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Apr 9, 2012

Rules Question of the Week
Author: John Jelley


It's a new year! I'll try to post a weekly Rules question is this space and I'll post the answer to this week's question when I post next week's new Rules question. Some questions will be right out of the Rules of Golf, while others will be from the Decisions on the Rules of Golf. Feel free to drop me an email at if you wish to discuss this week's question, or any Rules questions you may have.

Week #1:  Your ball comes to rest in a water hazard (marked with yellow stakes and lines) and you decide to take a one stroke penalty and drop a ball under Rule 26-1b. Which of the following statements is true? A) You must redrop the ball if after your original drop, your stance is inside the hazard line, B) You must redrop the ball if your ball, when originally dropped, struck the ground and then rolled towards the hole, C) You must redrop if the ball, when originally dropped, rolls into an area outside the hazard that is marked as ground under repair, D) You must redrop if your ball rolls more than two clublengths from where it first struck the ground when dropped.


OK...The answer to last week's question is "D". Some folks confuse this with a ball that rolls more than two clublengths from the nearest point of relief, or a ball that rolls more than two clublengths beyond the original two clublengths (or one clublength when taking relief from an immovable obstruction or abnormal ground condition). The two clublength roll is from the spot where the dropped ball first struck a part of the course, and is one of the seven situations that require you to redrop a ball. See Rule 20-2c.

This week's question, also from Rule 20:
You drive your ball into the rough and as you are walking down the fairway, a worker on a rough mower mowes through the area where your ball lies. You get there and see that your ball is undamaged by the mower, but in a much better lie than what you started with. What should you do? A) Play the ball as it now lies, B) Place the ball in the nearest lie most similar to the original lie, within one clublength of the original lie no closer to the hole, C) Drop the ball as near as possible to where the ball lies, no closer to the hole, D) Drop the ball within one clublength of its current position, no nearer the hole.


Answer: The question of what to do here hinges on whether 20-3b (original lie altered) or 20-3c (spot not determinable) applies. In a case where the original lie was known and the lie has been altered, and the original spot where the ball lay is no longer known, 20-3b applies and the ball must be placed in the nearest lie most similar to the original lie, within one clublength of the original lie no closer to the hole. See decisions 20-3b/4 and 20-3b/5. Had the nature of the original lie not been known, the player would have been required to drop the ball under 20-3c. 

Now to our next question, from Rule 23: In stroke play, your ball lies on the green and as you bend over to remove a leaf near your ball, you accidentally kick your ball, and it rolls two feet furthur from the hole. You should: A) Add one penalty stroke and play the ball as it lies, B) Add one penalty stroke and replace your ball, C) Play the ball as it lies without penalty, or D) Replace the ball without penalty.


Before we get to the answer of last week's question, we need to know that loose impediments are natural objects, including worms and insects, provided that they are not fixed or growing (ie part of a plant), are not solidly embedded, and are not adhering to the ball (like grass clippings).

According to Rule 23-1, You are exempt from penalty if your ball on the putting green moves as a result of you removing a loose impediment, provided that the movement of the ball is directly attributable to the removal of the loose impediment. In the case of our question, the movement of the ball was not directly the result of the removal of the loose impediment, so a penalty of one stroke (in match play or stroke play) under Rule 18 is applied and the ball must be replaced. See decision 23-1/11, and note that the ruling would be the same if the loose impediment was a movable obstruction.

This week we ask the question, what should you do if you are playing a men's league match against another player and your ball comes to rest in a rut made by a golf cart? The rut is not marked and there is no one from the Committee available to give you a ruling. And is the answer different if this were stroke play? Read the NHGA February newsletter (due out this week), for a preview of the answer.


Well, if you read your NHGA newsletter (page 4) you would know that in stroke play, you could play two balls and let the Committee decide whether or not to grant you relief. See Rule 3-3 for details on how to apply this Rule.

In match play, if a question arises you should settle the matter with your opponent in a timely manner. If he agrees with you that the rut is ground under repair, then you take your relief under Rule 25 and away you go. If, however, he does not agree that you should receive a free drop, then ultimately, you can choose to either play your ball as it lies or take your free drop as you feel you have a right to do. If your opponent wishes, he can then make a claim that you were not entitled to a free drop and that he should be awarded the hole. He is entitled to make the claim at any time prior to either one of you teeing off on the next hole. If you win or halve the hole in question, then his claim should be referred to the Committee as soon as is practical.

Remember, in order for a claim to be considered, the player must state that he is making a claim, he must state what facts have given rise to the claim, and he must state that he wants the Committee to Rule on the matter. He must make the claim in a timely manner. See Rule 2-5 for more information on claims.

Now for our next question, is it legal under the Rules of Golf to use a device that measures distance from your ball to any other object, such as the hole, a water hazard, or a fairway bunker?


Back in 2004, distance measuring devices were approved for use, but the Committee in charge of the competition, or the golf course, must issue a Local Rule approving the use of dmd's. Never assume that the use of these devices is approved without seeing the Local Rule in writing. The NHGA has approved by Local Rule the use of these devices for all NHGA events, EXCEPT junior-only events. Keep in mind also that only devices that measure distance ONLY are approved. Using a device that has the capability to guage anything other than straight distance, like elevation or direction, and illegal and you will be disqualified for using such a device, even if the offending function is turned off.

Now onto this week's question: During your backswing your club strikes a branch and the clubhead breaks off from the shaft. You continue with the forward swing and follow through, but do not strike the ball. Have you made a stroke? Would the answer be different if the clubhead seperated from the shaft during the downswing, and you did not strike the ball? Take a look at Rule 14-1 and the definitions of "stroke:" and look at Appendix II, section 1a.


The key to remember when looking at last week's question is that a stroke is the forward movement of the club with the intention of striking the ball. And a club is not a club if it does not have a clubhead. So if the head falls off during the backswing, then no forward movement of the club has occured, and so no stroke has been made. But once you starting the forward movement with the club, and then the head falls off, and you continue your swing at the ball, then you have in fact made a stroke. See decisions 14/2 and 14/3.

When taking relief under Rule 24-2 or 25-1, you should use the club that you would normally play the stroke with when you simulate your address position in order to determine where your nearest point of relief would be. So for example, you are a right handed golfer and your ball lies on the right edge of a cart path. You are 150 yards from the hole which is normally a seven iron for you, so you would use that seven iron to determine your nearest point of relief for the lie of the ball and your stance. Then you would measure your one club length with any club in your bag.

Now suppose you drop your ball and your ball is in play, but it has rolled into a poor lie. Are you required to hit your next shot with the seven iron, or is it permissable under the Rules to use a pitching wedge to pitch out to the fairway, or maybe a rescue club to help get the ball in the air?


Sorry for the delay...I have just returned from a PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshop in Far Hills, NJ.

As to last week's question, you are most certainly allowed to change clubs to fit the new situation caused by the poor lie. The seven iron was a requirement to determine the nearest point of relief, as that was the club you would have used to play the shot if the obstruction (the cart path) had not been there. But now that you have taken relief and dropped, there is a new shot to consider, and that shot may well require something other than the seven iron.

How about this: you are about to tee off and because of the way the tee markers have been positioned, there is an overhanging branch that interferes with your backswing. Are you allowed to break the branch before teeing off?


So you broke a branch interfering with your backswing on the teeing ground. Rule 13-2 prohibits improving the area of your intending swing by breaking anything fixed or growing. While 13-2 allows a player to create or eliminate "irregularities of surface" on the teeing ground, there is nothing in this Rule that would allow you to break that branch. And moving away from the branch to play your tee shot would not exempt you from the penalty.You would add two strokes in stroke play or lose the hole in match play. See decision 13-2/14.

Another question related to Rule 13: you enter a bunker to play a shot and in the process you create several footprints. You play your shot but your ball does not clear the lip of the bunker, and it comes to rest in another part of the bunker. Are you now allowed to rake any of the footprints or your divot from your first bunker shot?


Sorry for taking a week off! Regarding last week's question, you are allowed to rake any footprints and the divot, provided you do not improve your lie, your stance or your line of play. From the definitions we know that your line of play includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended direction of your next shot. Any other footprints, etc. in the bunker may be raked. See decision 13-4/36.

Now suppose you have played from the same bunker and you skull your bunker shot over the green and out of bounds. Now you are required to drop a ball at the spot where you just played from under Rule 27-1. Is the answer the same as in the previous situation regarding raking the bunker?


Regarding last week's question, once your ball has been played out of and come to rest outside the bunker, Rule 13-4 and exception #2 under that Rule both specifically allow the raking of the bunker without restricion. The fact that you will be dropping back in the bunker is not relevant. See decision 13-4/37.

Let's move onto a new Rule. Suppose you have decided to play in your club championship, which is to be played at stroke play over a weeken in June. Round 1 will be on Saturday and round 2 on Sunday. You play the first round Saturday morning and shoot a 72 to take the lead. Later that afternoon you decide to come back to the course and play a few holes with the wife and kids before dinner. Is there any penalty for this under the Rules? 


Unfortunately, according to Rule 7-1b, there is a penalty, and that penalty is disqualification from the club championship. The Committee in charge of the competition may make a Local Rule waiving Rule 7-1b, but if no Local Rule is in effect, then practice on the competition course between two rounds of a stroke play event played over consecutive days, results in disqualification. Had the club championship been conducted at match play, you would not have been subject to penalty.

Back to that club championship. Fortunately you knew about Rule 7-1b and did not play a few holes the night before. It is now round two and you are scheduled to start at 9:00am. You oversleep and arrive at the course at 9:15am. You are told that you are disqualified under Rule 6-3. As you are slamming your trunk before driving back home, the skies open up and after an hour of heavy rain, the round is cancelled and rescheduled for the following Saturday. Should the Committee allow you to play next Saturday?


Hey, it's your lucky day! According to Rule 33-2d, when a round is cancelled, all penalties incurred in that round are cancelled.  So you will be able to tee it up again next Saturday; just remember to set your alarm clock.

Rule 33 deals with what the Committee can and can't do, and what it should and should not do. Suppose a player in the State Amateur Championship misses a short putt on the 3rd green, and as a result, loudly utters a profanity, within earshot of other players and spectators. Would the Committee be justified in disqualifying the player for this single act?


A look at decision 33-7/8 tells us that while the Committee will usually warn a player for such a breach of etiquette before resorting to disqualification, ultimately the Committee is solely responsible for making the decision to disqualify a player in these circumstances, and a single breach of etiquette may be deemed to be sufficient cause for disqualification.  So watch your tongue out there guys!

If you happened to be watching the Masters this past Friday, you may have seen Padraig Harrington receive a one stroke penalty for causing his ball to move on the 15th green. If you didn't see it, Padraig was preparing to putt for a birdie and after addressing the ball, Padraig stepped away, and after a few seconds, the wind blew the ball several inches further away from the hole. Padraig immediately called for an official. After getting the bad news from David Price of the PGA of America, Padraig asked for a second opinion from Mike Shea of the PGA Tour, with the second opinion being the same as the first, that being that once the ball is addressed, if the ball subsequently moves, the player incurs a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced on its original spot. Padraig replaced the ball and made the putt for what was now a par 5 on #15. See decision 18-2b/7.

Question: would the ruling have been the same had Padraig marked and lifted his ball after stepping away but before the wind moved the ball? Find out next week!

By the way, here is an article by the USGA describing the 10 most misused terms in golf. Read it, learn it, live it!


First, a big thank you to Concord Country Club for hosting a NHGA Rules of Golf clinic this past Saturday, and many thanks to all who attended. We hope you left feeling better about your Rules knowledge.

How about Padraig at the Masters? Well, had Padraig stepped away from his ball and promptly marked and lifted it, as was his right under Rule 16, he would have been able to negate the fact that he had already addressed the ball. Let's suppose that is what he did, and then after replacing the ball, but BEFORE he addressed it a second time, the wind caused the ball to roll to a new position. Padraig would have been obligated to play the ball at the new position. What if the ball rolled in to the hole? Can you spell E-A-G-L-E! How about if the ball rolled into the pond. Padraig, add a penalty stroke and drop a ball under Rule 26. See decision 18-2b/8.

This question came up at the Rules clinic and it caused some confusion. Suppose my ball is on a cart path and I choose to take relief under Rule 24-2. I lift the ball, but do not mark it, and drop the ball within one clublength of the nearest point of relief, no closer to the hole. Is there any penalty for not marking my ball before I lift it? Suppose after I lift the ball I realize that where I will be dropping, there is a large bush that will seriuosly hinder my next shot, so I replace the ball from where I lifted it. Any problem with that? Tune in next week to find out.


So I have lifted my ball from a cart path to take free relief under Rule 24, but I have not marked my ball before lifting it. Well, there is nothing in Rule 20 (Lifting, Dropping and Placing) that says I must mark my ball when lifting it, unless I am lifting it under a Rule that requires me to replace the ball. An example of this would be Rule 16 (Putting Green), where I mark and lift my ball while someone else putts. Since, when taking relief from a cart path, I am not required to replace my ball, then I am not required to mark my ball in this case.

If I lift the ball and then realize that my relief options are so poor that I would prefer to replace the ball and play from the cart path, I can do so, but it will cost me a penalty stroke in match play or stroke play, as I am not entitled to replace the ball without penalty.  This would be true even if I had marked the ball (which is nevertheless a good idea whenever you lift your ball).

Suppose I am a right handed golfer, but because my ball is up against a tree, I feel that a left handed stroke is the prudent play, and as a result, I am standing on a cart path. Do I get relief? Check in next week to find out.


As for the question from last week, if the left handed play is reasonable given all the circumstances, and as a result of the left handed stance, you are standing on a cart path, then relief should be granted under Rule 24-2. You would determine your nearest point of relief for the left handed stroke, and then drop within one club length of that nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole. And what's more, you can now turn around and play the shot right handed! See, the Rules can be your friend.

As the NHGA tournament season goes into full swing next week, this Rules of the Week feature will need to be suspended for a time. I hope a few of you have enjoyed this column, and I suspect it will make a return visit come fall. Many thanks for your attention.


Well, the 2009 season is pretty much a done deal, so I thought it would be a good time to reactivate our Rules Question of the Week segment, for your edification and reading pleasure.

Here's an easy one: you are playing in the NHGA Stroke Play Championship, and on the Par 3 8th Hole at Green Meadow GC, your fellow competitor misses a short putt for a par. In disgust, he taps the ball in with the grip end of his putter. As his marker, what score will you be putting on his score card for Hole #8? Tune in next week for the answer, or better yet, look it up!  


According to the 2008-09 Decisions on the Rules of Golf, decision 14-1/3 tells us our player has incurred a two-stroke penatly and has made a six on the 8th hole. The stroke with the grip of the putter counts in the score. Why does the stroke count? Well, because the player did fulfill the definition of a stroke, and he did use a legal golf club. He just didn't make a legal stroke by striking at the ball with the head of the club. See Rule 14-1.

Golf carts are a necessary part of the game in this day and age, as golf courses rely on cart revenue to remain profitable. But carts can cause a number of difficult Rules situations on the golf course. When trying to figure out how to deal with golf balls striking golf carts, remember that when two or more players are sharing a cart, the cart and everything in it (including any other person and the equipment of any other player) are deemed to belong to the person whose ball struck the cart. However, if another person is actively moving (driving) the cart, then the cart and everything in it are deemed to belong to the person moving the cart (not merely sitting in the cart).

