Monday, 26 October 2015

Revisions in the 2016 Rules of Golf

On Monday 26th October, the R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) announced the publication of the 2016 edition of the Rules of Golf that takes effect on January 1, 2016. There are four significant changes, including the ban on anchoring, which we have known about for some time. Interestingly, the cover on the new Rules book has departed from the practice of listing 'from' and 'to' dates, covering the four-yearly Rules review period. On the 2016 edition (see photo on left above) they have reverted to saying “Effective January 2016”. I am guessing that this means that the much talked about major simplification of the Rules that is being worked on by the two Ruling Bodies, may happen well before 2020.

For speed and simplicity, I have copied most of the summary of the main changes to the Rules effective 1st January 2016 from the official press release, and I will probably go into more detail in future weeks, as the implications become clearer.

Withdrawal of Rule on Ball Moving After Address - Rule 18-2b
This means that if a ball at rest moves after the player addresses it, the player is no longer automatically deemed to have caused the ball to move. A one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 will be applied only when the facts show that the player has caused the ball to move.

Comment: This removes one of the most common retrospective penalties applied following armchair viewers phoning in to report a suspected breach. Effectively, the removal of the Rule means that there no longer will be any presumption that a player has moved their ball after grounding their club in preparation for a stroke. The same overall test in Rule 18-2 will apply to all actions by the player, whether they have addressed their ball, or not; they only incur the one stroke penalty if the facts show that any of their actions caused their ball to move. If they have incurred the penalty the ball must be replaced.
Limited Exception to Disqualification Penalty for Submission of Incorrect Score Card
A new exception has been introduced to Rule 6-6d (Wrong Score for Hole) to provide that a player is not disqualified for returning a lower score for a hole than actually taken as a result of failing to include penalty strokes that the player did not know were incurred before returning the score card. Instead, the player incurs the penalty under the Rule that was breached and must then add an additional penalty of two strokes for the score card error. In all other cases in which a player returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, the penalty will continue to be disqualification.

Comment: So, for example, a player signs their score card with a score of 4 on a hole. Subsequently, they are advised that they forgot to replace their ball on the putting green on that hole, having moved it one putter-head to the side on the request of a fellow competitor. Under the current Rule the player is disqualified for this breach, but the revised Rule means that their score for the hole will be 4, plus two strokes penalty for the breach and a further two strokes for the score card error, making 8 for the hole. Note that this exception does not apply to arithmetical breaches on the score card.
Modification of Penalty for a Single Impermissible Use of Artificial Devices or Equipment
The penalty for a player’s first breach of Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Abnormal Use of Equipment) during the round has been reduced from disqualification to loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. The penalty for any subsequent breach of Rule 14-3 will continue to be disqualification.

Comment: There are two changes to this Rule. The first is purely a reduction in the penalty for using a device or equipment that is not permitted. For example, if a player uses a swing aid while waiting on a teeing ground they incur a penalty of two strokes, instead of being disqualified. However, if they are silly enough to do the same thing later in the round the disqualification penalty does apply. The second change confirms that a multi-functional device, such as smart phone or PDA, may be used as a distance-measuring device (if a Local Rule permits), but must not be used to gauge or measure other conditions, where doing so would be a breach of Rule 14-3. This removes the restriction on using a smart device for distance measuring because it is capable of other functions that are not permitted, even if they are not used during the round. The player will only be penalised if they access or use such information.
Prohibition on Anchoring the Club While Making a Stroke
As announced back in May 2013, the new Rule 14-1b (Anchoring the Club) prohibits anchoring a club either ‘directly’ or by use of an ‘anchor point’ in making a stroke. The penalty is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play.

Comment: The most important point to understand about this new Rule is that it is not an equipment Rule; players may continue to use long-handled putters. The ban is to prohibit players from using an anchoring technique to make their stroke either ‘directly’ or by use of an ‘anchor point.’ There is an excellent, explanatory infographic, at this link, which in my opinion, provides the easiest way to understand the new Rule 14-1b.
The above are the main amendments to the Rules for 2016, but there are other clarifications, or changes to the wording, designed to make some Rules easier for the player to interpret and understand. No doubt I will have more comments to make, once I receive information on these and any new, revised or withdrawn Decisions on the Rules of Golf effective from January 1st, 2016.

