1920 Stroke and distance in both forms of play. Ball must now be dropped if not played from the tee.
1950 R&A changes penalty to distance only.
1952 Back to Stroke and distance.
1956 Ball may be declared lost by player. This option removed in 1964.
1960 USGA Distance only. Rescinded 1961.
1972 ball may be abandoned as lost without searching. Option Removed 1976.
(Reproduced from information on www.ruleshistory.com)

I am sure that I do not need to remind readers that if you think that a ball may be lost or may be out of bounds you should play a provisional ball, to save time and avoid the ‘walk of shame’ back to where you last played from.

Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Immovable Obstructions on the Putting Green

I was giving a presentation on the Rules of Golf last week when the subject of artificial hole plugs was brought up. The first point for me to make is that Rule 16-1c permits a player to repair a hole plug, whether it is a natural plug of earth or an artificial plug (usually plastic) and this is permitted whether or not their ball lies on the putting green. The second, more important point that I want to make is that artificial hole plugs are by definition, immovable obstructions. The consequence of this is that when a player’s ball lies on the putting surface they may not only take relief from the artificial plug hole if it interferes with their lie, stance or area of intended swing, but may also take line of putt relief under this part of Rule 24-2a - Immovable Obstructions;
If the player's ball lies on the putting green, interference also occurs if an immovable obstruction on the putting green intervenes on his line of putt.
The procedure for taking relief is found in Rule 24-2b(iii);
If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it, without penalty, at the nearest point of relief that is not in a hazard. The nearest point of relief may be off the putting green.
Note that this is similar to the relief that is available in circumstances where there is casual water on the putting green between where a player’s ball lies on the putting surface and the hole, Rule 25-1b(iii).

Of course, there may be another type of immovable obstruction encountered on a putting green, most commonly wire netting, which has been installed by a greenkeeper to protect a newly renovated area, usually following animal or machinery damage to the putting surface. Very occasionally, on large putting greens, there may be sprinkler heads actually located on the putting surface, in which case the same line of putt relief option would apply.

Distance Measuring Devices
There still seems to be some confusion over the use of distance measuring devices (DMDs), where they are permitted by a Local Rule. Yes, you can now use an iPhone for measuring distances only, as the ban on taking a compass on the course was removed in January 2014. The USGA has a very useful infographic on the subject at this link.

Good golfing,

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Which Ball is in Play?

Following last week’s blog, which I finished with a strong recommendation that players must put an identification mark on their balls if they want to avoid incurring unnecessary penalties, I received this interesting scenario;
"In a strokes competition, a player hits his tee shot in left rough. Goes to look for his ball, not finding after brief search, returns to the tee and hits a second ball into the same area. While looking for the second ball and finding a ball, a spectator advises that the ball he found is in the area where the first ball landed. Player cannot determine whether the ball he found is his first or second tee shot as both balls were marked the same. Player plays the ball found through the hole and asks for help in scoring to determine his score for the hole."
Initially, I thought that Situation 4 in Decision 27/11 provided the answer to this question (see below for the rulings on four interesting situations relating to a player who cannot distinguish between their original ball and their provisional ball in this Decision), but I have been corrected and I think that it is worth explaining where I went wrong. When a provisional ball is played onto the course there are two possible outcomes; the original ball may be found in bounds, in which case the provisional ball is then out of play, or the original ball is lost, in which case the provisional ball is the ball in play. The mistake that I was making in respect of the above question is that when the player returned to the teeing ground and put another ball in play, (Edit 17th June: which is not permitted to be a provisional ball) the first ball was immediately lost. So, when the player could not distinguish whether the ball that was found by the spectator was his original ball (lost and not in play under the Rules) or the second ball (the ball in play under the Rules), he was not permitted to assume that the found ball was his second ball. Therefore, his only way to proceed within the Rules was to return to the teeing ground and play another ball, his 5th stroke. Failure to do so meant that he was disqualified from the strokes competition, because he did not hole out with the correct ball.

Here is Decision 27/11 in full, which explains the principle when a provisional ball has been played;

A player entitled to play a provisional ball from the tee plays it into the same area as his original ball. The balls have identical markings and the player cannot distinguish between them. Following are various situations and the solutions, which are based on equity (Rule 1-4), when the above circumstances exist and one or both of the balls are found within a search of five minutes:

Situation 1: One ball is found in a water hazard and the other ball is not found.

Solution 1: The ball that was found must be presumed to be the provisional ball.

Situation 2: Both balls are found in a water hazard.

Solution 2: As the player's original ball is lost in the water hazard due to his inability to identify it (see analogous Decision 27/10), the player must proceed under Rule 26-1 with respect to the original ball (estimating the spot where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, if necessary - see Decision 26-1/17); his next stroke would be his third.

Situation 3: One ball is found in bounds and the other ball is lost or is found out of bounds.

Solution 3: The ball in bounds must be presumed to be the provisional ball.

Situation 4: Both balls are found in bounds, whether in a playable or an unplayable lie, and (1) one ball is in a water hazard and the other is not or (2) both balls lie through the green or in a bunker.