So, for example, in a State Am match between Austin Eaton III and Craig Steckowych, both players are sharing a cart, with both bags in the cart. Austin hits a shot and it deflects off a tree and hits Craig's golf bag. Craig is sitting in the driver's seat of the cart, but the cart is stationary. What is the ruling? How about if Craig sees the ball coming towards him and drives the cart away, but the ball strikes Austin's bag? Tune in next week for the answer to these questions.

ps. On January 1st the 2010-11 Rules of Golf and the 2010-11 Decisions on the Rules of Golf will go into effect.


Decisions 19/1 and 19/2 talk about what happens when a golf ball strikes a golf cart or anything in it. So in our first example, Austin would be penalized one stroke (in match or stroke play) for having his ball strike the stationary cart (see Rule 19-2). If Craig had been moving the cart when Austin's ball struck either golf bag, there is no penalty to anyone, and because this is match play, Austin would have the option of playing his ball as it now lies, or cancelling and replaying the stroke (see Rule 19-3).

Now lets look at another situation where a ball has been deflected while in motion. Suppose in the Stroke Play Championship, Scott Peters' ball is at rest on the putting green of hole #4, about five feet from the hole. Scott fiddles in his pocket for a minute and finally pulls out a tee to mark his ball. Bill Krueger then putts and his ball in motion deflects off the tee that Scott used to mark his ball. Is there any penalty to either player in this instance? Check back here next week for the answer.


According to decision 20-1/16, while using a tee  is not recommended, it is an acceptable method of marking the position of a ball.  The following decision, 20-1/17, states that there is no penalty to either player when a ball is deflected by a tee used to mark the position of another ball. Bill could certainly have asked Scott to move his ball marker (the tee) one or more putter-head lengths to the side.

In the previous situation, the tee was not considered to be Scott's equipment when it was being used to mark the position of his ball.  This would also be the case if someone uses a tee to mark the area in which a ball is to be dropped, such as when taking relief from a cart path. But suppose Bob is dropping from a cart path and he lays his driver on the ground to mark one clublength from his nearest point of relief. Being a bit lazy, Bob leaves the club on the ground when he drops his ball, and the legally dropped ball then strikes the club. How would you rule in this case?

Have a great Thanksgiving and we will see you next week.


So Bob has taken a drop and in the process, his dropped ball strikes his golf club, which he had been using to measure his clublength, but had failed to pick up off the ground before dropping. Well, there is no penalty to Bob in this case, and he must drop again. Suppose he were to drop again and his ball again struck his club. Now he has to place the ball where it struck the ground on the redrop, right? Wrong! He must continue to drop as many times as it takes until his dropped ball does not strike his equipment (or himself). He might think about picking up that club before too many drops go by. See the second paragraph under Rule 20-2a, and notice that this is not one of the seven required redrops discussed under Rule 20-2c. (many years ago yours truely had to penalize himself in a pro-am for placing the ball and playing it after the second drop again hit the and learn).

Suppose you are in the woods and your ball is against a tree in such a way that you decide to take an unplayable lie under Rule 28. You decide on option 28c and measure two clublengths from where the ball lies unplayable, no closer to the hole, and you drop your ball within the two clublengths. Your ball rolls and comes to rest nearer to the hole than where it originally lay, so under Rule 20-2c(vii-a), we know that you must redrop. You survey the situation and decide to take the second option under Rule 28b and drop back on a line keeping the original spot between you and the hole. You drop about 20 feet away from your original spot and play to the green. 

Check back next week for the ruling.


Decision 20-2c/5 tells us that once the player proceeded under one of the options provided under Rule 28, and dropped a ball correctly under that option, he is not allowed to change options after the dropped ball rolled into a position requiring a redrop. If he did change options and did not correct his mistake before playing his shot, he would have played from a wrong place - see Rule 20-7. Could the player have told an opponent, marker or fellow competitor that he was going to drop under Rule 28c and before dropping his ball, changed his mind and dropped under Rule 28b? Absolutely.

Suppose a player's ball in stroke play was found in an area marked as a lateral water hazard (red stakes and/or red lines). The hazard has no water in it, but the player's ball is between two rocks and unplayable. The player takes an unplayable lie and drops in the hazard within two club lengths of where his ball originally lie, no closer to the hole. Any problem so far? Find out next week.


When we look at Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable), we quickly see that a ball can be declared unplayable anywhere on the course except in a water hazard. Yes, even on the putting green! When our player proceeded under Rule 28 for his ball in a water hazard (instead of the operable Rule 26), and dropped his ball in the hazard and played his shot, he was in violation of Rule 20-7 for playing from a wrong place. Assuming a serious breach of Rule 26 has not occured, he is penalized two strokes for playing from a wrong place, plus another penalty stroke under Rule 26 (Water Hazards). See Decision 20-7/2.

Now, had our player dropped the ball and then discovered that he could not invoke Rule 28, he is allowed under Rule 20-6 to correct his mistake by picking up the ball and proceeding under Rule 26, incurring only the one stroke penalty under Rule 26.

This example also illustrates that a seemingly simple action can often involve several different Rules at the same time.
Speaking of Rule 20-7, suppose you are playing in a stroke play event and you and your fellow competitor have both marked and lifted your golf balls from the putting green. You believe you are away so you replace your ball and putt. You then realize that you had replaced your ball in front of your fellow competitor's marker, so you lift your ball, replace it in front of your own marker, and putt again. What is the ruling, and is the ruling the same in match play?

I'll be back with the answer after the holidays, which hopefully will be happy for you all.


Happy New Year! As I mentioned earlier, the 2010-11 Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf are now in effect. 

Last time we had an interesting situation where a player putted from his fellow competitor's ball marker and then realizing his mistake, picked up his ball and putted from his own ball marker. What is the ruling? Well, when our hero first putted from the wrong spot, he has played from a wrong place (Rule 20-7) and is subject to a two stroke penalty, or loss of hole in match play. In stroke play, he should have played out the hole with the two penalty strokes (assuming no serious breach of Rule 20-7 has occured), but no, he had to try to fix his mistake. By picking up his ball in play and moving it back to where he should have putted from in the first place, he has now violated Rule 20-1, and he is subject to another two stroke penalty. Of course, he already lost the hole in match play, so he can't do anymore damage to himself there. Ouch! See decision 20-7c/2.

Some years ago I was officiating a professional event in Florida and a good friend and fellow Rules official had to invoke this decision on a golf professional. The pro became so angry when he heard he had to add 4 penalty strokes that he picked up his ball and left the golf course, and not quietly.

Here's an easy one. You are playing in your club championship (stroke play) and you putt your ball up to the hole. Your fellow competitor gives you your next putt and knocks your ball back to you. You say "thanks" and you both tee off on the next hole. What is the Ruling? Find out next week.


One of the major tenets of individual stroke play (Rule 3-2) is that you must finish each hole by getting your ball into the hole. Here, your fellow competitor's best intentions have caused you to be disqualified from the club championship. As his actions were purely the result of his lack of knowledge of the Rules, he does not receive any penalty - Rule 18-4.  Had he knocked your ball back to you with the hope that you would not know the Rule and would eventually be disqualified, then he would also be disqualified for a serious breach of Rule 1-2, but that still wouldn't save you from disqualification. 

This situation came up a few years ago in the New England Amateur Championship. One of the competitors from New Hampshire hit his ball into the woods. He found his ball playable, but in a large patch of poison ivy. This championship is held in July and our player was wearing shorts with short socks. Having some knowledge of the Rules, our player called for a ruling, hoping that he might gain relief from a dangerous situation. What ruling do you think he received?


Well, our wayward player found himself in a large patch of poison ivy. Decision 1-4/11 tells us that poison ivy does not qualify as a "dangerous situation" in the way that an alligator, rattle snake or bees nest does. As the decision says, unpleasant lies are a common occurence which players must accept. So while our player was wise to ask for a ruling, in the end he was forced to either play the ball as it lies or to take an unplayable lie. 

How about this interesting situation: a beginning player tees up his ball on the first hole. He makes a mighty swing that produces nothing but a stiff breeze, as no contact was made with the ball. Thinking that the ball must surely be teed too low, he raises the teed ball up an inch, which after his next swing, lands safely down the midlle of the fairway. What does our beginner lie?


A stroke is the forward movement of the club made with the intent of striking at the ball. Once a player makes a stroke at a ball, that ball is in play, even if it is still sitting on a tee. Once our beginner moves the teed ball to a new location, or simply raises or lowers the height of the teed ball, the player has violated Rule 18. If the player were to return the ball to its original position on the tee, the player would be assessed a one stroke penalty. However, the player has played the moved ball down the fairway. Normally we might assume that the player would now be assessed a two stroke penalty under Rule 18 for moving a ball in play and not returning the ball to its original position before playing a stroke at the ball.  However, in the case above, once the player drove the ball down the fairway, Rule 27 (Ball Lost) now supercedes Rule 18, and the player has essentially played a ball under the stroke and distance penalty required by Rule 27.  So our beginner now lies three in the fairway. See Decision 18-2a/1.

You might be able to win a bar bet or two with that one! Now onto our next situation. Suppose your tee ball has come to rest in the woods. You plan to knock your ball back to the fairway but before doing so, there are some loose twigs around the ball. You begin carefully removing the twigs from the area, and in the process, you accidentally touch your ball with your hand. The ball did not move when you touched it. Is there any penalty, and if so, what is it in match play and stroke play? See you next week!


You are in luck! No penalty for accidentally touching your ball in play, as long as it does not move. But don't purposely touch your ball in play, unless proceeding under a Rule that allows you to touch it, such as lifting your ball for identification purposes under Rule 12-2.

This week we have been treated with the controversy surrounding Phil Michelson and the Ping Eye 2 wedge.  As you may know, the United States Golf Association, the rules making body for golf in this country, has adopted new groove specifications on irons with the intention of eliminating the advantages gained by playing square grooved irons, especially wedges and short irons. Square grooves came into being 20+ years ago due to new manufacturing processes developed by Ping Corporation. An unforseen benefit from the new grooves at that time was that moisture would be channeled away from the ball at the point of contact, for the most part eliminating "flyers", those shots we have all hit out of long grass that have no spin and fly much further than we could have participated. The square groove benefits are more pronounced with more lofted clubs, and more pronounced at higher clubhead speeds usually achieved by more accomplished players.

Right now, the new Rules only are in effect for the PGA tour and probably most other high level ccompetitions. The average player probably won't need to worry about this until 2024, so please don't lose any sleep over this just yet. However, Phil seems to be losing quite a bit of sleep. Why? Well apparently some years ago, PING filed an injunction against the USGA regarding the new groove rules. As a result, the USGA has been unable to ban the use of certain PING clubs until the lawsuit is resolved. Our enterprising hero, and a handful (at this point) other TOUR players, either had or got a hold of one of these old PING wedges with the express intention of using a club that was legal to play and had the old square grooves. Why? Because they don't want to give up the ability to hit incredibly precise spinning 64 degree wedge shots around the greens. They believe that their skill should supercede the element of luck that the USGA wants to reintroduce back into the game.   Most of the TOUR players spent the offseason getting used to their new, less precise wedges, but a few spent the offseason scouring EBay and garage sales looking for PING wedges from the 80's. 

Are Phil and his fellow loopholers the defenders of justice and the American way, or are they spoiled golf pros who have more faith in their equipment than in their short-game skills? And where will this all lead? Will the TOUR stand up and make a Local Rule prohibiting these wedges (can it?), or will it turn a blind eye and eventually allow everyone to use PING wedges, ultimately giving that particular manufacturer a monopoly on wedges used by TOUR players, and by anyone else playing at a high level. Will the USGA fold up under the pressure and rescind the Rules change until such time as they can close this loophole once and for all? Whether you believe that Phil and the other players are right or wrong, you must admit that it's nice that we can all focus on something besides the Tiger Woods debacle. I for one enjoyed the fantasy I once held that all the great players in the world were all about integrity and honesty, not infidelity and legality. Professional golf, welcome to the world of professional sports.

This happened at the State Amateur Championship a couple years ago: a player hit his ball towards the woods on the left side of the 12th hole at Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club. He hit a provisional ball into the same area. After arriving on the scene, he located both golf balls, but realized that he had not put any identification mark on either ball, and since each ball was the same brand and number, he had no idea which ball was his original ball and which ball was his provisional ball. What was the ruling?


Though putting an identifying mark on one's golf ball is not a requirement, the Rules of Golf have little sympathy for a player who fails to do so. In the case above, the player has found both his original ball and his provisional ball, but he can't tell which is which. Decision 27/11 tells us that the player must choose which ball is his provisional ball, and then abandon the other ball. Now he lies three with whichever ball he chooses and must proceed from there. While this is preferable to having to return to the tee and play another ball, lying five, it still is a good example of why it is always wise to put an identifying mark on your golf ball, and why it is important that a provisional ball be individually identifyable when compared to the original ball.

Suppose that in the case above, the original ball and the provisional ball were distinguishable from each other, but because the provisional ball was in a significantly better position, the player wished to abandon the original ball and proceed with the provisional ball. Would the player be allowed to accept the stroke and distance penalty and play the provisional ball in this case?


So you have played a provisional ball and after searching, you find your original ball stuck in a tree in the woods, and you are thinking that it would be much better for you to go hit your 4th shot with your provisional ball from the middle of the fairway, instead of taking an unplayable and trying to get out of the woods with your third shot on your original ball. Well, decision 27-2c/2 reminds us that you played your provisional ball from the tee because your original ball may have been lost. Now your original ball is no longer lost, and that fact prohibits you from proceeding with the provisional ball. You are required to abandon that provisional ball (put it in your pocket), and you can now take an unplayable, and under Rule 28, you can go back to the tee and play your third shot from there. Maybe you will hit that ball so well that  it ends up right next to where your provisional ball was sitting just a few minutes before. Or maybe you hit into the woods and begin the process all over again. The choice is yours.

Now suppose you are on a Par 3 hole and you have pull-hooked your 5 iron into deep woods. You pull out another ball, announce that you are playing a provisional ball, and you hit that same stupid 5 iron inches from the hole. What to do? Can you declare the original ball lost? Can you just ignore it? Can you tell everyone else to forget about it? Tune in next week for the answer.


To begin to answer last week's question, we first need to take a look at the definition of a lost ball. The book tells us that there are five ways to render a ball lost, but no where does it say that a ball can be declared to be lost. So in our situation where a player has hit his provisional ball inches from the hole, he can not declare his original ball lost. Why is that important? Because someone, maybe a spectator, fellow competitor, or especially an opponent in match play, can look for our player's original ball, and if it is found before our player reaches the provisional ball and marks it, and before five minutes have elapsed, then our player is bound by the Rules to identify that original ball as his, and if it is, he must abandon the provisional ball.

Yes, our player can certainly choose not to look for his original ball, and he can ask those around to also abandon search, but those actions do not render the original ball lost. Imagine our player sprinting towards the green in an effort to mark his ball before his opponent can find the original ball in the woods. That would be pretty funny. See decision 27-2b/1.