Good golfing,


As previously announced, I will update my ‘999 Questions’ book and various eDocuments with the revisions to the Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf, over the next few weeks. I will then send the relevant updated files to those that have purchased eDocuments from me since 1st April 2015. You don’t receive that service from Amazon!
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Opposite Side of the Margin

Diagram from R&A’s and USGA’s ‘Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2014-2015’
If asked to imagine a lateral water hazard, I expect that most golfers would immediately think of a ditch, with or without water, running down the side of a hole, defined by a series of red stakes on either side. In most cases, when a ball comes to rest within such a hazard, we know that the player can drop a ball within two club-lengths, not nearer the hole, for a penalty of one stroke. However, there are instances when, due to the shape of the putting green and the margin of the lateral water hazard there may be no spot to drop that is not nearer the hole, or when the nature of the permitted dropping area is not favourable. In these uncommon circumstances, Rule 26-1 provides four other options. Leaving aside; a) playing the ball from within the hazard, b) playing again under penalty of stroke and distance, and c) dropping a ball back along a line from the hole through where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, we are left with d) the option in Rule 26-1c(ii);
…drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than ….. (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.
In the case of the lateral ditch described in the first sentence above, the reference point on the opposite margin is obvious, it is across the ditch, at the point on an equidistant radius from the hole from that where the ball last crossed the margin. However, as can be seen in the diagram above, which is taken from Decision 26-1/14 in ‘Decisions on the Rules of Golf’, it is not always that simple to determine where the opposite margin is. This is the wording from that Decision, which refers to the diagram above;
Q. Please clarify the words "opposite margin" in Rule 26-1c. With regard to the diagram, "X1" indicates where a ball in the hazard last crossed the hazard margin. May the player drop a ball within two club-lengths of "Y1"? And, may a player whose ball last crossed the hazard margin at "X2" drop a ball within two club-lengths of "Y2," and so on?

A. With respect to "X1," "Y1" is "a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole." Accordingly, the player would be entitled to drop a ball within two club-lengths of "Y1."

The same applies in the cases of "X3"-"Y3" and "X4"-"Y4," but not in the case of "X2"-"Y2." A "point on the opposite margin" is a point across the hazard from "the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard." "Y2" is not across the hazard from "X2" because an imaginary straight line from "X2" to "Y2" crosses land outside the hazard.
Note especially these words that I bolded; A ‘point on the opposite margin’ is a point across the hazard from the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. An imaginary straight line drawn from where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard must not cross over land outside of the  hazard margin when determining the ‘opposite margin’ that is equidistant from the hole. This is not an easy concept to understand, but studying the four examples in the diagram should help clarify. Only X2 to Y2 (the red dashed line on the left of the diagram) does not meet the requirement. So the option of dropping a ball at a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole is not available for a ball that crosses the margin at point X2.

Good golfing,


There are 5 Rules issues that cause many golfers confusion; Water Hazards, Lateral Water Hazards, Ball Unplayable, Nearest Point of Relief and Provisional Ball. If you have trouble remembering the various options for taking relief I recommend that you view my short videos on these subjects at this link.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Match Play: Losing Two Holes in One

