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Doug Hoffmann, Tournament Director for the Minnesota Golf Association, is a USGA Certified Rules Official and a member of the PGA of America. He has been conducting and officiating golf tournaments since 1989, including PGA TOUR and USGA qualifying events and PGA Section championships.

Want to ask Doug a rules question?
Send an e-mail to rules@teemaster.com

Due to the volume of mail, Doug may not be able to respond to every question submitted.

Recently answered questions:
"Moving the ball rules"
"Is This Casual Water?"
"Grey Area" in the Rules.
Two Balls Touching In A Bunker
Funny Story About Out-Of-Bounds Stake Ruling
Legal Height For a Golf Tee
A bird picked up my ball off the greeen!
Unintentional Hit Off The Tee Question.
Do I Have To Change My Handicap During A Tournament?
Signing and Attested the Wrong Score
Hitting to an Island Green Over a Lateral Water Hazard
Can I take Drop From a Bunker?
Is Marking a takeaway line OK?
Good Observation!
Can you move a hazard stake?
"Did that ball enter that hazard?"
What is the "Margin of the Hazard"?
Ball on the wrong green
Loose Impediment in a Hazard
Moving Natural Obstructions
Ball On The Green Moved By Another Ball
Two Different Colored Stakes Marking a Hazard
Ground Under Repair (GUR) Question
What do I do about a TOTALLY buried ball?
Stance in the sand
Rake Interference
Questionable Ace?
Embedded ball on the green.
When is a ball unplayable?
Righty and lefty clubs in the bag?
A backhanded short put?
A Ball WAY in the Rough.
Gloves and Sticky Stuff.
Mulligan question for us all!
Balls Hitting each other on the Green.
Hazard and Line-of-Flight.
Power pole obstruction, and boundary stake rules...
Should I re-tee for OB or lost ball?
What if a squirrel hits a moving ball?
What about a ball lodged against the pin?
Confusion on water hazard boundaries...
Testing the Putting Surface
Unidentifiable Buried Ball in a Bunker(REVISED to reflect the Rules Changes of 2008)
Mismarked Water Hazard
Lee Janzen surprize cut-missing penalty during the 2001 US Open
Two-Man Best Ball Rules Clarification...
How many strokes does a double hit cost?
Slope and rating; what makes one course tougher than another?
What's the maximum score I can take?
Hitting a shot that's buried in a bunker
Ball in motion, deflected by partner or opponent
 

"Moving the ball rules"

Steve Hambling asks: When playing with most golfers no one seems to want to touch a ball in play to identify it. I always see people bending down to try to see the markings rather than picking up the ball.

The other day I played with a 4 handicapper with lots of experience and he said you can't touch a ball in play, but he did say you could move it with your club to identify it. I suppose this is OK provided you don't move the ball as by definition in rule 18, that is, that is does not leave it's position and come to rest in another place.

It seems to me that no where in the rules does it say that you cannot touch a ball in play, and in fact rule 12-2 specifically allows you to pick up a ball to identify it, as long as it is outside a hazard, and as long as you mark the spot, tell your opponent that you are going to lift, and allow him the opportunity to observe the lifting.

18-2 says you can't touch a ball in play other than provided by a rule. That rule would be 12-2. 18-3 concerning match play says that your opponent can't touch it.

What's the deal?

DOUG responds: Steve,

It sounds as though you are really up on your rules, except for believing your 4-handicap friend. Unfortunately, not only is he wrong about not touching a ball in play (which, as you have correctly pointed out, is permissible under Rule 12-2), but he is wrong about touching it with a club.

Rule 18 deals with "Ball at Rest Moved," and it does not permit the moving (touching) of the ball except in specific cases (to identify the ball, to see if it has been damaged, to mark its position if it interferes with play). Each of these have specific procedures the player must follow, the first of which is to mark the ball before moving it. Thus, to move the ball with the club, even if it does not leave its position, is not permitted under the rules. I applaud your understanding of Rule 12-2 as well as 18-2 and -3. I also bring to your attention Rule 5-3 (Ball unfit for play) and 22 (Ball interfering with or assisting play). As previously mentioned, the player is entitled to move the ball under these rules as well, but must follow a specific procedure.

Keep up the good understanding of the rules; it just may be worth your effort in your next match!
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"Is This Casual Water?"

Lee Troska of Minneapolis asks: Early this spring during a round in Florida, my ball just barely trickled into a pond. When I arrived at my ball I discovered that the pond was flooded above its banks and that although my ball was covered by water it was actually sitting on what would normally be grass and was about a yard from the normal edge of the pond. So was my ball considered to be in the lateral water hazard or was it in casual water?

DOUG responds: Lee,

This is a great question because this will happen nearly everywhere in the world at some point. Here in Minnesota, it will predominantly happen in the spring with the thaw of snow, spring rains, and the courses not being as well marked as possible.

Of course, the definition of "casual water" states it is "any temporary accumulation of water on the course which is visible before or after the player takes his stance and is not in a water hazard." When you apply this definition to your situation, it appears your ball was in casual water and not in the water hazard. However, instead of going by the "normal edge of the pond," you would be required to use the margin as defined by stakes or lines. So, depending upon where your ball lay in reference to the margin, then you would make the appropriate decision.

Thanks for this question. It's a great example of how knowing the rules can work to your benefit!
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"Grey Area" in the Rules.

Adam Zabielski asks: Golf rules are the same for all without the so called "personal bias" or so I thought. Is there a golf rule that can be considered as a personal opinion, that may differ from person to person besides the ruling on a ball unfit for play?

DOUG responds: Adam,

I wish I could say the rules are very "black and white," but unfortunately, I cannot. The more you study the rules, the more "gray" you find in them. Often, an interpretation may be up to the opinion of the rules official giving the ruling. Hopefully, that official is very competent and can give you a ruling consistent with the intent of the rules.

Here are some brief examples of the "gray area" within the rules.

1. The definition of "stroke" states it is "the forward movement of the club made with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he is deemed not to have made a stroke." 2. The definition of "line of play" states it is "the direction a player wishes his ball to take after a stroke, ..." 3. Deciding if an unmarked area should be "ground under repair." 4. Where a ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard, especially a lateral water hazard.

These are only a few but should give you an idea of how the rules may be open to personal interpretation. Again, hopefully, the official in charge is knowledgeable enough to make the proper rulings.