On to this week's situation, along similar lines:  our player hits his tee shot into the woods and believing his original ball may be lost, he elects to play a provisional ball, which he hits in the same general direction. As he is going down the tree line to begin his search, he finds his original ball in the rough, which he figures must have hit a tree and come back towards the tee, and so he plays it down the fairway. When he reaches his original ball in the fairway, he discovers that it was in fact his provisional ball that he had just played. He returns to the woods and finds his original ball where he thought it was all along. He plays the original ball into the hole and picks up the provisional ball. What is the ruling?  

By the way, the NHGA will be conducting two Rules of Golf clinics this spring at Concord CC on April 24th and at Portsmouth CC on May 1st.  Email me if you would like to attend either clinic. 


In last week's incident, our player was fortunate, in that even though he thought he was playing his original ball, he was actually playing his provisional ball. Since he had not played a stroke with the provisional ball from a point at or closer to the hole than where his original ball was likely to be, he can pick up that provisional ball and proceed with his newly found original ball, without penalty. And of course, the stroke with the provisional ball does not count towards his score for the hole. See decision 27-2b/7.

Now, suppose everything that happened to our player last week is the same up to the point where he made his first stroke at the ball in the rough, except that the ball he played from the rough that he thought was his original ball turned out to be neither his original ball nor his provisional ball. What now? 


Well, in this case, the ball played from the rough is a wrong ball (Rule 15). Our player is penalized two strokes in stroke play (loss of hole in match play) and he must continue play with his original ball. If he doesn't find the original ball in play within five minutes of search, then he must proceed with the provisional ball, and add the stroke and distance penalty for the lost ball. Yet another example of why it is important to know what ball you are about to swing at.

Let's switch gears and talk about Rule 6-2. Suppose you are playing a league match and you are on the 5th hole. Your opponent informs you that he receives a handicap stroke on this hole. As you are both preparing to putt, your opponent informs you that he was incorrect before, and he does not receive a stroke on this hole. What is the ruling? 


According to decision 6-2a/3, no handicap stroke is given and no penalty is incurred. It is up to each player in a match to know where handicap strokes are to be given and received. There are a number of decisions that support this principle, so when you are playing in a match at your club, using handicap strokes, don't rely on your opponent or the golf shop to tell you what strokes you receive or give, because if the information is incorrect, you have only yourself to blame. This principle relates to the fact that there is no such thing as an official scorecard in match play.

Now suppose Bill and Joe are playing a match at 100% of their handicaps. Bill is a 12 and Joe is a 16, so accordingly, Joe should receive 4 shots. However, on the first tee, Bill says "Joe, I know you are coming off a minor wrist injury, and I have been playing lights out lately, so what do you say I give you 8 shots instead of 4?"  Joe responds, "Look, I appreciate the charity, but 8 shots is just too much. How about 6 shots?" "Fair enough" replies Bill. You are another player nearby and you overhear all this, so you report it to the golf professional. What should he do with this information?


Bill and Joe have agreed to waive a Rule of Golf and under Rule 1-3, they should both be disqualified if they begin the round with such an agreement in place (decision 1-3/0.5). If the golf professional were to confront them before the round begins and get them to agree to play with their proper handicaps, then they would be allowed to continue with the match. In mtach play, as long as there is no agreement between players to waive a Rule, then there are no penalties for wrongly applying Rules or for choosing to ignore infractions. If I am playing a match against you, and I see you drop and play a ball three clublengths from your nearest point of relief for cart path interference, but I am 6 up with 7 holes to go, I am not obligated to call the penalty on you for playing from a wrong place. However, we are not allowed to agree that you should drop three clublengths away because there is a bush there and it wouldn't be fair to drop in the bush. We would also not be disqualified if we agree that you should drop three clublengths away because we don't know Rule 24 but we are pretty sure dropping there is ok under the Rules.

Match play offers many unique Rules situations. Suppose Larry and Mike are playing a match and on the 3rd hole, Mike has played his second shot towards the green. The ball can not be found and after five minutes of search, Mike concedes the hole to Larry. They tee off on the 4th hole and as they are leaving the tee, a player in the following group informs Mike that he found Mike's ball in the hole back on the 3rd green.  What is the ruling?


In match play, a hole can not be conceded after it is completed. So Mike won the hole when his ball was holed out. However, according to Rule 2-5, Mike was required to make a claim before Larry teed off on hole #4. Since he did not, the results of the hole stands with Larry the winner of that hole. See decision 2/4-11.

Now suppose that on the 5th hole, Larry holes a putt for a 5 and believing he has won the hole, he picks up Mike's ball marker. Mike informs Larry that he was going to be putting for a 5 as well (assuming no handicap strokes are involved). What is the ruling.


According to decision 2-4/5, lifting an opponent's ball marker is the same as moving his ball in play. The penalty in both match play and stroke play is one stroke. However, the special provision of Rule 2-2 tells us that when a player has already holed out, as Larry had in our example, and the opponent (Mike) has a put for a half, if the player subsequently incurs a penalty, the hole is halved. This is because prior to the penalty, the best outcome that Mike could have achieved was to make his putt and halve the hole.

In a club match play championship being played out over a period of weeks, Ron and Dennis are required to play their match before the end of the month. It becomes clear to them that they will not be able to play the match within the prescribed time limit, so they decide to flip a coin to decide who will win the match and advance to the next round. Dennis wins the coin flip so Ron concedes the match to Dennis. The Committee learns of this a few days later. How should they rule in this situation? 


This is an example of how the Rules of Golf can be a bit quirky at times. According to decision 2-4/21, if the two players had decided to determine who should default by using some form of play other than a singles match, they would both be disqualified for agreement to waive a Rule, or in this case, agreement to waive a condition of competition. However, there is nothing in the Rules that prevents them from flipping a coin or using some other non-golf method to determine who will advance. So Dennis gets to continue onto his next match.

In match play, John and Jeremy are on the 4th green. Jeremy putts his ball just past the hole and lies four. John tells Jeremy to leave his ball where it is so that John can use it as a potential backstop for his forth stroke. Jeremy believes that he is not required to leave his ball on the putting green but John insists that the Rules require Jeremy to comply with John's request. Jeremy claims the hole but leaves his ball on the green. John putts and strikes Jeremy's ball. Jeremy replaces his ball and they both hole out in five. Was Jeremy's claim valid, or do they halve the hole?


There a couple interesting points raised by this situation, First, the Rules use to say that in match play, whoever was next to play controlled his opponent's ball. But that Rule was changed many years ago (1984). Now Rule 22-1 simply says that if your ball might assist the play of another player, you are entitled to mark and lift your ball. Further, Rule 16-1b also gives permission to mark and lift a ball on the putting green, regardless of the form of play or who is away. Secondly, decision 22/5 says that in our example above, John has not violated any Rule by insisting that Jeremy leave his ball on the green, even though the Rules allow (not require) Jeremy to mark and lift his ball.  Would the ruling be different in stoke play? Yes, because if either player had wanted the ball left on the green to assist John in his play of the hole, there would be strong evidence that the players were attempting to exclude the operation of Rule 22-1. So the hole is halved.

Speaking of the putting green, suppose an acorn has become slightly embedded in the green and it is on your line of putt. Can you remove the acorn, and if so, can you repair the indentation? Tune in next week to find out.


First, many thanks to all of you who attended our Rules of Golf Clinic at Concord CC this past Saturday. We had a good turnout and we hope that everyone who attended came away with a little more knowledge about the Rules of Golf. Thanks also to Concord CC for hosting this annual event.

As for last week's question, one clinic attendee who has been playing tournament golf for a number of years was shocked to discover that according to decision 16-1a/7, you can remove an acorn or other object that is not "solidly embedded" on your line of putt, but you can not repair the resulting depression in the putting surface. To do so would be a violation of Rule 16-1a, which lists all the situations in which you are allowed to touch your line of putt (or someone else's line of putt). The penaly is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. 

Suppose Ron and Gary are playing in a stroke play event, and they are on the 6th hole. Ron is in the rough just off the green and Gary is on the green.  Gary is away and he hits his putt with Mike attending the flagstick. While Gary's ball is rolling towards the hole, Ron plays his pitch shot onto the green. The balls do not strike each other. Is there any penalty in this situation? Find out next week.


In the case of Ron playing while Gary's ball was in motion, Rule 16-1f tells us that because Gary is away and his stroke is made at his ball on the putting green, Ron is not allowed to play a stroke from anywhere while Gary's ball is in motion. Ron is assessed a two stroke penalty in stroke play. Had Gary been away and also off the green, Ron would not have been penalized.

The 2010 NHGA tournament season kicks off next week at Loudon Country Club. I hope you have enjoyed this Rules Question of the Week feature, and I plan to resurrect it again in the fall. Until then, don't hesitate to send in your Rules questions. Have a great summer! 


Well, it's November and that means the Rules Question of the Week is back, and better than ever.  This time around I hope to mix in a bit of the philosophical to go with the facts. We'll look at some of the underlying reasons behind why some Rules are written the way they are, with an eye towards helping us all to better understand what makes the Rules tick, so to speak.

Note: some words or terms used here which can be found in the Definitions will in italics.

Lets start with Rule 16-1e, which prohibits a player from standing astride of or on the line of his putt. Those of you old enough to remember the 60's will recall that Sam Snead, as he neared the end of his playing career, took to the notion that putting croquet style was the way to go. He would hold his putter grip in his left hand out to his side and while standing directly behind his ball, he would use his right hand to pull the shaft of the putter back and through the ball. Sam putted very well with this method, and at some point came under the scrutiny of the Rules of Golf.  It was felt that this method of making a putting stroke was unfair, in that having the eyes level and directly behind the ball resulted in a stroke that was not in keeping with the traditional way of playing the game.

So the Rule was changed to prohibit someone from playing a stroke in this manner, by prohibiting a player from placing his feet in such a way. Those that used this stroke simply moved both feet to the left side of the ball (for right handed putters), but this minor adjustment was enough to make the stroke a bit less proficient, because the eyes were no longer set directly behind the ball. The long putters used today are probably a product of the successes of those that employed the original croquet method of putting.

But a problem arose, in that players were being penalized under this Rule for inadvertantly standing astride the line of putt when tapping in very short putts, in an effort to avoid stepping in other player's lines of putt. Just a few years ago an exception to this Rule was written, so that in the future no one would be penalized for the inadvertant action of standing on one's own line in this particular circumstance. 

So the Rules makers do adapt to changes and situations as they come to light. Occasionally a Rule is written or modified, without being able to anticipate some of the consequences of the change in the Rules. This is but one such example.

Question: Is the line of putt the line that the player expects his ball to travel, including the break in the putt, or is it a straight line from the ball to the hole? Answer: check back next week.

Last week we were discussing the line of putt. Decision 16-1e/1 tells us that the line of putt is the line that we expect our putt to take, not a straight line from the ball to the hole. So on a big breaking putt, we may actually be standing astride the line from the ball to the hole, but we would not be in violation of Rule 16-1e.

Lets drop back to Rule 15 this week and discuss the difference between a substituted ball (Rule 15-2), and a wrong ball (Rule 15-3). According to the deffinition of a substituted ball, a substituted ball is any ball put into play for the original ball which was either in play, lost, out of bounds, or lifted.  Sometimes substitution is permitted and some times it isn't, but a substituted ball is never a wrong ball. But in a case where a ball was substituted in a situation not covered by one of the four substituted ball conditions just mentioned, then that ball could in fact be a wrong ball.

Now, a wrong ball is any ball other than the player's ball in play, provisional ball, or second ball (under certain Rules). Examples of a wrong ball include another player's ball, and abandoned ball, or the player's original ball when it is not in play.

Let's look at a couple examples: when you hit your ball into a water hazard, Rule 26 gives you options on how to proceed, and in every case, you are allowed to drop a ball (meaning, the dropped ball need not be the original ball), when proceeding under this Rule. So you find your ball in a water hazard and elect to drop according to Rule 26-1b. You go back on the line keeping the spot where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard, and you drop either your original ball, or a new ball. The ball you dropped is a substituted ball, and the Rules allow this substitution.

Now, let's say you find your original ball lying on a paved cart path through the green. Now Rule 24-2 applies. Should you decide to take free relief, you are required to drop the original ball, not a ball. But your original ball is scuffed up, so you decide that you will substitute a ball. You drop the new ball, and now that ball is in play. Once you substitute a ball and play a stroke at it, you are now in violation of Rule 15-2. Rule 15-2 refers you back to the Rule that you were operating under, in this case, Rule 24-2. So you have now lost the hole in match play or incurred a two stroke penaly in stroke play, and you are obligated to play out the hole with the wrongle substituted ball.

In another instance, you find your ball out of bounds, but you don't realize you are out of bounds. To make matters worse, you ball is in a deep puddle, and you can't reach it. So you drop a substituted ball under Rule 25-1b (note #2). And you play your substituted ball to the green.  Unfortunately, because you were out of bounds, the ball you substituted is a wrong ball, since it was not in play. The penalty is loss of hole in match play or two stroke penalty in stroke play.

So you might say, big deal, the penalties are the same. But there is one HUGE difference in stroke play. That is, you are required to correct your mistake and play a ball according to the Rule involved, in this case, Rule 27. Otherwise, you are disqualified. So you would be required to abandon the ball you played from out of bounds, and go back to where you last played the ball that went out of bounds, and put a ball into play from there. You have until you tee off on the next hole to correct your error. And you not only get the two stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball from out of bounds, but also the one stroke penalty for being out of bounds in the first place. Luckily, in match play you lost the hole when you made the stroke at the ball from out of bounds, and you can't do any worse than that.

This weeks question: Your ball is on the putting green and you mark and lift it. When it is your turn to putt, you mistakenly place a different ball on the green and putt out. You then tee off on the next tee, but you then realize that you had exchanged balls on the prior green. What is the penalty?


Prior to a change to Rule 15 a number of years ago, our hapless player from last week would have been disqualified. But with the addition of the concept of an illegally substituted ball no longer being a wrong ball, our guy is penalized two-strokes in stroke play, according to decision 15-2/4.  

One of our regular State Amateur players wrote in to ask about striking a moving ball. In the 2010 State Am at Eastman Golf Links, during the stroke play portion of the championship, a player had missed a short putt and as the ball was rolling past the hole, he knocked the moving ball into the hole. Rule 14-5 addresses playing a moving ball. There are three exceptions to this Rule that tell us when a player is actually allowed to play a stroke at a moving ball: 1) when the ball is struck as it is falling off a tee, 2) when a ball is struck two or more times in the course of the same stroke (remember T.C. Chen at the 1985 US Open?), and 3) when a ball is struck as it is moving in water.

In the case of the first exception, there is no penalty and the ball shall be played from wherever it ended up. In the second case, there is no penalty under 14-5, but the player is penalized one stroke in match or stroke play under Rule 14-4. And in the final exception, Rule 14-6 applies, which states there is no penalty for striking the moving ball, but the player must play without waiting for the ball to move to a more favorable location. In our state amateur situation, none of the exceptions applied, so the player was penalized two strokes under Rule 14-5.  Note also that if the player played a stroke at a moving ball which he caused to move himself (other than by making a stroke at the ball), he would be penalized under Rule 18-2 a or b.

Question for next week: In a state am match, Rob's ball comes to rest behind the hole, and Dave has a putt from several feet away. Rob marks, lifts and cleans his ball, but then Dave asks Rob to replace his ball behind the hole. Rob declines, but Dave insists that Rob is required under the Rules to comply, so Rob replaces his ball behind the hole, but protests and claims the hole. Dave putts and strikes Rob's ball. Dave taps in for a four, Rob replaces his ball and taps in for a four. At his point a Committee member comes by and they ask him who in fact won the hole. So, what is the ruling?