Photo of Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson by USA Today Sports
I was not intending to add to the widespread commentary relating to Phil Mickelson’s breach of the ‘One Ball’ Condition during The Presidents Cup in South Korea on Friday, as it is not a Rules situation that will ever be relevant to the game of most golfers and there are certainly enough Rules to understand that are. I changed my mind when I realised that there is still much confusion over the various issues of the incident. For variety, I am going to summarise the main issues using a bullet point format;
  • Under the Rules of Golf a player may use any conforming ball to start a hole and may change the brand and model of ball they are using between holes, or whenever the Rules permit them to substitute a ball during a hole (e.g. when taking penalty relief from a water hazard).
  • Committees may introduce a Condition of Competition that requires players to use balls of the same brand and model throughout their stipulated round. Whilst this Condition is used in most pro tour events, it is rarely introduced in any amateur competition. It is my understanding that this Condition is not used in the PGA of America Championship and Ryder Cups played on US courses, though it is used in PGA Tour, European Tour and most of the other major golf tournaments. It did apply to last week’s Presidents Cup singles and four-balls, but not to the foursomes (alternate shot) played on Thursday, where the member of the side that was teeing off at each hole was permitted to play the ball of their choice. This can present a problem for team Captains when selecting their foursome pairings, as there is considerable difference between the types of balls that professional golfers play.
  • Phil Mickelson recognises that he made a mistake in not checking whether the ‘One Ball’ Condition was in effect in the four-ball matches before playing the ball that he had changed to, so as to get more distance and less spin from his drive on the par-5 7th hole.
  • The relevant part of the specimen Condition in Appendix l, Part B (which I am assuming was the same or similar for The President’s Cup) states; 
    During a stipulated round, the balls a player plays must be of the same brand and model as detailed by a single entry on the current List of Conforming Golf Balls.
  • The penalty for a breach of the Rule is as follows; 
Match play - At the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered, the state of the match is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred; maximum deduction per round - Two holes.
  • Note that the penalty is not applied until the end of the hole being played, so Phil could/should have continued play of the hole, with the type of ball that he had previously been playing with, to try and achieve a win over the opponents.
  • Unfortunately, when Phil realised that he may have breached the ‘One Ball’ Condition, and had this confirmed by US team Captain, Jay Haas, he was wrongly informed by an official that this meant that he was disqualified from the hole and so he did not play out the hole. When Zach Johnson failed to match the birdie of Jason Day the Americans effectively lost two holes over the play of one hole.
  • It is important to understand that it was Phil that brought his breach into the open. It is almost certain that no-one would have noticed the difference in the two Callaway balls he uses, had he not sought confirmation as to whether the ‘One Ball’ Condition was in effect for the President Cup four-balls.
Arguably, the penalty cost Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson their halved match against Adam Scott and Jason Day, but the American team did go on to win this year’s Presidents Cup by 15 ½ to 14 ½.

On a lighter note, but slightly related to the above, I will draw your attention to this highly unlikely scenario that I described in my New Year Rules riddle from 29th December 2011;

After celebrating much too enthusiastically on New Year’s Eve, George arrives at the first tee for his New Year’s Day match against his arch rival, Bill. Things don’t go well for him and unbelievably (!) he is 7 holes down without having struck a ball, when he concedes the match. George has not conceded any stroke or hole and has not breached a Local Rule or Condition of Competition. Explain how this could possibly have occurred under the Rules of Golf.
When you have given this some thought you can check out the solution/explanation at this link.

Good golfing,


I now have nearly 7 years of weekly articles on my blog site, covering most areas of the Rules of Golf. You can often find the answers to your Rules questions by entering a short search term in the 'Search This Blog' box at the top right corner of my blog pages.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Where to Stand on the Putting Green

Golfers sometimes fall out with their fellow competitors, or opponents, over where they should stand on the putting green while putts are being made. In my opinion, regardless of where they stand it is more important that they should remain absolutely silent and motionless while anyone is making their stroke.

You may be surprised to find out that there is only one Rule of Golf that restricts where a player may stand when putts are being made and this only concerns a player’s partner, their caddie and their partner’s caddie, not a fellow competitor, an opponent or their caddies. Rule 14-2b states;

A player must not make a stroke with his caddie, his partner or his partner's caddie positioned on or close to an extension of the line of play or line of putt behind the ball.

Exception: There is no penalty if the player's caddie, his partner or his partner's caddie is inadvertently located on or close to an extension of the line of play or line of putt behind the ball. 
The effect of this is that a player may stand anywhere else on the putting green without incurring a penalty, including behind the hole (i.e. with the hole immediately between them and where the ball is being putted from).

However, the section on etiquette at the front of the Rules book makes two other recommendations relevant to this subject;

•    Players should not stand close to or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is about to play.
•    Players should not stand on another player's line of putt or, when they are making a stroke, cast a shadow over their line of putt.
There is one other ruling that is relevant to this subject and it is found in Decision 14-2/3;
Q. May a player's caddie purposely stand between the player and the setting sun so that the sun's glare is not in the player's face while he is playing a stroke?
A. No. Such procedure is a breach of Rule 14-2A.
Naturally, the above restriction also applies to a player’s partner, their partner’s caddie and a fellow competitor. Similarly, a player may not request an outside agency to put their ball in the shade with their shadow, though they may ask them to stand aside in order to ensure that their shadow does not move and distract them as they make their stroke.

My recommendation is that if you feel that someone is standing on the putting green in a position that may disturb or distract you, delay making your stroke and courteously ask them to move to a less intrusive position.

Good golfing,


A new season of golf is starting in the Southern Hemisphere. If you or your Club are participating in inter-club match play, why not familiarise yourself with the differences in match play Rules from stroke play Rules. Knowing them could be the difference between winning or losing! Check out this link.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.