Thanks for the question!
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Two Balls Touching In A Bunker

Betsy Asher asks: This past weekend a woman I was playing with hit into a sand trap. I subsequently hit into the same trap and although my ball entered the sand about 18 inches away from hers, it rolled down and nestled in so that the two were touching and it was impossible to hit one without hitting both as they were lined up directly with the pin. How is this to be handled, and do any penalties apply? Thanks!

DOUG responds: Betsy,

It is a good thing we have the rules, because I think Tiger Woods might be the only person capable of hitting this shot!

This situation deals with the shortest rule and one most of us know as it pertains to the putting green but not anywhere else on the course. Rule 22 deals with a "Ball Assisting or Interfering with Play."

Rule 22-2: Ball Interfering with Play

Except when a ball is in motion, if a player considers that another ball might interfere with her play, she may have it lifted.

A ball lifted under this Rule must be replaced (Rule 20-3). The ball must not be cleaned, unless it lies on the putting green (see Rule 21).

Getting back to the situation you described, one of you should have marked the position of your ball to allow the other player to play. Then, since the original position was likely to be altered, under Rule 20-3b(iii), the person who lifted her ball would have been required to recreate her lie as nearly as possible and place the ball in that lie. This means either one of you could have raked the bunker in order to recreate the lie.

While this seems to be a very complicated process, in reality, it is very logical.

I hope this helps! Good luck and good golfing!

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Funny Story About Out-Of-Bounds Stake Ruling

Bill Landen asks: I don't have a question for you, just thought you might be amused by this reaction to your explanation of the "no relief for an out of bounds stake".

I frequently play with a fellow who takes the rules very non-challantly. For example, if he were to run a 2ft putt 5ft past the hole, he will just pick up and consider the 5 footer in. Shortly after reading your indication that there is no relief for an out of bounds stake interfering with your swing, the situation befell my friend. Ripe with the knowledge from your column, I quickly advised him of the rule as he was about to try to pull the stake out of the ground. He acknowledged I was correct, but that I didn't quite understand the situation to which that ruling applied. He informed me that it only applied when your ball is out of bounds, not when it is still in bounds!

DOUG responds:

Thanks for the story! I'm sure there are many other stories very similar to yours, all about people who believe they know the rules. I hope you have given your friend a rules book and the link to TeeMaster so we can get him signed up for TeeMail!

Keep up the good work!
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Legal Height For a Golf Tee

An anonymous golfer asks: Is there a maximum legal height for a golf tee?

DOUG responds:

Yes, a golf tee may not exceed four (4) inches in height.

For more information and complete listing of conforming golf balls, conforming and non-conforming clubs and other devices, please go to http://www.usga.org.

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A bird picked up my ball off the greeen!

Blake Renslow asks: A bird picked up my ball on the green and dropped it into the water! What is the ruling?

DOUG responds: Blake,

My answer to this question depends on your answers to some questions.

#1: Was the ball at rest or in motion? If it was at rest, Rule 18 covers this. The bird is an "outside agency" as defined by the rules. Rule 18-1 states that "if a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, the player shall incur no penalty and the ball shall be replaced before the player plays another stroke." (Note: You may substitute a ball if the original is not able to be retrieved.)

If the ball was in motion, then we must go to Rule 19.

#2: If the ball was in motion, from where was it played - on the putting green or off? If your ball in motion was picked up by the bird after a stroke on the putting green, we would go to Rule 19-1b, which states, "If a ball in motion after a stroke on the putting green is deflected or stopped by ... any moving or animate outside agency except a worm or an insect, the stroke shall be canceled, the ball replaced and the stroke replayed."

However, if your ball in motion was picked up by the bird after a stroke from off the putting green, the player is required to place the ball on the spot from which it was lifted.  If that spot is on the putting green, the ball will be placed.  If that spot was off of the putting green, the ball must be dropped.  And, if the ball is not immediately recoverable, another ball may be substituted with no penalty.

Here’s a link to a famous incident very similar to yours - Memorable Moments: The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

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Unintentional Hit Off The Tee Question.

Gavin Craig asks: During a tournament, a player was taking a practice swing in the tee box when a gust of wind caused him to fall forward, and the club head to hit the ball. It was clear to everyone that the player had not intended to hit the ball during the practice swing, and except for falling forward due to the wind, would not have hit the ball. What is the ruling?

DOUG responds: Gavin,

I am really glad you asked this question because it brings up the importance of knowing the "Definitions" within the rules. In all of the Rules Workshops I conduct, I begin each session with the definitions. And, if you are going to read nothing else in the rules, I would suggest you read the definitions. Why? Because you cannot completely understand the rules and begin to apply them if you do not know the language of the rules.

Well, enough philosophy and let me answer your question. There are a couple of issues to consider when answering your question. First, the definition of the term "stroke" reads "A stroke is the forward movement of the club with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he is deemed not to have made a stroke." Now, it could be very simple to say there was no penalty in this case, and the player would not count the stroke and play another ball, just as you had the player do correctly!

However, I want to mention that this is the case only on the teeing ground. Why? Because the player had not put his ball into play yet. The definition of "Ball in Play" reads "a ball is in play as soon as the player has made a stroke on the teeing ground." Thus, since no stroke had been made, then the ball was not in play. But, if your situation had occurred ANYWHERE else on the course, then the player would have been in violation of Rule 18-2, "Ball at Rest moved by the Player." In which case, he would have incurred a one-stroke penalty and been required to replace the ball.

Thanks, Gavin. I hope this helps your understanding of the term "Stroke."
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Do I Have To Change My Handicap During A Tournament?

Susan Wood of Westport, CT, asks: If a tournament is played over a period of three weeks, or even three separate days, should the handicap in effect going into the tournament be used throughout the tournament, or should it be changed each time according to the person's score?

DOUG responds: Susan,

Thanks for the question. This is one which many people and facilities find difficult.

In its USGA Handicap System manual, the USGA "recommends that, when practical, each player use his USGA Handicap Index in effect at the time each round is played. Thus, if a competition spans a handicap revision date, new Handicap Indexes should be used in rounds following that date." (Section 9-2b)

Practically speaking, if a tournament is conducted over consecutive days and a revision occurs during one of those dates, it might be difficult to incorporate the new indexes into the competition. However, if there is a season/summer-long competition (such as a match play), then I would suggest following the USGA recommendations.

Finally, Rule 33-1 states the "Committee shall lay down the conditions under which a competition is to be played." So, ultimately, it is up the group conducting the event to make the decision.