Last week's question is one that comes up periodically in match play, and involves Rule 22 (Ball Assisting or Interfering With Play), and Rule 2 (Match Play). There was a time when, in match play, the player whose turn it was to putt had control over his opponent's ball. But that is no longer the case. Rule 22-1 deals with a ball that is in position to assist another player and states in part "if a player believes that a ball might assist any other player, he may a) lift the ball if it is his ball, or b) have any other ball lifted". There is nothing in 22-1 that gives a different result in match play.

So with regards to last week's question, we know that since Rob is allowed to lift his ball, he can do so, regardless of the fact that Dave wants Rob to leave his ball behind the hole. If Rob had elected to mark and lift his ball and ignored Dave's request, the matter would end there, and no protest or claim from Dave would have been upheld. But in our situation, Rob did replace his ball and it was Rob that made the claim, so Rule 2-5, dealing with disputes and claims in match play, now comes into play.

According to Rule 2-5, in order for a claim to be considered, it must in fact be made known to the opponent (Dave) that a claim is being made, the opponent (Dave) must be made aware of the facts of the situation, and the player (Rob) must make it clear that he will seek a ruling on the situation in question. Rob fullfilled all of these requirements, so the claim must be considered by the Committee. Had Rob not done any one of these three things, or not done them in a timely manner (ie. before both players teed off on the next tee), then the Committee would have been obliged to disregard the claim, even if it was legitimate.  

Decision 22/5 handles the situation between Dave and Rob. It tells us that Rule 22 does not require Rob to replace his ball, but it also tells us that there is nothing in the Rules that prohibits Dave from insisting that Rob replace his ball. So the hole stands as played, with both players making a four, and the hole is therefore halved.

What would be the ruling if the same situation had arisen in stroke play? Tune in next week...and while your considering that situation, be sure to take time out to have a great Thanksgiving Day!


Regarding our situation where a ball lies on the putting green in a position to assist another player, this time in stroke play, Decision 22/6 tells us that if two competitors in stroke play agree to exclude the operation of Rule 22-1, they would be subject to disqualification. Rule 22-1 requires that a ball be lifted if it might assist another player in stroke play. I have seen Rule 22-1 ignored in stroke play on a few occasions, and players who do so run the risk of being disqualified. That could also include a third player who is not playing the next shot, and who does not own the ball on the green. All players in stroke play are bound to "protect the field". Of course, in stroke play, the player that is required to lift his ball has the option of putting out.

In many cases, whether a ball is in position to assist another player or not is often subjective. If a player has a bunker shot and another ball lies a few feet behind the hole, it would be reasonable to assume that the odds of that ball assisting the player in the bunker are fairly small. Certainly if a ball lies a foot behind the hole and another player has a shot from 150 yards away, there would be no need to have the ball on the green marked and lifted. Conversely, if the player has a chip shot from just off the green, it would be reasonable to insist that the ball on the green a foot behind the hole be marked and lifted. In stroke play, if in doubt, mark and lift the ball in question in order to "avoid the appearance of evil".

So now we have a situation where a player in stroke play has played a bunker shot to a foot from the hole. As he is raking the bunker, one of his fellow competitors marks and lifts the players ball because it is in a position to assist the third player with his upcoming putt. The player in the bunker was not aware that his fellow competitor marked and lifted his ball. Any problem so far? How about match play, where the player's opponent, without permission, marked and lifted the player's ball while the player was raking the bunker? See you next week with the answer.


In stroke play, if a fellow competitor marks a competitor's ball without permission, there is no penalty. Rule 18-4 applies, and it tells us that if a competitor moves another player's ball, there is no penalty, and the ball must be replaced. Who may replace the ball? Either the competitor, his partner, or the player who lifted or moved the ball (Rule 20-3).  In match play, we have a different Rule to refer to, that being 18-3. Since the opponent marked and lifted the player's ball without permission, the opponent is liable to a one stroke penalty under Rule 18-3b, and the ball must be replaced. Note that this is not a loss of hole situation. Just another example of one of the differences between match and stroke play.

While we are at it, let's look at another example of a ball being moved, this time during search for a ball. Suppose Steve hits his ball into high rough and the players go into the area to search. As the search continues, Fred accidently kicks Steve's ball. What is the ruling in match play and stroke play. How about if Steve kicked his own ball? Would the ruling be different if the ball was in a hazard (bunker or water hazard)? Check back next week.


Rule 12 covers searching for a ball, and Rule 18 talks about what happens when a ball is moved during search. Under Rule 18-4 (stroke play), we learn that if Fred accidentally kicked Steve's ball during search, there is no penalty to Fred, and the ball must be replaced. The ball can be replaced by either Fred or Steve (or Steve's partner in four-ball stroke play). In match play, we need to look at Rule 18-3. Since Fred kicked the ball during search, there is no penalty, and again, the ball must be replaced. Had Fred kicked the ball other than during search, Fred would be penalized one stroke in match play, but there would be no penalty to Fred in stroke play. Obviously, the rules makers saw that to penalize Fred during search would be unfair to Steve as well as to Fred, since Fred would be disinclined to help with the search if he could be penalized by doing so. 

What about Steve accidentally kicking his own ball during search? Well, Steve would be penalized one stroke in both match play and stroke play, UNLESS the ball is in a hazard and is covered by sand or loose impediments (leaves, branches, grass clippings, etc.), as well as when the ball is believed to be in water within a water hazard (including a lateral water hazard). Additionally, there is no penalty to Steve if he kicks his ball when he is searching for it in an obstruction or abnormal ground condition, such as casual water or ground under repair. In all these cases, the ball must be replaced, unless the player elects to proceed under Rule 25 and take relief from the abnormal ground condition. Note that if the ball was moved during search when it was covered by sand or loose impediments, it must be replaced and then recovered, so that the player can see just a small part of the ball. Of course, the player has other options, since he may proceed under Rule 26 if the ball is in a water hazard, or under Rule 28 if the ball is in a bunker.

So there are certainly a number of factors involved when deciding how to proceed and what penalties are involved when a ball is moved during search. Just like with real estate, it's all about location. Suppose Craig hooks his ball around the corner of a dogleg and the ball hits into some trees, where he loses sight of his ball. As he comes around the corner, he sees that his ball is in the fairway and there is a dog standing over his ball. The dog departs the area. What now?  


For the answer to last week's question, we need to look at the Note under Rule 18-1. In order for Craig to consider whether or not the dog moved his ball, he must decide if it is known or virtually certain that the ball was moved by an outside agency (the dog). All the factors would need to be considered. If Craig does have virtual certainty, then he would be required to replace the ball at the spot where it was before it was moved by the dog. If he has virtual certainty, but does not know the exact location of the original position of the ball, he would be required under Rule 20-3c to drop the ball at the spot where the ball most likely would have been. In our example, Craig lacks virtual certainty, so he would play the ball as it lies.

I'll be back January 3rd, so I thought I might give you a situation that was sent along to me. It is complicated and will take a bit to explain the answer. Take a stab and try to guess what the player's score is:

Player Bob arrives at the #18 scoring tent. The scoring official asks, “Did anyone in your group have any Rules issues?”.  Player Bob responds in the affirmative.  This is his account of his actions on hole #6.

“On hole #6, I played a wrong ball but I corrected my mistake.  I’m not exactly sure of my score for the hole.  I started hole #6 with a Titleist ball with two black dots near the #1.  My tee shot carried about 225 yards and landed in some bushes on the left of the fairway.  I found a Titleist ball in an unplayable location in a bush, took the ball out of the bush and dropped it within two club-lengths of where the ball was in the bush and played two more shots before discovering that the ball wasn’t mine.  The ball I played was a wrong ball (two blue dots not two black dots).  I returned to the bushes, and within a minute found my ball with the two black dots in a playable spot and completed the hole in three more shots.”

Good luck, and Happy Holidays!


Happy New Year to you all. Hopefully you had some fun with the problem we posed two weeks ago. Let's get into the solution.

Bob found a Titleist #1 in the bushes and wrongly assumed that it was his ball. He took the ball out of the bushes and dropped the ball, taking what he thought was a one stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. In fact, Bob was not allowed to proceed under either option "b" or "c" of Rule 28 (Unplayable Lie), since that Rule requires that in order to use either option "b" or "c", he must use as his point of reference the original location of his ball in play, which he did not do.  Had Bob elected to use option "a" of Rule 28 and return to the tee, we will see that he would have been ok under the Rules.

When Bob dropped the ball near the bush, we must determine under what Rule his action actually conformed. In fact, though Bob was not aware of it, he was really proceeding under Rule 27 for a lost ball. But Rule 27 requires that Bob put a ball into play from where he last played a stroke; in this case, back at the tee. So when Bob put a ball into play from somewhere other than the tee, he was now in violation of Rule 20-7, which talks about playing a ball from a wrong place. In this case, putting a ball into play from anywhere other than the tee has put Bob in violation of Rule 20-7 once he made a stroke at the dropped ball.

Now we are faced with the question of whether or not Bob's violation of Rule 20-7 was in fact a "serious breach" of that Rule. Clearly, putting a ball into play from a spot 220+ yards from where he should have played gave Bob a "significant advantage" and is without doubt a serious breach of Rule 20-7 (see note #1 under 20-7). That Rule would require that Bob return to the tee and play out the hole from there with a second ball before teeing off on the next tee. This Bob did not do, so the Committee is required to disqualify Bob for a serious breach of Rule 20-7. The fact that Bob did return to the bushes and find his original ball is irrelevant, since the original ball was deemed to be lost once Bob had dropped the ball under Rule 27, even though he was never aware that he was actually operating under that Rule the entire time.

Now suppose that Bob did everything as described in the original situation, but as he was finally walking off the 6th green, his fellow competitor pulled out a Rule book and told Bob that he did need to return to the tee to correct his original error. So Bob returned to the tee, put another ball into play from there, and took 5 strokes with that ball to complete the hole. What would Bob's score be for the 6th hole? Tune in next week for the answer.


Poor Bob. Let's see what he gets for the hole if he did return to the tee before teeing off on the next hole. Bob was required to return to the tee because he put a ball in play for the lost tee shot, but he put the ball in play from somewhere other than the tee. Now he is back at the tee. He makes five with this ball. He must add two penalty strokes for playing from the wrong place for the original lost ball - Rule 20-7.  He also would need to include the stroke and distance penalty for the original lost ball - Rule 27-1.  So Bob now has a score of 9 for the 6th hole. Fortunately, he is allowed to continue with his round, having avoided the disqualification penalty for the serious breach of Rule 20-7 that he would have incurred if he had failed to correct his error by returning to the tee.

This weekend Camilo Villegas was disqualified from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for a violation of Rule 6-6d. That Rule required that Camilo include a two stroke penalty on his score card for violating Rule 23-1, which he failed to do. When he signed his card and returned it to the Committee, failing to include the two stroke penalty, he was disqualified, even though at the time he did not know that he had violated Rule 23-1. The player is responsible for knowing the Rules.

What did Camilo actually do to warrent a two stroke penalty? Well, he chipped a ball up a slope towards the 15th green, but the ball failed to crest the hill, and as it was rolling back down the slope, he used his clubhead to sweep away some loose turf from his divot (loose impediments) that was in a position to deflect or possibly even stop the movement of his ball. Rule 23-1 (Loose Impediments) states: "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movememnt of the ball must not be removed". 

Now, one might argue that removing a couple blades of grass hardly deserves disqualification. And according to the Rules, it doesn't. But signing a score card for a score on a hole lower than what was actually made does deserve disqualification. Of course, Camilo wasn't trying to cheat or get away with anything; he just didn't know the Rule. When the Rules of Golf begin to legislate for the "intent" of players, enforcing the Rules becomes a very tricky prospect. Yet there are instances in the Rules where intent does come into play. One example is when a player stradles his line of putt to tap his ball into the hole. If his intent was to avoid stepping in someone elses line, then no penalty. If his intent was to use an illegal stance to gain some advantage, then a penalty would be warrented.

The second question arising from the Villegas ruling is an old one: should fans and television viewers be able to call in Rules violations? In this case, the caller was a fairly well known sports journalist, Dave Anderson. Dave was torn when he saw the violation on tv, as he knew that if he called in and the information did not reach the proper officials before Camilo signed his score card, then DQ would be the result. He did his best to contact the PGATour and Golf Channel as soon as possible, but to no avail. I found myself in this exact situation many years ago when I saw Paul Azinger on tv removing stones with his feet in a water hazard on #18 at Doral. I remember thinking that there was no way that I would get word to the officials before he signed his card. I also recall knowing with certainty that someone else would call in (too late) and Azinger would be disqualified, and that is exactly what happened. Frankly, I'm glad it wasn't me that called.

I think the Rules making bodies need to address this kind of situation with an eye towards waiving the disqualification penalty in these circumstances. I think that when information comes from a source outside of the Committee in charge of the competition, then the disqualification penalty should be waived. I would not include other competitors and their caddies in this "outside source" category. Just my two cents.

OK here is an easy one for next week. Your ball is lying just outside the red line for a lateral water hazard, but when you take your stance to play the shot, your foot is resting on a broken off tree branch lying inside the hazard line. Are you allowed to remove the branch? How about when your ball is in the hazard and you are standing on a branch outside the hazard line? See you next week.


Holidays, storms, etc. have delayed me a bit this week, but here we are. The answer to last week's question can easily be found under Rule 23-1. The first sentence tells us "Except when the loose impediment and the ball lie in the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty". Suppose your ball lies in a lateral water hazard and as you go to make your address to play the ball, you are standing in a bunker. There is a branch in the bunker where you want to place your feet. You can remove the branch without penalty. Note here that loose impediments, by definition, are natural objects that are not fixed or growing, not solidly embedded, and do not adhere to the ball. If the object you wish to remove does not meet these requirements, then it is not a loose impediment, and Rule 23-1 does not apply. Remember also that worms and insects are deemed to be loose impediments, even though they may technically be living and growing.

Suppose your ball lies in a bunker and there is a flying insect sitting on top of your ball. What can you do? Tune in next week to find out. 


Internet problems have delayed us a bit, but here we are with an answer to last week's question. Your ball lies in a buker and there is a fly on your ball. We learned last week that an insect is, by definition, a loose impediment. Because your ball lies in a hazard, you are not allowed to remove the insect from your ball by touching it or physically removing it from your ball. However, according to decision 23-1/5.5, you are allowed to to wave away the bug with your hand, club, hat or towell. Just make sure not to touch the insect or the sand, and of course, make sure your ball doesn't move.

Let's shift gears and talk a bit about Rule 8 - Advice; Indicating Line of Play. Advice is "any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of club or the method of making a stroke. Information of the Rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green , is not advice". Rule 8-1 tells us that during a stipulated round, a player must not give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course (except his partner), and the player must not ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.

Note that during a team competition, the Committee may allow the team to appoint someone who may give advice to members of the team. The Committee may also regulate what that person can and can not do, and that person must be identified to the Committee.

Suppose you are about to tee off in the state am and you see your buddy coming off the 18th green at the end of his round. You go up to him and ask him what club he hit on the par 3 9th hole. Any problem? Now suppose you are playing your round and one of your fellow competitors finds his ball nestled in the roots of a tree. You suggest to him that he would be wise to take an unplayable lie. Any problem here? Check back next week to find out.