Solution 4: One could argue that both balls are lost. However, it would be inequitable to require the player to return to the tee, playing 5, when the player has found both balls but does not know which is the original and which the provisional. Accordingly, the player must select one of the balls, treat it as his provisional ball and abandon the other.
Remember that the principle in Situation 4 does not apply to the question at the start of this blog, because no provisional ball was involved.

Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Identifying Your Ball

It may come as a surprise to some golfers that the Rules do not require them to notify their marker or fellow competitor, which ball they are playing before starting a hole, nor when they are substituting a ball under the Rules during play of the hole. All that is required by the Rules is that a player can positively identify their ball in play, a subject which I previously blogged about in this article. Of course, I am not suggesting that a player should not inform those that they are playing with of the brand, number and any identifying marks on their ball; it is both good etiquette and the sensible thing to do, as it avoids any possible doubt that might arise when a ball is played out of sight. In fact, I recommend that markers make it a practice to ask the player they are marking for to describe the ball they are playing; how else can they be sure that the ball that the player finishes the hole with is the same one that they started with, or with the one that they correctly substituted under the Rules during play of the hole? Whilst on this subject I will make the point that in the absence of a ‘One Ball’ Condition of Competition, the player is permitted to change the brand, condition and colour of any balls they use during a round, without restriction. They may also borrow balls from any source. This makes it all the more necessary that they inform the other players in their group each time they change the ball they are putting into play.

I have often wondered how many Titleist Pro V1, No.1, balls there are on an 18-hole golf course at any one time. My uneducated guess is that the average is probably in excess of 18, or 1 per hole, including those that have been lost. So, how can a player positively identify their Pro V1, No.1, from the others on the course, if there is no identification mark? Even this may not be sufficient. I tell the story of a retired senior who played his home course 3-4 times a week. He had a mental block on one particular hole, which led him to regularly slice his drive into the same area of deep rough to the right of the fairway. On one occasion, after a couple of minutes, he shouted to his fellow searchers that he had found his Titleist No.1 ball. “How do you know it is yours?” responded his marker. “It has the same personal identification that I always use”, he responded. “You hit so many balls into this rough that it would need to have today’s date on it for you to be sure”, was the terse, unsympathetic reply!

Part of Rule 12-2 states that each player should put an identification mark on his ball. My strong recommendation is that each player must put an identification mark on their balls if they want to avoid incurring unnecessary penalties for playing a wrong ball, or not being able to positively identify a ball that has been found.

Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

In Golf Size Can Matter

As I am enjoying a two-week vacation in very sunny Portugal, I am reproducing another article from Paul Kruger, who emails a 'Rules Tip of the Week' to friends and contacts who have an interest. Paul’s subject is one that I have not previously considered; when it comes to the Rules of Golf, size can matter.

Size Matters
"As we all know, golf is the game for all ages, and its players come in all shapes and sizes. We may be short or tall, slim or not so slim, younger or more mature, male or female. The myriad of differences among golfers in terms of height and weight is uniquely accommodated by the Rules of Golf in such a way that the same Rules apply to everyone.

Does size really matter? Well, it might surprise you, but size does matter, at least when it comes to certain applications of the Rules of Golf! For instance, for the most part, taller players use longer clubs, whereas shorter players use shorter clubs. The difference in the lengths of clubs is one area where size matters in terms of the Rules of Golf. Consider, for example, the depth of the teeing ground. By definition, the teeing ground is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and sides of which are defined by the outside limits of the two tee-markers. The adult male golfer, equipped with a 45” driver, will be allowed to tee his ball within a larger area than his junior counterpart equipped with just a 30” driver.

A similar example is the allowable area for dropping when taking relief. The adult male golfer using a standard length driver to measure (a) one club-length from the nearest point of relief under Rules 24 or 25; or (b) two club-lengths from where his ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard under Rule 26; or (c) two club-lengths from where his ball lies for an unplayable ball under Rule 28, will be able to drop within a larger area than the junior using a much shorter driver when measuring the one club-length or two club-lengths for her allowable dropping area.

One’s stature comes into play when considering the height at which the ball must be dropped when taking relief. All players are required to drop from shoulder height. Therefore, the shorter player will be dropping from a height that is nearer to the ground than the height from which the taller player drops his ball. The result is that the ball dropped by the shorter player will probably not bounce or roll as much as the ball dropped by the taller player once it strikes the ground.

According to Rule 20-2c, once the ball is dropped, it must be re-dropped if it rolls and comes to rest more than two club-lengths from where it first struck a part of the course. It would seem that the player who measures the dropping area with a longer driver may not have to re-drop as often as the player who measures with a shorter driver. But then again, the player establishing the allowable dropping area with a longer club will likely be dropping his ball from an increased height so his ball will be striking the ground with more velocity and his ball may bounce or roll farther after first striking the ground. So who knows?

Last, but not least, consider the definition of “casual water” which includes any temporary accumulation of water that is visible after the player takes his stance. As two players approach their balls lying side by side in a pool of casual water, the heavier player is likely to be the first one to discover casual water appearing around his shoes.  Thus, his nearest point of relief will probably end up being further from where the two balls came to rest than the nearest point of relief for the player weighing less!"

By Paul Kruger, PGA, The Landings Club, Savannah, GA
Good golfing,

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