Thanks for the question.
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Signing and Attested the Wrong Score

Cora asks: A player signed and attested to her scorecard of 87, when she actually shot 86. Is this cause for disqualification? On the second day of the tournament, the committee running the tournament, corrected the error giving her an 86. Is this legal or should she have been disqualified?

DOUG responds: Cora,

Thanks for the question. This is one that many people have difficulty understanding.

Rule 6-6b (The Player, Scoring in Stroke Play, Signing and Returning Card) states, "After completion of the round, the competitor should check his score for each hole and settle any doubtful points with the Committee. He shall ensure that the marker has signed the card, countersign the card himself and return it to the Committee as soon as possible."

Rule 33-5 (The Committee, Score Card) states, "In stroke play, the Committee is responsible for the addition of scores ..."

Keeping these in mind, let's look at your question. In your question, especially based on the Committee's actions, we must assume that the 18 individual hole scores totaled to 86 and not 87. Thus, the Committee is absolutely correct in its action and the player is not penalized since the totaling of the card is the Committee's responsibility. In fact, the player does not have to record any total on the card as long as she has a score for each hole.

There is often another misconception people make regarding score cards. If a person returns a score for a hole different than she actually made, it does not automatically mean a disqualification penalty. Of course, if a player signs for a score LOWER than she made and returns the card to the Committee, then she would be "DQ'd." However, if she returns a score HIGHER than she actually made, then she would be forced to take the higher score.

This latter situation is what happened to Roberto DiVicenzo during the 1968 Masters. He had made a birdie 3 on the 17th hole during the 4th round, which would place him in a tie with Bob Goalby for the championship. However, when he signed and returned his card to the Committee, his marker (Tommy Aaron) had recorded a "4" for the 17th hole. Roberto failed to catch the mistake. Thus he was forced to take the higher score, which allowed Goalby to claim the "Green Jacket" without a playoff. Many people mistakenly think DiVicenzo was disqualified or that because of his mistake, he lost the title (when, in fact, he lost the opportunity to be in a play-off).

I hope this helps clear-up your understanding of the player's and Committee's responsibilities regarding score cards. Have a great golf season!
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Hitting to an Island Green Over a Lateral Water Hazard

Norman Ross asks: I need a ruling about an "island" type green but over a lateral water hazard. The choice for the golfer is to "lay up" by hitting into the fairway to the right of the green without having to go over water, or to hit the ball over the water towards the green. If the latter course is chosen, and the ball goes over the water to a small hill adjoining the green, but rolls back into the water, what are the player's options? And if the ball goes over the green into a water hazard behind it?

DOUG responds:

Thanks for the question. This is more common than the 17th hole at the TPC-Sawgrass. Presuming the water hazard is marked as a "lateral water hazard" as you have said, you have potentially five options under Rule 26-1. The first option (#1) may or may not be available and does not incur a penalty stroke - play the ball as it lies. Of course, if this is not possible, you now have up to four choices, which all include a penalty of one stroke. The second option (#2) would be "Stroke and Distance." This means the player would drop another ball and play the next stroke from as near as possible to where the previous stroke was played (Rule 26-1a; also see 20-5).

In your question, you mention a person may choose to hit over the water and have the ball land on the small hill and then roll back into the water. Before I can accurately answer this in reference to the other options, my first question would be, "Did the ball cross over the lateral water hazard and land on ground outside the hazard? Or, did it actually cross just the water part but not hit ground outside the hazard?" The critical element in the remaining two or three options is determining where the ball LAST crossed the margin of the hazard. For your question, let's presume it cleared the hazard and rolled back into it. Option #3: (Rule 26-1b) The player may drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped. Option #4: (Rule 26-1c) The player may drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard. Option #5: (Rule 26-1c continued) The player may "drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole [as the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard]. (Note: This option may not be available.) With respect to your question about the ball flying over the green and into the hazard, the options remain the same. Again, the focus point would be the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard.

Please keep in mind that if the water hazard is marked "Yellow" - or as a direct hazard - options #1-3 are the only options available to the player.

I hope this helps your understanding of water hazards!
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Can I take  Drop From a Bunker?

Bob and Betty Cooper ask: Is there ever a time when a ball resting in a bunker may be dropped outside the bunker?

DOUG responds:

Thanks for the question about relief from bunkers. There are a few times a player may drop outside a bunker - both with and without penalty.

The first that comes to mind is when the bunker has been taken out of play by the Committee as "Ground Under Repair, Through the Green." This often happens if the bunker is under construction or if there is enough "casual water" to make the bunker unplayable. For the player, the presence of casual water in the bunker is not, in itself, reason to take free relief. The Rules permit taking relief from casual water in a bunker, but the ball shall remain in the bunker. Only specific authorization by the Committee permits relief outside without penalty. The Committee must declare the bunker as "through the green;" otherwise, the bunker maintains its status as a "hazard."

Another time a player can get relief out of a bunker is if the player declares the ball unplayable (Rule 28). The player has three options, one of which is "stroke and distance." This is the only option under this rule which allows the player to take relief outside the bunker. Of course, the player goes back to where the ball was originally before the last stroke was played (that resulted in the ball going into the bunker) with a one-stroke penalty.

The third time, which also incurs a penalty stroke, is when the player has interference by "Abnormal Ground Condition" - "ground under repair" that the Committee has not declared as "through the green" or when the bunker contains casual water. In this case, under Rule 25-1b(ii)b, the player may drop the ball "under penalty of one stroke, outside the bunker, keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the bunker the ball may be dropped."

The fourth and final time is one that is not well known. It involves the ball moving after a "Movable Obstruction" is removed from a bunker. I will refer you to Decision 20-3d/2. In brief, the ball moves when the player removes the rake. Under Rule 24-1, the player is not penalized but "it [the ball] shall be replaced." In this decision, the player cannot get the ball to come to rest within the bunker without going closer to the hole. Thus, the only option for the player, in equity, is to drop behind the bunker, under penalty of one-stroke.

I hope this has helped you to understand this interesting situation!

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Is Marking a takeaway line OK?

Don Cooley from Arizona asks: I was golfing in an amateur tournament last year and one of my opponents would stand behind the ball, line up where he wanted to go, and hit the sole of the club a couple times to make a mark in the grass, about 1 inch behind the ball, to indicate a takeaway line. Is this legal?


DOUG responds: Don,

First, you refer to the other player as your “opponent.” After reading your entire message, I gather this was a “stroke play” event, in which case, this person would have been a “fellow-competitor.” This is important to establish as the penalty would differ.