Rule 8-1 tells us that the prohibition against giving or receiving advice applies during the stipulated round, which begins for each player when he tees off on the first hole, and concludes when the ball is holed on the final green. So in our first situation from last week, since you have not yet begun your stipulated round, you are free to receive advice from your buddy concerning what club he hit on any hole, and he is free to answer you with any information you may want. This would also be the case if the round has been suspended by the Committee.

What about suggesting to a player that he take an unplayable lie? In this case, what you are suggesting amounts to counsel or a suggestion that could influence the other player's play of the hole. This advice is not considered to be information on the Rules, and would be a violation of Rule 8-1. That means a two stroke penalty for you in stroke play, or loss of the hole in match play.  It would be fine if he asked you what his options were for taking an unplayable lie, as this is infomation on the Rules. So you can ask for or give options to a player regarding the Rules, but you can't recommend or suggest which options the other player should employ. 

Suppose you are playing in the Four-Ball Championship and your ball lies just off the green on the collar. Your partner walks up to the hole and uses his putter head to indicate your aim point, and in so doing, he touches the green with his putter. Any problem with this? Find out next week.


Rule 8-2b states: "When the player's ball is on the putting green, the player, his partner, or either of their caddies may, before but not during the stroke, point out a line for putting, but in doing so the putting green must not be touched".  Rule 8-1a talks about what can or can not be done when the ball is not on the putting green, and there is no prohibition against touching the green with a club. So the answer to last week's question is no penalty, as long as the club is not touching the line when the stoke is made.

Rule 17 talks about the flagstick. Let's look at Rule 17-1, which talks about attending the flagstick. A few points here to remember: the flagstick may be attended for a stroke from anywhere on the course. Last week in San Diego, Phil Michelson had his caddy attend the flagstick for a shot from about 50 yards short of the green. Phil needed to hole out to force a playoff, and he didn't want the flagstick to keep his ball out of the hole. And he nearly pulled it off.

If the flagstick is not being attended prior to the stroke, it can not then be attended during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, if such attendance might influence the movement of the ball. It's ok for someone who isn't attending the flagstick to remove the flagstick after a stroke is made, if the ball is obviously not going to come near the hole.

It's ok for someone to attend the flagstck by removing it and holding it above the hole, but it would be a violation of Rule 8-2a for someone to remove the flagstick and hold it up at any other place to indicate a line of play during a stroke. 

If someone is standing within an arms length of the flagstick during a stroke, they are deemed to be attending the flagstick. If the player who is preparing to make a stroke is aware that someone else is attending the flagstick, then the player is deemed to have authorized that person to attend the flagstick, even if no verbal authorization has been given. Finally, if someone is attending the flagstick during a stroke, that person is deemed to be attending the flagstick until the ball has come to rest.

So let's suppose that you are playing a chip shot and your fellow competitor is holding the flagstick. You strike your ball and he pulls the flagstick and lays it on the green to the side. Your ball takes a break towards the flagstick laying on the green, and the fellow competitor rushes over to lift the flagstick off the ground just as your ball rolls over the spot where the flagstick had been laying on the green. Is there any penalty to anyone? See you next week.


Regarding last week's question, we learned that if a player is attending the flagstick while the stroke is being made, he is deemed to be attending the flagstick until the ball comes to rest. So even though he had placed the flagstick on the ground, there is no penalty if he (or anyone else) subsequesntly picks it up again to avaoid having your ball strike it after your chip shot. Suppose he had not picked up the flagstick and your ball struck it. Assuming he had been authorized by you to attend the flagstick, then you would lose the hole in match play, or receive a two stroke penalty in stroke play. So be sure that whoever is attending the flagstick for you is up to the task.

Let's change course and look at dropping a ball when taking relief from a cart path. There are seven cases that would require you to redrop your ball whenever you are taking relief under Rule 24 (Obstructions) or Rule 25 (Abnormal Ground Conditions). They are (1) when the dropped ball rolls into and comes to rest in a hazard. (2) When a dropped ball rolls out of and comes to rest outside a hazard. Yes, there are a few cases where you might need to drop a ball in a hazard, such as when you are taking an unplayable lie in a bunker, for example.  (3) Rolls onto and comes to rest on a putting green. (4) Rolls and comes to rest out of bounds. (5) Rolls and comes to rest in a position where there is interference with the lie, stance or swing by the condition you were taking the free drop from. (6) The ball rolls and comes to rest more than two clublengths (of the club you used to determine your clublength of relief) from where it first struck the course when dropped. And (7) rolls and comes to rest closer to the hole than your nearest point of relief.

Now, let's look a little closer at #7. When determining your nearest point of relief when taking a drop from a cart path, that point is the nearest point to where the ball originally lay, no nearer the hole, where there is no interference from the path for your lie of ball, the area of your intended swing, and your stance. You should use the club you would normally play for the shot if the cart path were not there to determine your nearest point of relief, but you may use any club in your bag to measure your one clublength of relief from the nearest point.

Suppose your ball lies about 200 yards from the hole in very long grass. You decide that your most prudent play is to try to hit a wedge back to the fairway. When you take your stance for this shot, your feet are on an artificially surfaced cart path (immovable obstruction). You take relief as prescribed in Rule 24-2. Now you address your ball with your wedge, and there is no more cart path interference with your lie, stance or area of swing. But you notice that you now have a much better lie than the one you had originally, and you can probably hit this shot with your rescue club. So you pull out your rescue and address the ball. At this point you are again standing on the cart path. Are you required to redrop? Tune in next week for the answer. 


Welcome back. Looking at last week's conundrum, we have an interesting situation. You have dropped away from a cart path for a shot with a wedge out of deep rough, and now you find that you can safely change clubs and hit a rescue out of a much improved lie. But you are again standing on the cart path after changing clubs. What you have is a new situation, and you are not required to redrop. When you determined your original nearest point of relief, and dropped within one clublength of that point (no nearer the hole), the seven occurences that require a redrop are all contingent upon the original club and the original line of play. If after dropping, you do not have interference with the original club chosen for the shot, and the original line of play for that shot, then you are not required (or allowed) to redrop. At this point, if it is now reasonable or necessary for you to change clubs, or change the line of play, and interference from the same obstruction again occurs, then this is a new situation, and you may proceed accordingly. See decision 24-2b/9.5.

Let's jump ahead to Rule 25. It's raining. You ball lies on the fringe of the green. There is a puddle on the green between your ball and the hole. Are you allowed to take relief for casual water? The answer is "no", as relief from casual water on your line of play only occurs when your ball lies on the putting green. So you chip your ball but you flub it and now you are barely on the green and the puddle is still in your way. Now you are allowed to take relief, but where and how? Check back next week.


So now your ball is on the green and there is a puddle between you and the hole. What are your options? Well, you are allowed to take free relief from casual water when it intervenes on your line of play, but only when your ball lies on the green. You need to determine your nearest point of relief. This nearest point of relief must give you relief from interference for your lie, your stance, and because your ball lies on the green, also your line of play. You determine your nearest point of relief and you find that this point is actually off the green in the rough. Is this really your nearest point of relief? Yes, your nearest point of relief may in fact be off the green.

So now what? If you decide that you do want to take relief from the casual water, you must now PLACE the ball in the rough at your nearest point of relief. Note also that when you are operating under Rule 25-1b(iii), there is no one clublength involved. And since you were on the green originally, you would place the ball, not drop the ball. Decision 25-1b/10.5 gives a nice illustration of the application of this Rule.

This past weekend you may have seen the World Match Play Championship. There was snow on the ground in Tucson Sunday morning, and one of the announcers misspoke when he said that snow is a loose impediment. Well, he was partly correct, but snow may also be treated as casual water, at the option of the player. Keep that in mind when you finally get to venture out onto the golf course this spring, or maybe June.

Speaking of match play, suppose you have a putt for a birdie and your opponent is already in the hole with a par. You miss your putt and you walk up and knock your ball away before your opponent has conceded your par putt. What happens now? Check back next week for the answer.


So last week you had a bit of a brain cramp and knocked your par putt away before your opponent had a chance to concede the putt. Obviously, you no longer have a chance to putt for the halve, so you have lost the hole. But suppose your opponent had been in the hole for a bogey. What now? Well, provided no one has teed off on the next hole, you would be allowed to replace your ball, with a one stroke penalty, and putt for a bogey and a halve.

Let's throw a twist in here. Suppose your opponent is in with a par on the 8th hole, and you have a birdie putt. Before you putt, you tap down some spike marks on your line of play. You then putt and make your birdie to win the hole and go 1 up in the match. You both tee off on the 9th hole. A few holes later you have won two more holes and are now 3 up, and as you walk down the 12th fairway, your opponent tells you that he wishes to claim the 8th hole because you tapped down some spike marks, which is against the Rules. Note that we are talking about match play here.  So are you now 3 up, or 2 up, or 1 up? Well, it depends...did your opponent observe you tapping down the spike marks? If he did, then in order for his claim to be valid, he would have had to make the claim before you teed off on the 9th hole. His claim is now too late, and you are 3 up. But suppose he did not see the infraction, and only heard about it from a spectator as you were walking down the 12th fairway. In that case, his claim would be valid, and since you now lost the 8th hole instead of winning it, you are now only 1 up.

But what if no claim was made and you won the match 1 up. The results of the match have been reported to the Committee and posted on the score board. At this point the spectator tells your opponent about what happened back on #8, and your opponent tells the Committee about the incident and makes a claim. Should the Committee uphold your opponent's claim in these circumstances?  Check back next week.  


I'm back after four days at a PGA/USGA Rules of Golf workshop in Peabody, Mass. Anyone out there who wants to learn more about the Rules of Golf should certainly consider attending one of these workshops. Feel free to contact me for more information.

Regarding last week's situation re claims. Rule 2-5 tells us that after the results of a match have been officially posted, the Committee can not consider any belated claim unless the player knew that he was giving wrong information. So in our situation above, your opponent could lodge a claim after the results of the match were officially announced, but his claim could not be upheld unless he did not know about the infraction before the results were announced, and it could be proven that you knew that tapping down spike marks was in fact against the Rules of Golf.

Let's take a look at what constitutes a wrong ball. According to the Definition of Wrong Ball, a wrong ball is any ball other than (1) the ball in play, (2) a provisional ball, and (3) a ball played under Rule 3-3 or 20-7c in stroke play.  A wrong ball includes another player's ball, an abandoned ball, and the player's original ball when it is no longer in play. When is the original ball no longer the ball in play? One example is when your ball lies out of bounds. If you play that ball, you have played a wrong ball. Another example is when your original ball is deemed to be lost, such as after the five minute search period has expired, or when you have played a stroke with your provisional ball from a spot closer to the hole than where your original ball is likely to be. Finally, your original ball is no longer in play when you have put another ball into play under the Rules.

In match play, if you play a wrong ball, you lose the hole. In stroke play, you incur a two stroke penalty, and that ball must be abandoned and another ball put into play under the Rules. If you have not corrected your mistake before you tee off on the next tee, or on the last hole if you leave the final green without stating your intention to correct a wrong ball infraction, you would be disqualified.

Let's look at a typical situation. Suppose you have searched for your drive in the woods and after a couple minutes, you announce that you are going to play a provisional ball and you go back to the tee and play another ball. Then as you leave the tee your fellow competitor tells you he has found your ball. Since the search had only been going on for four minutes, you play your original ball and pick up your other ball. Have you played a wrong ball? Check back next week.


Well, last week you made few mistakes. First, a provisional ball can only be played BEFORE you go forward to search. When you went back to the tee and played another ball, that ball became the ball in play and the original ball was deemed to be lost, even though the five minute search period had not expired. So you now lie three.

Next, you picked up that 2nd ball that was now the ball in play, so you will receive a penalty stroke for that. Then you played the orginal ball which was no longer in play, so you would receive two more penalty strokes for playing a wrong ball (that's four penalty strokes in all). In stroke play, you must correct the error by abandoning the original ball and replacing the 2nd ball and playing out the hole from there. If you do not correct the error before teeing off on the next tee, you would be disqualified. In match play, you lost the hole when you played the original ball.

Let's change it up again. Suppose you ball is lost in a water hazard in an area covered with leaves. You see a ball under a leaf, so you remove the leaf but still can't tell if it is your ball, so you then lift the ball to identify it. You see it is your ball so you replace the ball and then replace the leaf. Any problems so far? Check back next week.


Last week you saw a ball in a water hazard so you removed a leaf on top of the ball and then lifted the ball to see if it was yours. We'll need to look at Rules 12-1 and 12-2 to find the answer. First, Rule 12-1 tells  us that you are allowed to remove loose impediments during search for your ball in a water hazard. However, once you found a ball, the allowance for moving loose impediments in a water hazard (Rule 12-1) is no longer in operation. So by removing the leaf, you have lost the hole in match play or incurred a two stroke penalty in stroke play.

Once you have found a ball, now you are allowed to lift and indentify the ball under Rule 12-2. This is allowed because it is a penalty to play a wrong ball in a hazard. However, there is a procedure that must be followed in order for you to identify your ball, assuming you unable to identify it just by looking at it (it was under a leaf in our example).  You must first announce to your opponent in match play, or your marker or a fellow competitor in stroke play, that you intend to lift and identify your ball. You must give that other person an opportunity to observe your actions as you identify your ball. You must mark the ball before you lift or move it, and you are not allowed to clean the ball, except to the extent necessary to identify it. If you fail to do any one of these four things, you would be assessed a one stroke penalty for failing to follow the procedure in Rule 12-2.

If it is your ball, you must replace it, unless you decide to drop a ball under Rule 26-1.  If the leaf moves as a result of lifting your ball, should you decide to replace your ball, the leaf must be returned to its original location on top of your ball. Remember, in order to play a stroke at a ball, you are only allowed to uncover the ball if you are unable to see the ball from any angle. You are not necessarily entitled to be able to see the ball when you are at your address position.

That was a tough one. Suppose your ball lies on a cart path and you wish to take relief. You decide to switch balls because your original ball is scuffed up from hitting the path, so you drop a substituted ball. Further more, you drop the new ball a full two club-lengths from your nearest point of relief? You play a shot to the green. Any problems so far? Check back next week. 


Last week you hit your ball and it ended up on a cart path. Because the ball was scuffed you changed golf balls and then you took a drop outside of the one club length you are allowed under Rule 24-2. You played your ball to the green. Well, there are a few Rules involved. First, Rule 5-3 tells us that a ball is not considered to be unfit for play solely because it is scratched or scraped or the paint has been chipped away. So this Rule can not be used in this case.

Now we go to Rule 24-2, which tells us that when taking relief from an immovable obstruction (the cart path), you must lift and drop THE ball. You are not allowed to substitute a new ball when taking relief under this Rule. So you have substituted a ball when the Rules do not allow substitution, contrary to Rule 15-2. Now, Rule 20-6 tell us that improper substitution is correctable, up until the point where you played a stroke at the ball. Had you realized your error, you could have lifted the substituted ball and then dropped the original ball, without penalty.

But that isn't your only problem here. Under Rule 24-2, when taking relief from an immovable obstruction, you must drop the ball within one club-length of your nearest point of relief, without penalty. By dropping the ball outside of the one club-length drop area, you have now dropped the ball in a wrong place. Had you realized your mistake, once again, Rule 20-6 could have gotten you off the hook, but alas, that was not to be.