Anyhow, if what happened is exactly the way you described it, the player was in violation of Rule 13-2 by creating this “irregularity of surface.” The player should have incurred a penalty of two-strokes – even though he did it more than once – on each hole it occurred.

Hope this helps!

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Good Observation

Mike Mielenz from Sugar Land, TX asks: I agree with your comments regarding the difference between stakes marking the boundary of a water hazard vs. those marking out-of-bounds--up to a point. You said that a stake marking the boundary of a water hazard can be moved whether or not the player's ball lay within the hazard. You proceeded to say that in the event a stake were fixed, as in concrete, that no relief would be available. I agree that makes sense if the player's ball were within the confines of the hazard, but if a ball were lying outside the hazard and the hazard marker interfered with the player's stance, swing or the backward movement of the club I believe that the player would be entitled to normal relief under Rule 24 as with any immovable obstruction. Please review and comment. Thanks.


DOUG responds: Mike,

You receive an "A+" for paying close attention. Of course, you are absolutely correct! A player is entitled to free relief from an immovable obstruction (in this case, the hazard stakes placed in concrete), even if the obstruction lies within a hazard, as long as the ball lies outside the water hazard. In addition to this situation, this would be a good time to note the other two relief situations found in Rule 24-2b. First, if a player has interference by an immovable obstruction in a bunker (such as a walkway or steps made from railroad ties), the player is entitled to free relief but the "nearest point of relief" must be in the bunker and the ball must be dropped in the bunker. Be careful to make sure the obstruction has not been deemed to be an "integral part of the course," from which free relief would not be permitted. Secondly, if an immovable obstruction interferes on the "line of putt" when the ball lies on the putting green, the player is entitled to free relief, but must keep two things in mind - (1) the "nearest point of relief" may not be on the putting green, and (2) the ball must be placed (not dropped). Thanks for catching this; keep up the good work!
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Can you move a hazard stake?
 

Dan Ripper asks: I read your ruling regarding an OB stake which interferes with a swing. I believe that you state that it cannot be moved. What about hazard stakes? If your ball lies outside a hazard, but the hazard stake interferes with your swing, may the stake be moved? Does this change if your ball lies in the hazard and you decide to play it from the hazard?

DOUG responds: Dan,

You read correctly that a person cannot move a stake identifying out of bounds. However, hazard stakes may be removed, regardless whether the ball is within or outside of the margin of the hazard, as long as the hazard stakes are considered movable obstructions (Rule 24-1). Generally speaking, most courses use stakes which can be easily removed. However, should a course make the hazard stakes permanent (by placing in concrete), then a player would not be entitled to relief under Rule 24-2.

Good luck!
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"Did that ball enter that hazard?"

Stephen Wicks from Jambaroo, Australia asks:
Thank you for your past rulings. I find them very useful in clearing up ambiguity in the interpretation of some of the rules of golf. I have another query with regards to an interpretation in which the rules leave in limbo and open the mixed interpretations.

Recently I played in a competition and came across the following
scenario: A ball was hit left from the tee towards the vicinity of a known water hazard on the left side of the fairway. The actual landing point of the ball could not be seen from the tee. When we arrived at the possible position of the ball, it could not be found outside the hazard and the player declared the ball lost as he did not see the ball enter the hazard. As the event was a match play competition he conceded the hole instead of replaying from the tee. I discussed the interpretation the player made of the rule and suggested that he may have been able to drop the ball at a determined entry point to the hazard, and played three from that point instead of returning to the tee. He still was adamant that this was not the correct option.

The rules declare that reasonable evidence of the ball entering the hazard is sufficient in determining a ball to be lost in the hazard. This seems fairly gray as to the definition of reasonable evidence and I am in two minds as to what would be the correct ruling in this case.

Do you actually need to see the ball enter the hazard before you can declare the ball lost in the hazard?


DOUG responds: Stephen,

I'm glad to hear that my writings have helped you to understand the rules better. I will try to keep up my reputation.

The term “reasonable evidence” changed to “knowledge or virtual certainty” in 2008.  While the application of the new wording has not changed, the new language has caused great controversy.  I believe this to be true because “virtual certainty” more clearly states the level of “certainty” one must have in order to treat the ball as in the water (or lateral water) hazard. 

Decision 26-1/1 defines the meaning of "Knowledge or Virtual Certainty," so I won't completely restate it here. However, I would like to quote one particular sentence, "Physical conditions in the area have a great deal to do with it."

In your example, in order to treat a ball as lost in the water hazard, you must look at the surrounding conditions. Is there long rough?  Is the ground soft or firm?  Does the ground slope toward?  Are there trees (and leaves), shrubs or any other condition that might prevent the ball from being found or going into the hazard?  

Ultimately, ask yourself this question, "Can the ball be any place other than in the hazard?"  If there is 95-98% chance the ball is in the water hazard, then the player would be justified to proceed according to Rule 26.  However, any less would require the player to treat the ball as LOST.

So, it was possible this player might have made the incorrect decision, but if he was adamant that he treat it as lost, then I would guess he was correct.

But, one final thing I want to mention of your situation, once this player conceded the hole, the hole was done. Concessions cannot be refused or withdrawn. Therefore, if he had found his ball within seconds of the concession, he would not have been entitled to play it.

Thanks for the question, Stephen, and good luck!

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What is the "Margin of the Hazard"?

Chuck Tatsuda asks: I am having trouble understanding
exactly what/where the "margin of the hazard" is. Can you define what the "margin" refers to?

My first thought was that the margin would be the "outline" of the edge of the hazard, in which case I would have thought the ball could have been played in the "line of flight/roll". Can you clarify?

DOUG responds: Chuck,

I am glad you asked this question, because it can be really easy for me (or anyone else well versed in the rules) to expect people to know certain terminology. Part of my responsibility in explaining the rules is to help teach the basics, which includes definitions and basic concepts, and, unfortunately, it's easy to overlook this. So, allow me to help you.

The word "margin" can be defined as the edge, border, or boundary of something. In the case of a water (or lateral) water hazard, your understanding is correct. Typically, this margin is defined in one of two methods. First is when there is a line painted on the ground. The Rules of Golf require the color of the line be YELLOW for a water hazard (often thought of as a regular hazard or direct hazard) and RED for a lateral water hazard.

The second method is by the use of stakes. The stakes will be painted similarly to the lines - yellow or red. Here, the straight line between the stakes is usually the margin of the hazard. Specifically, the Rules tell us to use the “outside edge of the stake at ground level.”  The “outside edge” is actually the side facing away from the water hazard (or facing what I have come to call the “good side of the course.”)  The ideal situation is when both stakes and lines are used. In this case, the stakes purely identify the hazard while the lines define the margin (boundary, edge, etc.).

There are a couple of more items I should mention in this discussion about "margins."  (1) The definition for "water hazard" states the margins extend vertically upwards and downwards.  (2) The stakes and lines which define the hazard are considered in the hazard.  And, (3) a ball is considered in the hazard when it lies in or any part of it touches the water hazard.

Now, to your last question, the Rules state there is only one spot at which your ball LAST crossed the margin of the hazard. Thus, you must proceed using that one point as a reference point. In my example of line of flight in a past response, I used the example of a ball slicing into a lateral water hazard surrounded by trees. I pointed out that under the relief options available in Rule 26-1, you cannot drop along the "line of flight."  Why?  Because the flight of the ball, or how it got to the hazard, is not as important as the fact that the ball is in the hazard. Thus, relief, other than "stroke and distance," should be based on the location of where the ball entered the hazard, and not the flight of the ball. Again, this reference point will be the spot at which the ball LAST crossed the margin of the hazard.

Chuck, I hope this helps to clarify your understanding! I might recommend reading the "Definitions" found in the front of the Rules of Golf book. This will help your overall understanding of the rules as well. I hope this helps!

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Ball on the Wrong Green

Dave Chlebeck from Coon Rapids, MN asks: What is the ruling if my golf ball ends up on the wrong green by accident, say from a slice or hook? And the green it lands on is near my green. And the ball has not traveled over an out of bounds area. Can I or should I play my ball off the wrong green with a putter? Is it a free drop off the green? Or must I take a penalty drop off the green?

Doug responds: Dave,

This is another one of those questions that many recreational golfers never encounter; thus, they don't know what rule - if there is one - covers such a situation.

Fortunately, this situation is specifically covered in the rules. First, we must define a "wrong putting green." In the definitions, a wrong putting green is defined as, "any putting green other than that of the hole being played. Unless otherwise prescribed by the Committee, this term includes a practice putting green or pitching green on the course."

Next, we find that Rule 25 - Abnormal Ground Conditions, Embedded Ball and Wrong Putting Green - is the place to find the answer. Looking under 25-3, we find two sections. The first tells us what is considered interference by a wrong putting green. "Interference by a wrong putting green occurs when a ball is on the wrong putting green. Interference to a player's stance or the area of his intended swing is not, of itself, interference under this Rule."

Finally, the second section gives us our relief procedure. "If a player has interference by a wrong putting green, the player must take relief, without penalty, as follows:

The nearest point of relief shall be determined which is not in a hazard or on a putting green. The player shall lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief, on a part of the course which avoids interference (as defined) by the wrong putting green and is not in a hazard or on a putting green. The ball may be cleaned when so lifted."

So, reading this you can see you are not only entitled, but expected, to take relief. If you fail to do so, you would receive a two stroke penalty.

I had to make this ruling while officiating at the Dayton's Challenge at Minneapolis Golf Club many years ago. James McLean, past NCAA champion and PGA TOUR player, drove his ball onto the 2nd green while playing from the 14th tee (which is an awfully long way, if you're familiar with the course). We found his nearest point of relief, and he dropped the ball within one club-length of that point and played back over the trees to the 14th green.

Thanks for the question!

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Loose Impediment in a Hazard

Brad Steimel from Heathrow, FL asks: On a recent round of golf I hit my tee shot very close to a lateral hazard (about 6 inches from the red painted line.) In order to hit my next shot, I had to stand in the hazard. There was a small branch that had fallen from the tree right where I needed to stand. Am I allowed to move this loose impediment to improve my stance in the hazard if my ball is not in the hazard? Thanks for clarifying.

DOUG responds: Thanks for the question. Fortunately for you, the answer is found in the very first sentence of Rule 23-1. Relief. It states, "Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be moved without penalty." Since your ball was not in the hazard, you were entitled to move the loose impediment. However, be careful not to move the loose impediment if it will cause your ball to move!

Hope this helps!

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Moving Natural Obstructions

Andy Ault from Laurel, MD asks: I had always understood that fixed, natural obstructions were not movable and were not given relief. For instance: long grass, tall weeds, live trees, etc. However, at the NEC Championship during the sudden death playoff between Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, Furyk was allowed to bend a live branch out of the way with his body during set-up for his swing. The TV commentators had some debate about which rules were in effect (International vs. PGA Tour) but they did not explain why the ruling was allowed and why no penalty was involved. Please clarify what can be moved and when without incurring a penalty.

DOUG responds: Andy, it's interesting the commentators made reference about "which rules were in effect." The rules books for both the USGA and R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland) are identical for rules 1-34. So, there would be no difference as to the rules they were playing.

In the incident you witnessed, Furyk is given the opportunity to "fairly take his stance" under Rule 13-2. If the method Furyk used to get into a position to play the stroke was fair and reasonable for that situation (that is, he did nothing to improve his area of intended swing, the lie of the ball, or line of play), then he was entitled to do that.

However, there was a similar situation earlier this season when Davis Love III was required to enter a bush/tree from a direction different than he desired. The official helping Love ruled he had to enter from in front of the ball (rather than from behind) because it was the least intrusive under the circumstances. In other words, the official felt Love would be improving his conditions if he were permitted to approach the ball from behind. Obviously, it is a very subjective call.

Now, the answer to your last question is not as easy as this explanation. I would you suggest you use Rule 13 as your guide but also refer to Rules 23 (Loose Impediments) and 24 (Obstructions).

Good luck in your interpretations!
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Ball On The Green Moved By Another Ball

Joe O'Leary asks: A ball is on green. A player chips on and hits the ball and it moves closer to the cup. The ball that was struck must be put back as near as you can, when it was struck. The ball doing the striking, stays were it is. Right or wrong? Or is there some other ruling?

DOUG responds: Joe

You receive an "A+" in your understanding of this rule. Rules 18 (Ball at Rest Moved) and 19 (Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped) cover just this situation. In your example, since the ball at rest was on the green, it shall be "placed" as near as possible to its original position. I suggest you read the rule more closely as to when you should "place" the ball and when you should "drop" the ball. If you do the wrong thing, you might be penalized.