So you have now played a wrongly substituted ball from a wrong place (Rule 20-7). You might assume that in stroke play, you would get a two stroke penalty for improper substitution, and another two stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place. But the Rules are not always so harsh. The very last sentence under Rule 20-7 (note #3) tells us that if a player plays a ball from a wrong place, there is no additional penalty under Rule 15-2 for substituting a ball when not permitted. Of course, in match play, you lost the hole when you played from the wrong place.

Well, there was a lot going on in that last situation. Let's imagine that you have hit your drive and you go forward, only to find your ball up against a tree. You decide to take an unplayable lie, and in doing so, you drop your ball nearly three club-lengths from the spot where your ball originally lay. Your fellow competitor informs you that you are only allowed up to two club-lengths within which to drop your ball. You lift the dropped ball, as allowed by Rule 20-6, but then realize that anywhere within two club-lengths of your original position will most likely result in another unplayable lie. What are your options? Check back next week.

And a reminder that the NHGA will be holding a Rules Clinic at Concord Country Club on April 16th. Drop me an email if you would like to join us. 


Spring finally seems to have arrived and hopefully everyone has dug the clubs out of the cellar and been out to the course. Last week we left you in quite a quandry. You took an unplayable lie but dropped the ball in a wrong place, and now you find that to drop the ball correctly will probably result in another unplayable lie. Decision 20-6/5 tells us that you must proceed under Rule 28, but you are still allowed to use any of the three options available to you under that Rule. So you can drop a ball within two club lengths (no nearer the hole) than your original position up against the tree, or you can return to where you last played a stroke, or you can keep the original position between you and the hole and go back on that line from the hole as far as you want. It will cost you the penalty stroke under Rule 28 to use any of these options. What you are not allowed to do is replace the ball against the tree and try to play the ball from there.

Suppose you decide to drop within the two club lengths from the original position, and as you feared, the ball rolls into another unplayable lie, what now? Suppose you decide to play a stroke at the dropped ball, but it moves only a few inches and is again unplayable. What are your options now? See you next week.  Or if you signed up for our Rules Clinic, see you Saturday at Concord CC.


First, thanks to all who attended our Rules Clinic on Saturday, and thanks to Concord CC for hosting once again this year. We had 44 attendees and hopefully everyone came away with a better understanding of the Rules of Golf.

Looking back to last week, you took an unplayable lie and dropped within two club lengths under Rule 28. Your dropped ball rolled into another unplayable lie. What to do? Well, you can again invoke Rule 28, adding yet another penalty stroke, and again use any one of the three options, including going back to where you last played a stroke - in this case, back to the teeing ground. But instead of taking another unplayable lie, you decide to attempt to hit the ball, and after your stroke you are still in an unplayable lie. Now you can proceed under Rule 28 and use any of the three options, but the option of playing from where you last played is now at the spot where you just made a stroke, which probably is a bad option to choose. You can no longer go back to the tee. The moral of this story is to take a minute to think things through before making a rash decision that may end up costing you multiple strokes and/or penalty strokes.  

Let's look at something a bit more obscure. In match play, your opponent hits his drive down the fairway and you then hit your drive towards a lateral water hazard on the right side. You both go to your drives and you realize that your ball is in the hazard. Your original drive went about 275 yards and your opponent's drive went 240 yards. You drop your ball according to Rule 26-1, but because your original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard at about 210 yards off the tee, your dropped ball is further from the hole than your opponent's ball. You play and hit a great shot to about a foot from the hole, and your opponent immediately recalls your shot. Is he entitled to recall your shot in these circumstances? Now suppose that instead of a lateral water hazard, you find your original ball is out of bounds. As you head back to the tee your opponent hits his approach shot to a foot from the hole. Are you allowed to recall his shot? Tune in next week.


Last week we left you with a couple interesting match play scenarios that deal with Rule 10, Order of Play. Rule 10-1b has a note attached which talks about situations where one of the players has played a shot that ends up in a situation where the original ball is not to be played from where it lies. In our first case, you have dropped a ball further from the hole than where your opponent's ball lay, because your original ball is in a water hazard. In this situation, the order of play is determined by where your original ball lay, not where your dropped ball lay, so in this case, your opponent would be entitled to immediately recall your last shot, in accordance with Rule 10-1c.

In our second situation, your ball is found to be out of bounds. Because you and your opponent are now both aware that you must play from where you last played a stroke (the tee, in this case), you now are entitled to play first. If your opponent plays, you may immediately recall his stroke. Remember that the stroke must be recalled immediately. In the first situation, your opponent can't play his next stroke and then decide whether or not to recall your shot, and the reverse is also true in the second situation.

In stroke play, the same Rules are in effect, but in stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn, and no provision for recalling strokes, so although you both played out of turn in the two situations, there is no recourse for your fellow competitor, or for you.

Let's go back to the tee. You have the honors and you tee off, but you had teed your ball a few inches in front of the tee markers. Your drive goes out of bounds. Your opponent elects not to recall your stroke, and he tees off. What do you do now?


Last week you were playing a match and you teed off in front of the tee markers and hit your drive out of bounds. You opponent decided not to recall your shot.  This is one of those decisions that you can win a bar bet with next time you are at the 19th hole. Because your ball was not put into play from the teeing ground, you now must drop a ball at the spot from where you teed off, and play your 3rd stroke from there. You are not allowed to tee the ball up in front of the tee markers, and you would be playing from a wrong place if you teed up your 2nd ball from within the teeing ground. See decison 11-5/3 and note that while this decison refers to playing a ball from the wrong teeing ground, the same principle applies to playing from in front of the tee markers. Make sure you know this decision number when you make that bar bet!

Well, a long winter is finally behind us, and the NHGA will be starting up our tournament season next weekend. So this will be the last edition of the Rule of the Week for this spring. We'll see you again next fall, and remember that you can send me any Rules questions you may have. Here's hoping you all have a great 2011 golf season!



Back for another season of Rules questions and answers. But before we get into that, let's tackle our first order of business. As happens every four years, there are a few changes to the Rules of Golf for 2012. Lets spend this first week summarizing the upcoming changes, and then in future weeks, we'll look at the changes in more depth.

Probably the change that is most notable has to do with Rule 18-2, Ball Moving After Address. An exception has been added that states "If is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply". Along with this exception, the definition of Addressing the Ball has been changed to state that the a ball has been addressed when the club has been grounded immediately in front of or behind the ball. No longer is the act of taking a stance related to addressing the ball.

What this means is that if wind, gravity, or some other outside force causes the ball to move, even after the ball has been addressed, no penalty will be assessed. But it must be determined that the player did absolutely nothing to cause the ball to move. This change will have a significant effect on Tour, where a number of rulings have gone against players in recent years (Padraig Harrington and Webb Simpson come immediately to mind), even though wind was likely the cause of balls moving on fast greens.

Another change of significance can be found in Rule 6-3, Time of Starting and Groups. Formerly, a player was disqualified for being late to the tee (except in exceptional circumstances). A Local Rule was required in order to access a player late to the tee a two-stroke penalty, or loss of hole in match play, provided the player arrived to the tee within five minutes of his/her starting time. Beginning in 2012, the two-stroke/loss of hole penalty will automatically be enforced for arriving within the five minute period. No Local Rule will be required.

Another change involving Rule 13-4, Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions, states under Exception 2
"At any time, the player may smooth sand or soil in a hazard provided this is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and nothing is done to breach Rule 13-2 with respect to his next stroke." In other words, a player is allowed to rake up foot prints in a bunker prior to his stroke, provided nothing is done to test the hazard. I would advise caution here...someone who seems to always be raking footprints prior to his stroke would be subject to scrutiny. However, the occasional raking of footprints, such as when a player has had to walk a long distance through a bunker to retrieve a rake, would seem to be done in the interest of speeding play, and would most likely not result in a penalty. This Rule now goes to the player's intent, which is always a sticky subject where Rule Officials are concerned.

There are a number of other changes, and we will touch on many of them as time goes on, but these three seem to be the most likely to affect everyday play. But remember, these changes do not go into effect until January 1st. Anyone who would like to explore the Rules changes in more depth should plan to attend our Rules of Golf Clinic at Concord Country Club on April 21st. Or you can go here to check out the changes at the USGA website.

See you next week.


Let's take a look at a new decision that explains what is meant by improving the lie, area of intended stance or swing, or your line of play, as talked about in Rule 13-2. Specifically, Rule 13-2 tells us that we are not allowed to move, bend or break anything growing or fixed, if in so doing, our area of intended swing (as well as our lie, stance or line of play) are improved.

Last year during a State Amateur pre-qualifier at Souhegan Woods GC, a player took a practice swing and in the process, knocked down a couple leaves from a bush that was interfering with his backswing. After the player played his shot, his fellow competitor asked me if what the player had done constituted improving his area of intended swing. I explained that there was no penalty, as the player as far as I could determine, had not improved his area of intended swing, because there were still so many leaves in the bush, that a couple downed leaves did not help the player. Now, new Decision 13-2/0.5 spells this out for us.

In that new decision (found here), we are told that "in the context of Rule 13-2, 'improve' means to change for the better so that the player gains a potential advantage with respect to the position or lie of his ball, the area of his intended stance or swing, his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole, or the area in which he is to drop or place a ball" (the italics is mine).  Later in this decision, the specific example of a situation is given, where such a potental advantage is unlikely to occur when a player knocks down several leaves with a practice swing, but so many leaves or branches remain that that the area of intended swing has not been materially affected.

Suppose you have hit your ball into a lateral water hazard and you are about to drop your ball withing a two clublength area. There are hundreds of dandelions in the area and you pluck one out. It is unlikley you would be penalized in this case. But if there are one or two dandelions and you pluck one out, you would probably be penalized under Rule 13-2. The question hinges on the potential for you to gain some advantage by your action, and it is irrelevant where your dropped ball actually comes to rest. The penalty in incurred as soon as the action is taken.

Next week we will take a look at a new decision involving virtual certainty.


Decision 26-1/1.3 adds a bit of clarity to the concept of virtual certainty. You may remember that back in 2008, virtual certainty entered the Rules lexicon, replacing the term "reasonable evidence". Decision 26-1/1 defines "known or virtually certain". If a ball is struck towards a water hazard, we have some level of confidence that the ball has actually come to rest within the confines of the hazard. We can never KNOW that the ball is in the hazard unless we go to the hazard and find the ball (although if a member of the Committee indicates that a ball is in the hazard, then we can proceed as though we know it to be true). If we do not have that complete certainty, then this decision tell us that "there must be almost no doubt" (ie. virtual certainty) that the ball lies in the hazard in order for us to proceed under Rule 26 (Water Hazards). Otherwise, the ball must be considered to be lost outside the hazard and we must play again from where we last played, with a one stroke penalty.

New Decision 26-1/1.3 asks the question "When is it necessary to go forward to establish 'virtual certainty'?". The short answer is that in most cases, the player would be required to go forward to determine virtual certainty, although there are instances where going forward would not be necessary. The decision is fairly long and you should read it to better understand what the Rules of Golf require of the player in these cases. Generally, the player would probably be wise to play a provisional ball, and then go forward to determine if virtual certainty exists. But keep in mind, the act of playing a provisional ball means that the player did not have virtual certainty before he went forward to the hazard. It is a double edged sword, but better to play a provisional ball and then go forward, then to go forward and after a five minute search, have to return to where you last played to put another ball in play. And much better then to proceed under Rule 26, and then be disqaulified because you never had virtual certainty to begin with.

It must be noted that it is perfectly possible to play a provisional ball, go forward to search, and upon reaching the hazard, arrive at a level of confidence, a level of virtual certainty, that allows you to abandon the provisional ball and proceed under Rule 26. I have know Rules Officials that feel that once a player plays a provisional ball, he is now required to find his original ball in the hazard in order to proceed under Rule 26. While this is usually the case, it is not mandated under the Rules of Golf, as this new decision illustrates. Tournament players should know their rights under the Rules, or they are at the mercy of other players, and rarely, Rules Officials, that may not have a grasp of the Rules themselves.

As an aside, if I were a player in a tournament situation, in stroke play, and I was told by another player, or official, that I did not have virtual certainty, and I felt that I most certainly did, I would invoke Rule 3-3, and play both the provisional ball, and a ball dropped under Rule 26, and let the Committee as a whole sort out my situation. I just might be able to save a shot or two, but even if invoking Rule 3-3 cost me a shot or two (ie. I dropped the ball and hit it back into the hazard, and then the Committee ruled that I did have vitual certainty regarding the original ball), atleast I would have the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to use the Rules of Golf to my potentially best advantage. Nothing wrong with that.

See you next week.  


Lets take a look at new Decision 13-4/9.  This decision comes to us courtesy of a new change to Rule 13-4, Exception #2, which we looked at back on November 7th. Rule 13-4 deals with all the prohibited actions when your ball lies in a hazard, and the three exceptions are just that: actions which do not result in penalties when your ball lies in a hazard.

Under Exception #2, we are now allowed to smooth sand or soil in a hazard (a bunker is a hazard), provided the smoothing is specifically for the purpose of caring for the golf course, and nothing is done which violates Rule 13-2 with respect to the next stroke. Decision 13-4/9 tells us that if a player were to retrieve a rake from another part of a bunker before playing his bunker shot, and in returning to his ball, he smoothed his footprints with the rake, there is no penalty.

It goes on to say that if a player were to repeatedly smooth his footprints prior to a number of bunker shots he played, there would be strong evidence that the player was attempting to gain some advantage by smoothing, and he would be subject to penaly under Rule 13-2. Basically, smoothing footprints to save time and care for the course is fine, but this activity can not be done for any other purpose.

New Decision 13-4/9.5 expands on this previous decision by explaining what happens if during the smoothing to care for the course, a loose impediment in the bunker is accidentally moved. There is no penalty provided the movement of the loose impediment is incidental to the act of smoothing the sand, and the movement of the loose impediment does not result in an improvement to the players lie, area of intending swing or stance, or line of play. The loose impediment need not be replaced. Keep in mind that if there is such an improvement, the penalty can not be avoided, even if the loose impediment is returned to its original position.

See you next week.


Another couple changes for 2012 have been made to Rule 12: Searching For and Identifying Ball.They are fairly minor changes that many of us may not run into, but neverless worth noting.

Prior to 2012, if a player believed his ball was covered by loose impediments in a hazard (bunker or water hazard), he could search for his ball by touching or moving loose impediments to the extent necessary to find and identify the ball, and if the ball moved as a results of the touching or moving of loose impediments, no penalty was incurred. As of January 1st, we are still allowed to search for the covered ball as in the past, but if we do cause our ball to move, Rule 18-2a will apply, and we will be penalized one stroke, and we must replace the ball.

Note here that sand and loose soil are loose impediments only when the sand/loose soil is on a putting green (see definition of Loose Impediments). Rule 12-1a has also been changed, but in a way more favorable to the player, in that when searching for a ball covered by sand anywhere on the golf course (not just in a bunker), if the ball moves, no penalty is incurred. So we are still allowed to probe for a ball covered by sand in a bunker, as well as in a water hazard, or anywhere else on the golf course, and not be fearful of a penalty stroke should the ball move during search.

Keep in mind here that the definition of loose impediments means that when searching for a ball in a bunker that may be covered by leaves or other material other than sand, should the ball move during the search, a penalty under Rule 18 would be incurred.  

See you next week.


One last change for 2012 that I should mention involves Rule 1-2, which has the long tiltle of Exerting Influence on Movement of Ball or Altering Physical Condition. In the almost three years that we have been sharing the Rules Question of the Week, I don't think we have ever touched on this Rule, so why don't we do that now.

First, the change to this Rule involves expanding this Rule to expressly state that when any action is taken which is expressly prohibited under another Rule of Golf, that Rule will apply, not Rule 1-2. This is mostly a housekeeping change, but it does aid those of us tasked with applying the Rules out in the field.

Lets look at an example of applying this change for 2012. Suppose your ball lies in the fairway and there is a ball mark right behind your ball, where your (or any) ball impacted the ground. According to Rule 13-2, the ball mark can not be repaired if it would improve your lie, area of intended swing or stance, or your line of play. If you were to press down the ball mark, you would be in violation of Rule 13-2, and you would lose the hole in match play, or incur a two stroke penalty in stroke play.

But what if you opponent or a fellow competitor were to come over and press down the ball mark in an attempt to do you a favor. Well, if you were to have sanctioned the other players actions, you would still be liable to penalty under Rule 13-2. But what if you did not give sanction orally or tacitly. Now, Rule 1-2 would be applied. Why? Because Rule 13-2 only involves actions that you yourself take, or actions that you knowingly allow to be taken by someone else. So in this case, under Rule 1-2, the opponent or fellow competitor is penalized, regardless of whether or not you are penalized under Rule 13-2.

So what's the difference which Rule applies? For one thing, Rule 1-2 has an added penalty statement, in that the Committee may disqualify someone under Rule 1-2 for a serious breech of that Rule. No such option is available to the Committee under Rule 13-2.

Let's look at an extreme example where a player would most likely be disqualified under Rule 1-2. Suppose you hit a putt from a few feet away and as the ball is rolling by the hole, you use your putter to deflect the ball into the hole. Later in the round the Committee hears of your actions and determines that you have committed a serious breech of Rule 1-2, and they disqualify you. Rule 19-2 does not apply because you intentionally deflected your ball. Had it been accidental, Rule 19-2 would apply, and there is no disqualification penalty under that Rule. The Committee may at this point decide that a serious breech has occured and you would be disqualified. Note here that only the Committee has the discretion to invoke disqualification.

Suppose you are lucky enough to be able to go to Arizona for some winter golf. You hit your drive out into the dessert and your ball comes to rest close by a cactus plant. You decide to wrap a towel around your leg to protect yourself from the cactus needles. What is the ruling? Or suppose you drape the towel over the cactus. What is the ruling in this case? Tune in next week to find out (hint: the two rulings are different).


OK, you are out in Arizona and your ball is up close to a cactus. You decide to wrap a towel around your leg so you don't get stuck by a needle. Or you decide to put the towel on the cactus. Well, Decision 1-2/10 tells us that wrapping a towel around your leg is perfectly fine, as long as you fairly take your stance, as required by Rule 13-2. However, placing the towel on the cactus itself would be a violation of Rule 1-2, as you are not allowed to do anything that would alter the physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of the hole. So you would lose the hole in match play, or get two penalty strokes in stroke play. The same rule would apply if you had played a pitch shot from below the green, and you see your ball rolling back towards the area where you just played from, and before the ball rolled back you were to press down on a nearby divot that might affect your next stoke. Pressing down on the divot would constitute altering the physical conditions, and you would be penalized accordingly.

Let's shift gears. Your ball lies against a pine cone in a bunker and Jim's ball lies just behind your ball. Jim asks you to mark and lift your ball as it interferes with his stroke. You do so, and Jim plays his bunker shot, and in the process, the pine cone is moved several feet away. What are you now required to do with respect to your lie, and what about the pine cone?

See you after the holidays. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Welcome back! Referring to our last question, when Jim played his bunker shot and moved the loose impediment, Decision 20-3b/8 tells us that you are not required to replace the pine cone, even though your upcoming bunker shot will be easier then it would have been had Jim not moved the loose impediment. Regarding your lie, if Jim altered your original lie, you are required to recreate the lie you had prior to Jim's shot. You are allowed to smooth out Jim's divot, or remove any sand that Jim may have deposited around your original lie, and then you must replace your ball and play your bunker shot.

Suppose when Jim played his bunker shot, he also moved your ball marker. Now you are unable to determine exactly where your ball was located before Jim played. Well, since you knew your original lie, the Note under Rule 20-3b tells us that you are still required to recreate your lie and place your ball as near as possible to where your ball originally lay. Rule 20-3c would only apply if you did not know where your original ball was and you did not know the original lie itself.

A common question I get during tournament play concerns players drawing a line on their ball to assist them with alignment when putting. Tune in next week to find out what the Rules say about this practice, and where in the Rules this information can be found.


First, let me extend my sympathies to the Brian Prescott Family, as Brian passed away this past weekend after a long battle with cancer. Brian won the NHGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2001. He was a great friend and supporter of the NHGA, and he will be missed.

We all know that we are allowed to draw a line on our golf ball and use that line to help us with alligning our ball when putting. We see it on those super close-ups on the PGA Tour every weekend. But where in the book does it tell us this information. Well, strangely enough, it doesn't mention this practice anywhere in the Rules of Golf. This is one of those cases where we are reminded that the Rules of Golf are to be taken for what it says, as well as what it doesn't say. It never says that drawing a line on a golf ball is against the Rules, so we are left to assume that it is ok to do so. But assuming can be a dangerous practice, so we must go to the Decsisions book to find the answer. And we do find the answer in Decision 20-3a/2. The writers of the Rules, when faced with this question, needed to first find the Rule that they felt most closely deals with this particular issue. They settled on Rule 20-3a, which deals with Placing and Replacing a ball; By Whom and Where. One might think that Rule 5: The Ball, would be a more appropriate Rule for this decision, but that is not where it is found. Luckily, we do have an answer somewhere in the Decisions for this particular, and common, question.

Let's jump to Rule 20 for a question that came up last week. A player has played his ball into a lateral water hazard and elected to drop a ball under Rule 26. He chooses option "c" under Rule 26-1 and plans to drop a ball withing two clublengths of where it last crossed the margin of the hazard. However, he actually drops the ball more than two clublengths from that point. Before he plays the dropped ball, he now decides that he would like to change his chosen option and drop a ball on a line back several yards from where it last crossed the margin of the hazard, keeping that point between him and the hole, which will allow him to drop the ball in a much better spot than what he was originally faced with. Is he allowed at this point, under the Rules, to change his relief option? Now suppose when he dropped originally, he did drop his ball within two clublengths or where his ball originally crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard, but the ball, when dropped, rolled into the hazard. Is he allowed to change his option and drop back on the line? Check back next week to find out. 


Last week we asked a question concerning changing relief options after a ball has been dropped. In our first scenario, our player dropped a ball more than two clublengths from where he last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard. He then decided to change his relief option and drop back on a line away from the point where he last crossed the margin of the hazard. Decision 20-6/2 tells us that he is allowed to change his relief option because his original dropped ball did not land on a spot on the course that conformed with any of the options available under Rule 26-1. It is as if the drop never took place.

However, in our second scenario, the dropped ball did land on the course within the prescribed dropped area as defined by Rule 26-1. Therefore, even though the ball rolled into a position where the ball must be redropped under Rule 20-2c, he is precluded from changing relief options at this point, and he must drop his ball (or another ball if the first dropped ball is not immediately recoverable) according to the same option that he was originally proceeding under, that is within two clublengths of where his ball originally crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard. The same would be true if the player was taking an unplayable lie somewhere on the course.

Last week I received an email asking a question that led me to another question which is not specifically covered in the decisions book. The question asked was whether or not a player may place a club at his feet to aid him in allignment for a shot to the green. Decision 8-2a/1 tells us that a player is allowed to place a club on the ground for alignment purposes, provided the club is removed before the shot is played.

May a player place a club on the green to help him allign himself for a putt? There is no decision that addresses this particular question, but Rule 8-2b does say that when pointing out a line for putting, the putting green must not be touched. It would seem that there would be a penalty of loss of hole in match play, or two strokes in stroke play, for placing a club on the green at one's feet to indicate a line for putting.

Now suppose you are in the fiarway and it is early in the morning and there is dew on the ground. You place a club at your feet to allign yourself for the shot, and you then remove the club before you play your shot. So far, so good. However, now there is a line in the dew at your feet. Is there a penalty involved if you now play your shot? What if you use your feet or your clubhead to wipe out the line left on the ground by the dew? Is there a penalty for this? See you next week with the answer. 


Last week we left ourselves a tough one. You have placed a club on the ground in the fiarway to help you align your feet. You then lift the club, but there is a clear line on the ground in the dew where your club was.

Frankly, there is nothing in the Decisions book to give us a clear answer.  Rule 8-2a tells us that "any mark placed by the player or with his knowledge to indicate the line (of play) must be removed before the stroke is made". Seems simple enough, but in Rule 13-2, we are told specifically that a player must not improve or allow to be improved the area of his intended stance by removing dew. Decision 13-2/35 talks about the removal of dew or frost and states "except on the teeing ground, the removal of dew or frost from the area immediately behind or to the side of a player's ball, or from the player's line of play is a breach of Rule 13-2 if such removal creates a potential advantage". Nowhere in this decision is stance mentioned, but we are then referred to new Decision 12-2/0.5, which talks about the meaning of the word "improve". Here, stance is mentioned, and we are told that a breach of Rule 13-2 will occur if the action taken creates a potential advantage for the player in his play.

So we are faced with the question, "does removal of dew from an area around the players stance give the player any potential advantage for his next stroke?". As someone who operates in the field as much as in the theoretical realm, my own feeling is that if a player were to carefully sweep away a line in the dew without doing it in such a way that his footing in the dew might be improved, then I would rule that he is not subject to penalty. But I would stress to the player to remove only the line in the dew just thoroughly enough so that there is no longer a line there that might aid his allignment, but his stance is unaffected. This situation illustrates what golf officials are sometimes faced with in terms of interpreting the Rules on the golf course in such a way that the Rules are enforced, but the intent of the Rules and of the player is taken into account. This is often a difficult line to walk, but I think the good officials are able to walk that line. Our task in stroke play is to protect the field, but to also be fair and equitable in our decisions.

Lets move on to something we are a bit more likely to see. I was faced with the following situation some years ago while officiating a PGA of America event at Port St. Lucie Country Club. A player playing from the 18th fairway pulled his second shot left towards some trees and an area of out of bounds. After playing his shot, he replaced his divot. At that point his fellow competitor, who had a better view of the player's ball, informed the player that his ball might be out of bounds. The player then elected to play a provisional ball, which he announced, and then dropped a ball at the spot he had just played from, very close behind his original divot that he had just replaced. What was the ruling? Suppose the player had gone forward and determined his original ball was out of bounds and then returned to drop a ball at his original spot. Or suppose he had not gone forward to search and had announced his intention to play a provisional ball and then replaced his divot. See you next week with the answer.


OK, we have a player who is dropping a ball at the spot where he last played from. Decision 13-2/4.5 tells us that if the player replaced his divot before he became aware that his ball was, or might be, lost or out of bounds, then he would be exempt from penalty. However, if the player replaced his own divot, or any other divots in the area where he was to drop a ball, after he had determined that his ball was lost or out of bounds, or after he had decided to play a provisional ball, then he would be penalized two strokes in stroke play, or he would lose the hole in match play. Rule 13-2 tells us that a player may not improve the area he is to drop a ball by creating or eliminating irregularities of surface. Luckily, Decision 23-1/6 does allow us to remove loose impediments from an area in which a ball is to be dropped or placed (Dec. 23-1/6.5). Loose impediments are not irregularities of surface, but divot holes (and ball marks) are irregularities of surface.

Now suppose a player's ball is lying against a pine cone (or some other loose impediment), and he wishes to lift his ball to determine if it is unfit of play, or he wishes to lift his ball to identify that it is his ball, or he is asked to lift his ball though the green because it is interfering with another player's shot. He lifts his ball, and before replacing his ball, he removed the loose impediment. What is the ruling in this case?  


According to Decision 23-1/8, lifting a loose impediment while a ball is lifted that must be replaced would result in a one-stroke penalty in both match play and stroke play. Otherwise, a player would be able to circumvent Rule 18-2a in order to avoid having his ball move when removing a loose impediment. Suppose a player's ball lies in a bunker and is burried in the sand. He decides to take an unplayable lie and lifts his ball, and then removes a loose impediment in the bunker. Well, according to Decision 13-4/35.7, the player would be penalized loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play, unless before removing the loose impediment, he indicated that he would be using the option under Rule 28a and returning to where he last played. This brings up the question, what if his last shot had been played from that same bunker? It would seem that in this case, he would still be penalized for removing the loose impediment regardless of what option he was going to use. But this would seem to contradict this particular decision. Interesting...

Speaking of an unplayable ball, suppose your drive is in the woods in a very difficult spot amongst some tree roots. You decide to take a whack at the ball and you do so, but the ball fails to move. Now you decide to take an unplayable lie, but neither the two clublengths nor the option of going back on a line away from the hole will get you out of trouble. So you decide to return to the tee and play from there. You play from the tee. What is the ruling in this case? See you next week.   


Last week you had an unplayable lie and you took a swing at the ball but failed to move it. Now you have gone back to the tee and played. According to Rule 28, one of your options was to play the ball from the spot where you last played from. But when you made a stroke at the ball in the tree roots, that was now the spot where you last played from, not the teeing ground. By playing from the teeing ground, you have played from a wrong place, in violation of Rule 20-7b. In match play you lose the hole. In stroke play, you have committed a serious breach of Rule 28, and you now must add a two-stroke penalty, in addition to the one stroke penalty under Rule 28. You must abandon the ball you just played from the tee, and go back to the spot where your ball was unplayable, and again proceed under one of the options under Rule 28. See Decision 28/6.

Now suppose that instead of taking a swing at the ball that had been lying in the tree roots, you instead dropped a ball under Rule 28 within two clublengths of your original lie. That ball came to rest in a spot where you again wanted to take an unplayable lie. Is going back to the tee still an option at this point? Yes, you could take the second one-stroke penalty and go back to the tee. You can do this because the tee is still the last spot where you made a stroke at your ball, so it is still a viable option under Rule 28. See Decision 28/6.5.

Shifting gears, here is a situation that occured at the Mid Amateur Championship last year at Manchester Country Club. On the 12th tee, a player hit a poor tee shot to the right and it struck a tree, and came to rest on a cart path. The player wished to take free relief from the cart path, but his nearest point of relief would have forced him to drop his ball in a flower bed. The flower bed was, by Local Rule, and area of ground under repair from which play was prohibited. What should the player have done at this point?


In the situation descibed last week, the player should have dropped the ball into the flower bed, and since he was not allowed to play from the flower bed, he should have then determined his nearest point of relief for his new position, and dropped within one clublength of that spot, no nearer the hole. There is nothing in the Rules (or Local Rule) prohibiting a player from dropping a ball in an area from which play is prohibited. See Decision 20-7/3.