A good policy to follow for a ball at rest moved is "If God moves it, leave it alone; otherwise, it must be replaced." This means that if the ball is moved by natural forces, gravity, wind, water, etc., the ball must be played from its new position. But if it is moved by any other force, another ball, a person, cart, etc., it must be put back.  This is if the ball moves prior to the player addressing it.

However, if the player has addressed the ball, Rule 18-2b comes into play.  If it is known or virtually certain the player did nothing to cause the ball to move, the player is not penalized and the ball is played from its new position.  Generally, this is when WIND causes the ball to move.  But, if it is determined that GRAVITY cause the ball to move after the player has addressed it, then the player will incur a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced.

Thanks for the great question and your understanding of it. Good luck in the future!

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Two Different Colored Stakes Marking a Hazard

Bill Dethloff from Benson, MN asks: "I often see 2 different colored stakes marking a hazard. Red stakes, which I thought indicated a lateral hazard, and yellow stakes, also at a hazard which lies between you and the green. What is the proper method of relief for these. Is it the same or are they treated differently?" 

DOUG responds: Bill,

Your understanding of the colors and the respective meanings is correct. Good job!! Generally a water hazard will be only one color. However, there are two instances that might explain your situation.

First, a hazard can transition from one to another (or from Lateral to "direct"). If this is the case, you will see a red and yellow stake placed together. So, effectively, a hazard can be marked two different colors. In this case, you would proceed based on where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. But, the margin should not be both colors at the same point.

The second situation I can imagine would be if a hazard is marked one color while playing one hole and another color for play of another hole. There is a similar situation at Oak Ridge CC in Hopkins, MN. A water hazard is marked yellow as it is situated directly in front of the teeing ground for the 13th hole. However, if a ball goes significantly over the 12th green that hazard could come into play. Thus, when the MGA is conducting an event at Oak Ridge, I add a local rule stating that if a ball goes into this hazard during play of the 12th hole, it is to be played as a lateral hazard.

I hope this helps!

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Ground Under Repair Question.

Steve Wicks from Jambaroo, Australia asks: Is there a line of play relief in the following situation: At my home course at Jambaroo, Australia, the green keepers compound is adjacent to the 18th green. Surrounding this compound is a high wire-mesh security fence. Inside the compound there is machinery, sheds and the like. The club committee has designated the compound as Ground Under Repair (GUR) with the fence being the boundary for the GUR area. Relief has been designated as that for Immovable Obstruction. This rule does not give the player relief for making a shot in his intended line of play to the pin. Is this the correct ruling for relief under this condition or is the player entitled to relief as far as obtaining line of play to the pin?

DOUR responds: Steve,

Thanks for the question. I'm glad to see I am reaching beyond my back yard! Being married to an Australian (from Melbourne/Black Rock), I feel a special kinship to all Aussies. Now, to the question.

It sounds as though the Committee at your club has read and understands the rules! In fact, under Rule 24-2a - Interference by an Immovable Obstruction - the last sentence clearly supports the ruling, "Otherwise, intervention on the line of play is not, of itself, interference under this rule." So, while it might seem unfair to have your play blocked by the fence, it is correct.

You might think of it this way: that area, rather than being declared as GUR, could be declared as OB with that same fence defining the boundary. Would you expect to obtain line of play relief in this case? Of course not, and the rules would not permit that either.

Cheers!
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What do I do about a TOTALLY buried ball?

Bob Anderson from Newport, MN asks: I played a course in Wisconsin last year, and hit a ball into the very soft sand near the top of the 10' bank of the newly restructured bunker. I knew approximately where the ball entered, but because of the new fluffy sand, there was no obvious entry mark.

Questions: Am I allowed to probe in any way for the buried ball? Is it considered a lost ball, even though I know its location within 2 feet? If I can't probe, and therefore can't locate the ball I know is THERE, what is the penalty and what are my options?

DOUG responds: Bob,

Thanks for the question. It allows me to highlight a rule not often discussed - Rule 12: Searching for and Identifying Ball.

Rule 12-1 gives a player broad authorization when looking for the ball. In fact, it states, "In searching for his ball anywhere on the course, the player may touch or bend long grass, rushes, bushes, whins, heather or the like, but only to the extent necessary to find and identify it, provided that this does not improve the lie of the ball, the area of his intended swing or his line of play." As it pertains to your question, the rule continues, "In a hazard, if a ball is covered by loose impediments or sand, the player may remove by probing, raking or other means as much thereof as will enable him to see a part of the ball. If an excess is removed, no penalty is incurred and the ball shall be re-covered so that only a part of the ball is visible. If the ball is moved in such removal, no penalty is incurred; the ball shall be replaced and, if necessary, re-covered."

There are a couple of other important points I should mention. First, as the rule states, "a player is not necessarily entitled to see his ball when playing a stroke." This most frequently deals with leaves hiding a ball from view as one prepares to make a stroke. In the case of your ball being covered by sand, you would replace the ball, making sure you re-covered it with sand, but you can leave a small portion of the ball showing.

The second point I would like to make involves identifying the ball. Since a player cannot be penalized for playing a "Wrong Ball" from a hazard (bunker or water hazard), you do not have to identify a ball as yours before making a stroke from the bunker. This means, that while probing for your ball, you discover a ball covered in the sand (but you did not move it), but you cannot identify it, then you should play the shot and then determine if the ball you played was the correct one. If it was, then you proceed accordingly; however, if it turns out not to be yours, you must continue to search. 

As a reminder, you have five minutes total to search for your ball before you must proceed as though it is lost (definition of Lost Ball). The time you spent playing an incorrect ball does not count towards the five minutes.

Ultimately, unless the bunker has been declared as "Ground Under Repair," if you cannot find you ball, then you must follow Rule 27-1.

Good luck with such difficult circumstances! A word of advice, try to stay away from the bunkers!:)
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Stance in the sand
Scott Miller from Norwalk, CT asks: A couple of weeks ago in the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson got ready to hit a shot out of the bunker (it may have been 12 or 13 and I can't remember now if it was Saturday or Sunday). He dug in pretty well (even the commentator on CBS noted it), was ready to hit, then he backed out, looked again at the pin and settled into his deep foot prints in the bunker. Shouldn't he have been assessed a one stroke penalty (Rule 13)?

I was taught a few rules in bunker play: 1) No practice swings 2) Cannot ground your club 3) Once you take your stance in the trap, you are addressing the ball. It is item 3 that would cause the penalty here (addressing his ball).

Please explain why there was no penalty and how us amateurs should be approaching our bunker shots.

DOUG WRITES: Scott,

This was very observant on your part! Rule 13-3 (Building a Stance), while short in length, states it very clearly, "A player is entitled to place his feet firmly in taking his stance, but he shall not build a stance."

As I'm sure you would agree, if a player takes his stance in preparation to making a stroke from the fairway and then backs away, there is no penalty. The same is true in a bunker. Decision 13-4/26 permits this by stating, "There is nothing in the Rules to prohibit ... taking a stance twice in a bunker." However, if Phil had smoothed those footprints and then repositioned his feet, he would have been received a two-stroke penalty (read Decision 13-4/27).

Regarding the three things you were taught, I have some modifications to them. First, you can make a practice swing as long as you swing over the sand. The club cannot touch the sand during the practice swing. In fact, if you watch the TOUR players, they will often do this. Second, you are absolutely correct in that you cannot ground your club within a bunker when the ball also lies in the bunker. However, you can ground your club on the grass outside a bunker (regardless of whether the ball is in the bunker), and you can ground your club in the sand IF THE BALL LIES OUTSIDE OF THE BUNKER (Decision 13-4/1). And, finally, you are correct in saying that once you take your stance you have addressed the ball. You can back away from the ball, but should the ball ultimately move, you will be penalized and required to replace the ball (Decision 18-2b/7)

I hope this information helps! Keep up the excellent observations! back to the top


Rake Interference
John Jordan asks: It seems as though more and more courses are making a point of placing rakes outside bunkers. While that seems to make life easier for groundskeepers it places an object in the way of a ball. Some might see that as something that would prevent a ball from entering a bunker. For others, including myself, the experience has been that a ball hits the rake and deflects into the bunker.

End the issue once and for all - should rakes be left in or out of the bunker?

DOUG WRITES: John,

This is an issue me and my staff cover with the staff at every course we are scheduled to have a competition. By you asking this question, this allows me the opportunity to publicly promote the USGA recommendation I follow at all of my events.

Through their publication, How to Conduct a Competition, the USGA "recommends that rakes be laid down outside bunkers in locations where they will least likely affect play." Now, keep in mind, that once we as players get our hands on the rakes, they are more likely to be placed where they will affect play, but this is the recommendation.

This recommendation can be traced to Decision 20-3d/2, which deals with a ball coming to rest against a rake within a bunker. In this decision, the ball moved when the rake was removed. Rule 24-1 requires the ball to be replaced. However, in this case, the player was unable to get the ball to stay at rest on the spot where it had originally come to rest, or anywhere else within the bunker not closer to the hole. Thus, the player had to drop behind the bunker, under a penalty of one stroke.

I agree with you, if the ball strikes a rake outside of a bunker, by its proximity to the bunker, the ball could very well end up in the bunker, but it might not. Also, we don't know where the ball would have gone had it not struck the rake. While it may seem unfair to have a ball hit the rake and it end up in the bunker, I guess I would rather play the bunker shot than be forced to take a penalty stroke and play over the bunker.

I hope this gives you "closure" to your dilemma! back to the top


Questionable Ace?
Bob asks: I did not see the following, but a friend of mine had this happened to him. He was playing a par 3. He was the last to shoot and his ball landed behind the hole hanging precariously close to falling in. They proceeded to drive their carts to the side of the green. He grabbed his putter and walked to his ball. A person in the group was there first and pulled the pin out w/o anything happening. He walked up to his ball and was going to mark the ball. As he reached down to place his marker, the ball fell into the hole. He did not do anything intentional to move the ball. The 3 other people in the group said it was not a hole in one. What do you think? He went straight to his ball w/o wasting time. He did not jump up or down to make the ball move. He stepped towards his ball and bent over to mark it and it fell in...

DOUG WRITES: This is a good question, Bob, as it brings up a facet of this rule many do not realize.

Rule 16-2 - Ball Overhanging Hole - states, "When any part of the ball overhangs the lip of the hole, the player is allowed enough time to reach the hole without unreasonable delay and an additional ten seconds to determine whether the ball is at rest. If by then the ball has not fallen into the hole, it is deemed to be at rest. If the ball subsequently falls into the hole, the player is deemed to have holed out with his last stroke, and he shall add a penalty stroke to his score for the hole; otherwise, there is no penalty under this Rule."

It seems to me, based on your information (if totally accurate), your friend made a hole-in-one. I hope he asked for a second ruling! back to the top


Embedded ball on the green.
Donald Hewitt asks: While playing last weekend, one of our players hit a very high shot to the green and upon impact embedded into the green over half the height of the ball. What is the proper thing to do? The player removed the ball from the divot and placed it next to the divot.

DOUG WRITES: Thanks for this question, Donald.

This allows me to talk about the "Embedded Ball" rule. Many golfers believe that when a ball embeds in its own pitch-mark, they are entitled to relief without penalty. In most cases, this is true, but a player must know the rules in effect at the time; in addition, the place where the ball has become embedded is critical.

In your question, the player's ball has embedded in the green; thus, this case would be covered by Rule 16: Putting Green. Under Rule 16-1b, the player is entitled to "lift and, if desired, clean" the ball. In addition, under Rule 16-1c, the player may repair old hole plugs and ball marks. Thus, when the player lifts the ball, he may repair the ball mark. However, after repairing the mark, the ball "shall be replaced on the spot from which it was lifted." So, your friend did not follow the rules completely when he placed the ball next to the divot. (Under the rules, this would be a two-stroke penalty in stroke play or a loss of hole in match play!)

However, many people mistakenly believe that they are entitled to relief without penalty should the ball become embedded anywhere on the course, except in a water hazard or bunker. This is true ONLY if the Local Rule permitting such has been adopted. Under Rule 25-2, for a player to obtain relief without penalty, the ball must be "embedded in its own pitch-mark in any closely-mown area through the green." As the rule continues to say, "Closely-mown area means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less." This means an embedded ball in the rough (but not in a walk path) must be played as it lies.

Having said all of this, it is very common for the Committee in charge of the competition (or course, in the case of normal play) to adopt the Local Rule found in Appendix I of the Rules Book. The wording the USGA suggests for this is as follows: "Through the green, a ball which is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground, other than sand, may be lifted without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green." (The Rules define through the green as "the whole area of the course except (a) the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played; and (b) all hazards on the course.") One final note about this, a player cannot repair the pitch-mark before the shot is played.