Suppose in this situation, the player drops the ball in the flower bed, and then in determining his nearest point of relief for that condition, he finds that he must now drop back on the cart path. What can he do? According to Decision 1-4/8, the player must drop the ball back onto the cart path. At this point, if he determines that his nearest point of relief is back in the flower bed, he can determine a new nearest point of relief which avoids interference from both the cart path and the flower bed. He can then drop within one clublength, no nearer the hole, of this new nearest point of relief. This decsion would apply whenever a player finds himself in an endless loop of going back and forth between two conditions, such as an obstruction and casual water, or casual water and ground under repair, etc. remember that in order to apply this decision, you must have dropped out of, and then back into, the original condition. Rule 1-4 is known as the Equity Rule, and is used in situations where no other Rules of Golf provide a solution.

Let's look at another situation involving equity. A player hits his ball into the woods. He finds his ball in a bush and breaks off a branch to improve his area of intended swing. In doing so, he also moves the ball with his foot. What is the ruling? 


Our player has a ball near a bush and he breaks off a branch, and in doing so, moves his ball. Decision 1-4/15 tells us that the player has broken two Rules as a result of a single act. The penalty for moving the ball is one stroke under Rule 18-2a, and the penalty for breaking the branch is two strokes under Rule 13-2. In this case, the larger penalty is applied and the smaller penalty is disregarded, so the player receives a two stroke penalty under Rule 13-2, but he must replace his ball. In match play, the player would lose the hole.

Let's move on to something new. Suppose you are playing in the State Amateur Championship, on the 2nd day of stroke play. On the 15th hole you are in the trees and you flub your shot. In anger, you smack your club against a tree and it snaps in two. Are you able to replace your club? Now suppose you do not replace your club, and after the round you are advised that you will be in a play-off to determine the final spots for the match play portion of the championship. Can you replace the club at this point? Now suppose later in the week you break your club in anger during a match, and at the conclusion of the 18th hole, you are all square and will have a play off. Are you allowed to replace your club at this point? Finally, what would the answers be in the above cases if your club had broken as a result of a stroke, not as a result of a fit of anger? Would the answers be any different? Next week we'll look at breaking and replacing clubs.


Last week we had a player who broke a club in anger. Rule 4-3b tells us that if a club is damaged during a stipulated round other than in the normal course of play, the player may not attempt to repair or replace the club. To do so would result in disqualification.  Now, the player finishes his round and finds that he is in a stroke play play-off. As a play-off in stroke play constitutes a new stipulated round, the player would be entitled to replace the broken club before going out in the play-off.

Later during the State Amateur, our angry man has advanced and is playing a match. During his match, he again breaks a club in anger. After 18 holes, the match is all square. In match play, should a match require extra holes to determine a winner, those extra holes constitute a continuation of the stipulated round, not a new stipulated round. So in this case, our player is not allowed to replace the broken club until after the current match is concluded, however many holes that requires.

According to Rule 4-3a, should a player damage a club during the normal course of play, he is allowed to use the damaged club for the remainder of the round, or repair or have repaired the club at any time, provided he does not delay play. If the club is in fact no longer fit for play, he may replace the club, again without delaying play, but he may not borrow a club selected for play by any other player playing on the course.   

What is meant by the term 'normal course of play'? Years ago, this term was restricted to damage sustained during the execution of a stroke at the ball, but that requirement has been relaxed to now include damage sustained while leaning on a club, removing a club from or placing a club into a golf bag, using a club to search for or to retreive a golf ball, or accidentally dropping a club. Throwing a club for any reason, slamming a club into a golf bag, or intentionally striking anything with a club other than during a stroke, would all be actions considered outside of the normal course of play.

Next week we'll look at carrying too many clubs, and find out how a player can be four holes down after two holes played. And consider this...a player is playing a match and in the middle of the first fairway, discovers that he has 15 clubs. What should the referee do in this case?


Let's look at carying more than 14 clubs. First, it can't be emphasized enough that the last thing you do before hitting that first tee shot is to count your clubs. I have seen it happen where a player arrives at the course with his usual compliment of 14 clubs, but somehow ends up with 15 clubs when he tees off. You would be subject to penalty even if that extra club makes its way into your bag through no fault of your own. Maybe someone on the putting green inadvertantly slips his putter into your bag. Or as in the case of Ian Woosnam at the Open Championship many years ago, you are demoing a driver on the range and just plain forget to return it to the shop before you head out to play (I saw this same thing happen to a pro in Florida a few years back).

So you don't count your clubs and you tee off with 15 in your bag. What is the penalty? Well, it can get a bit confusing. In stroke play, the penalty is two strokes per hole at which the extra club is carried, with a maximum penalty of four strokes. If you discover on the 5th (or the 15th) hole that you have your son's putter hidden in your bag, you would add two penalty strokes to your score for the 1st and 2nd holes.

In match play, it gets even weirder. The penalty is to add a lost hole to the status of your match, with a maximum of two lost holes, and this must be done at the conclusion of the hole where the breach was discovered. So you tee off on the ninth tee and discover that extra club. If you are two down, you are now four down. If you are one down you are now three down. If you are two up you are now all square, and so on.  Keep losing holes and you could be heading home from the 9th green.

This happened in the US Senior Amateur a few years back: a USGA referee was informed in the first fairway that one of the players had an extra club. The referee informed the player's opponent that he had won the first hole, and they went to the 2nd tee, but this was in fact incorrect. What should have happened was that the players finished the 1st hole, and then the status of the match would be adjusted at that point. So the offending player could have lost the first hole and then been two down, or he could have won the hole and they would have been all square. If the hole had been halved, only then would our offender have been one down at the 2nd tee. Even referees in national championships make mistakes.

Finally, if you discover that you have an extra club during the round, you must immediately decalre one of your clubs to be out of play. There is nothing in the Rules that says the club must be discarded, or even taken out of your bag, but to use the club after it has been declared out of play would result in disqualfication. However, if an extra club is discovered before the round begins, there is no penalty, but the club must be removed from your bag/golf cart and not brought out onto the course, or you would start racking up the penalty strokes/lost holes the second you tee off.

Question: In the NHGA Four-Ball Championship (stroke play), Jim and Mike are partners. Both players are using Titleist clubs and have similar stand bags.  After chipping onto the 8th green, Mike accidentally slips his 7 iron into Jim's bag.  On the 9th hole, Jim hits a 7 iron into the green and then realizes that he had used his partner's club. What is the ruling?


In four-ball stoke play, ususally penalties apply only to the player who commits an infraction. However, in the case of Rule 4 and Rule 6-4 (having two caddies at one time), both Rules that include a maximum penalty per round, the penalties for an infraction are levied against both the offending player and his partner. So in last week's situation, both Jim and Mike are penalized two strokes when Jim used Mike's club to play a shot. Keep in mind that because Jim started his round with 14 clubs, he was not subject to penalty when Mike placed the 7-iron into Jim's bag. Jim could have carried that club all day with no penalty, as long as he didn't use it. In fact, partners can place all their clubs into one bag, provided the clubs are clearly identifiable to their owners.

When Jim used Mike's club, he was required to declare that club out of play (Mike can still use it). If Jim had used the club but not realized it until after the 9th hole, both players would receive two-stroke penalties at the 9th hole (where Jim first used the club) and at the 10th hole as well.  

In the Transitions Championship this past weekend, I happened to catch Webb Simpson Saturday on tv as he putted for a par on some hole. After missing the putt, but before tapping in, he appeared to have scraped his long putter back and forth on the line of the putt he had just missed, with something like a shuffleboard motion. As grain is a consideration on Florida greens, it occured to me that this might be construed as a violation of Rule 16-1d, which prohibits testing the surface of a green during play of the hole. As far as I know nothing was mentioned on tv after his actions. We all know from past experience that had someone called in, and the PGATour decided a violation had occured, then Webb would have been disqualified if the information had come to light after he had turned in his card, per Rule 6-6d (I think I remember hearing that the Tour no longer takes phone calls on Rules violations).  Suppose Webb is reading this article today, and he calls the Tour, and it is determined that he had violated Rule 16-1d, and therefore had violated Rule 6-6d. What should the Tour do?  


When it comes to disqualification penalties, as in all Rules violations, the Committee in charge of the competition is bound by the Rules of Golf. First, Rule 33-7 tells us that the Committee may, in exceptional individual cases, waive, modify, or impose a penalty of disqualfication (the Committee is not allowed to waive or modify any penalty less than disqualification). This Rule also tells us that a serious breach of etiquette may result in a disqualification penalty.

To find out what happens when a player turns in a wrong score card, we first look at Rule 6-6, which tells us that once a card is returned to the Committee, if there is a score on an individual hole that is lower than what the player made on that hole, and this includes a situation where a penalty has not been added to a score, then the player is disqualified. The player is also disqualified if the card is returned without the player's or the markers signature. This Rule only applies to stroke play, as there is no such thing as an official score card in match play.

Regarding the hypothetical situation we proposed with Webb Simpson, we need to now look at Rule 34-1b.  Here we find more requirements of the Committee. It tells us that a penalty (any penalty) may not be rescinded, modified, or imposed after the competition is closed. When a competition is closed should be layed out in writing by the Committee. For NHGA events, the competition is usually closed when the championship trophy has been awarded to the winner.

But there are exceptions. Any violation of Rule 1-3 (Agreement to Waive a Rule) would result in disqualfication, even if it came to light after the close of the competition. Also, if a competitor knew before the competition closed that he had violated a Rule that would result in disqualification, he would be disqualified at any time should this come to light. Finally, in our Webb Simpson situation, a player would be disqualified after the competition is closed if he returned a score for a hole that was lower than he actually made for any reason other than failure to include a penalty he did not know he had incured before the competition had closed. In other words, if Webb called into Tour headquarters days after a tournament concluded because he had just learned that he had violated Rule 16-1d (or any Rule), he would not be disqualified and the penalty for the original violation would not be imposed. If he knew before the close of competition that what he had done was against the Rules, the Committee would be bound to retroactively disqualify him, except in an exceptional individual circumstance.

So you can see that the Committee must in such cases proceed with caution. The Committee must take the time to gather all the facts before issuing a disqualification penalty. I have seen cases where it may take hours or even days for the Committee to speak to all persons involved. Such an important decision can not be rushed.  Suppose the championship match for the State Amateur Championship is about to be played, and the two finalists are warming up on the putting green. One of the players suggests that they agree to concede all short putts because the greens are pretty bumpy, and it wouldn't be fair for the match to hinge on bad luck with a short putt. His opponent agrees and they head to the 1st tee. After the players tee off and are walking down the 1st fairway, the opponent tells the player that he doesn't think its a good idea to concede short putts, and the player agrees that they will not do so. A week later their initial conversation is brought to the attention of the Committee. The Committee interviews both players and learns that the agreement was called off immediately after the players teed off on the 1st hole. What should the Committee do?


Last week we had a situation where two players in a match decided to concede short putts, but then after teeing off but before reaching the 1st green, decided not to concede short putts.  This would be one of those nightmare situations that every tournament director dreads. Decision 1-3/0.5 tells us that if there is an agreement in place to waive a Rule of Golf, and that agreement has not been cancelled prior to either golfer in a match teeing off on the 1st hole, then both players are disqualified. It is irrelevant that neither player had actually conceded a putt, or in fact even reached the 1st green. Further more, we learned last week that when the Committee is considering disqualification penalties, where violations of Rule 1-3 are concerned, they would be disqualified even if the competition had closed and one of the players had the championship trophy sitting in his living room.  But note that in order to violate Rule 1-3, the players must be aware that their agreement is in fact a violation of a Rule. If they were not aware that agreeing to concede short putts was against the Rules, then they were not in violation of Rule 1-3 (Decision 1-3/2). 

By the way, what Rule were the two players agreeing to waive? We all know that it is perfectly legal to concede putts in match play, so what is the matter with the two players agreeing to concede short putts. The Rule in question is Rule 2-4, which tells us that a player in match play may concede his opponent's next stroke at any time, provided the opponent's ball is at rest. The next stroke can be a short putt, or even the opponent's upcoming tee shot. So our two finalists were in violation for agreeing to concede strokes that were not the next strokes to be played by either player.

What should the Committee do now that our two State Amateur finalists have been disqualified? Well, to my mind the most desirable solution would be to locate the two players who lost their semi-final matches and have them play for the championship. Decision 33/3 suggests that the Committee may also elect to not have a champion.

Let's go back to our State Amateur final. Our two finalists (Jim and Nick) are playing the final hole of the championship match and are all square on the 36th hole. Nick holes out for a four. Jim lies three, and believing that Nick had made a three, Jim lifts his ball and goes to shake Nick's hand. At this point the referee informs Jim that Nick had made a four. How must the Committee handle this misunderstanding? 


In last week's situation, a player in a match mistakenly believes his opponent made a three to win the match, when in fact his opponent had made a four. Unfortunately for Jim, when he picked up his ball without marking it's position, he incurred a penalty stroke under Rule 20-1. So now Jim lies four and the match is over. Had the Referee noticed that Jim was about to pick up his ball, he would have intervened and prevented Jim from incurring the penalty stroke.

A Referee is one appointed by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. He must act on any breach of the Rules which he sees, or is reported to him. At the NHGA State Amateur Championship, we appoint referees to follow matches during the quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday, and the finals on Saturday. The Committee is allowed to appoint referees at other times during match or stroke play events. But in match play, unless the referee is tasked with following a specific match, he is not authorized to intervene in a match, except where Rule 1-3 (Agreement to Waive a Rule), Rule 6-7 (Undue Delay; Slow Play), and Rule 33-7 (Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion). At the State Amateur, we do not appoint referees duing matches on Wednesday and Thursday, and our on-course officials are instructed not to get involved in a match unless asked to by the players.

The Committee will on occasion run into situations that test its intention of providing competition that is fair and equitable to all players in the field. One of the most difficult situations we run into is when a player shows a repeated lack of respect for his fellow competitors or the golf course, by repeatedly cursing or throwing clubs. The Committee should warn the player after his initial outburst, and probably warn him a second time should he again misbehave. But at some point, the Committee may have to enforce Decision 33-7/8, which allows the Committee in exceptional cases to disqualify a player for a breach of etiquette. In some cases, as for example a player misses a putt and deliberatly burries his putter head into the putting green, the Committee may act on this one breach of etiquette and disqualify the player without warning. 

Another task of the Committee is to develop Local Rules for specific golf courses. All courses offer different problems for both players and the Committee. The Rules of Golf provide guidelines for what the Committee can and can not do with regard to Local Rules. The Committee is not allowed to make a Local Rule that waives a Rule of Golf. For example, the Committee can not make a Local Rule giving free relief from exposed tree roots, even if the course has several trees with exposed roots close to fairways. Exposed tree roots are not abnormal, and therefore no free relief may be given.

This situation occured last year in an NHGA event, where a bunker adjacent to a green was flooded to the extent that there was no way for a player whose ball was in the bunker to obtain a measure of relief without penalty. How should the Committee handle such a situation?


Well, the season is upon us and so we will be suspending the Rules question of the week until after the season is over. Last time we talked about a flooded bunker. In that case, we declared the bunker to be GUR and provided a ball drop for anyone whose ball was in the bunker to be able to take a free drop.

We hope you all have a great golf season. If you have any Rules questions, don't hesitate to drop us a line. See you in the fall.

John Jelley



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