I hope this sheds some light on the embedded ball issue. back to the top


When is a ball unplayable?
Michael Ahles asks: Your ball comes to lie under a pine tree with low branches. The ball is clearly visible, but it is questionable whether or not you have a shot because of the branches impeeding your swing. Is it possible to take a penalty drop to get out from under the tree (no nearer the hole of course), or do you have to play it, and hope to pitch it out on the first try?

DOUG WRITES: Michael,

Thanks for the question; this is a good opportunity for me to talk about Rule 28 -- Ball Unplayable. Of course, you have the option of playing the ball as it lies and trying to pitch out, but if you would rather not, you may declare your ball unplayable. In fact, what most people don't know is that a player may declare his ball unplayable ANYWHERE on the course EXCEPT IN A WATER HAZARD. That means on the fairway, bunker, even the putting green!

Under Rule 28, in order to take relief from an unplayable situation, you must first determine the position of the ball. That is, is it "through the green" or in a bunker? (Through the green means anywhere on the course except in a hazard or on the teeing ground or putting green of the hole being played.) Since your ball was not in a bunker, it lay "through the green." So, you have three (3) relief options:

(1) play a ball from where the original ball was last played (stroke & distance),
(2) drop a ball within two (2) club lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole (NOTICE this does not say "from the nearest point of relief"), or
(3) drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.

Of course, under all these options, you will incur a penalty stroke. Should the ball be in a bunker, you have these same options, except if you choose option #2 or #3, you must drop the ball in the bunker.

I hope this helps should you EVER need to declare your ball unplayable again! back to the top


Righty and lefty clubs in the bag?
Robert Clegg asks: My frequent fellow-competitor, Dr. G., turned around and became a left-handed golfer a few years ago, but still approaches some shots right-handed and carries some right-handed clubs for this purpose. Recently during a round at Keller, his ball came to rest near a cart path. A left-handed set-up would have resulted in an awkward position, feet well above the ball on a slope. Right-handed, he would have been standing on the cart path. Can he, as a some-time right-hander, get relief due to the cart path? If so, what is the rule? And if so, must he then play a right-handed shot?

DOUG WRITES: Robert,

Thanks for posing this question; it's a situation we don't see very often!

Rule 24-2 (Immovable Obstruction) is our starting point. Everyone agrees standing on a cart path constitutes interference from an immovable obstruction as defined in 24-2a. A player is entitled to relief from such under 24-2b, with the following exception "A player may not obtain relief under Rule 24-2b if (a) it is clearly unreasonable for him to play a stroke because of interference by anything other than an immovable obstruction or (b) interference by an immovable obstruction would occur only through the use of an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play." So, you might think he is not entitled to relief. But....

The rules do not, and cannot, require a player to play with a specific club. Since "Dr. G" carries both left and right-handed clubs, it is entirely within his right to elect to hit a shot with either club. Thus, if he chooses to play this particular shot right-handed, he would be entitled to relief from the cart path. After taking relief, he may elect to play the shot from either side (see Decision 24-2b/17).

If this question dealt with a player who did not play from both sides but only left-handed, then he would not have been entitled to relief as an "awkward" stance would not give the player the right to turn around and play right-handed.

Good luck to you and Dr. G! You might want to get him as a partner in the future! back to the top


A backhanded short put?
Bill Clifford asks: Is it OK if your putt goes 10 inches past the hole to reach over and putt backhanded to hole out?

DOUG WRITES: Bill,

I'm glad you asked this question as it comes up very frequently. The answer is YES, a player may reach across the hole to tap the ball into the hole. Rule 16-1e states a player "shall not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball." Since the line of putt stops at the hole (definition of line of putt), the player was not in violation of this rule when he reached back across the hole to tap in his putt.

The other part of your question dealt with putting "backhanded." As long as your clubs conform to the rules, there is no rule which requires or prohibits you from striking the ball with any part of the club head. In fact, there have been many cases I have been forced to hit a shot left-handed using the backside of a club because I hit my ball underneath a tree and left me with no swing! Ugh!!

Thanks for the question! back to the top


A Ball WAY in the Rough.
Kerry Junti asks: If a ball is hit into an area of brush, perhaps 30 feet from the edge of the fairway. The ball is found but is not playable. No stakes. Taking a line back from the hole to the ball would bring you deeper into the brush. What are the options. Do you have to take multiple 2 club-length penalties or what?

DOUG WRITES: Kerry,

Rule 28 deals with Unplayable Ball. You have three options, the first of which you mentioned, to keep that point between you and the hole and go backwards as far as you wish. As you correctly observed, you might not have that option available. Thus, you have two additional options. The first and easiest is the "Stroke and distance" option. You put another ball into play from the spot where the original shot was played, adding one penalty stroke to your score. (Don't forget to count the stroke when you hit into the bush!)

You also touched on the second option of using two club-lengths. If you were to select this option, you would have to measure your two club-lengths (from the ball) and drop the ball. Then, should you determine you needed to declare the ball unplayable again, you would have to repeat the process. You cannot say, "I'll buy six club-lengths so charge me with three strokes." The rules require you to drop the ball each time.

I truly hope this didn't happen to you! But if it did, you might want to consult your local PGA Professional for advice! back to the top


Gloves and Sticky Stuff.

Tim Cheslak asks: What are the rules in relation to gloves, specifically, can I apply "stick-em" to my hands or glove before or during the round? Can I apply a sticky substance to my grips?

DOUG WRITES: This is a great question, Tim, because many people do not understand what they can and cannot use on their gloves and/or grips. The use of "stick-em" or any other sticky substance is found in Rule 14: Striking the Ball. Specifically, Rule 14-3 deals with the use of Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment. The rule states: "Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player shall not use any artificial device or unusual equipment:
a. Which might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or
b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions which might affect his play; or
c. Which might assist him in gripping the club, except that:
i. Plain gloves may be worn;
ii.Resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used; and
iii.A towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 14-3: Disqualification.

The use of a sticky substance, such as "stick-em," is not permitted since it's intent is not the same as resin, powder, and other drying or moisturizing agents. There are some products on the market claiming to be USGA approved; however I would be very careful using them in any competition. I'm not suggesting they are not approved, but it's just that I am not familiar enough with them to comment specifically.

Thanks, again, for the question. I hope this helps! back to the top


Mulligan question for us all!
Mike Larson asks: What is the penalty for a mulligan? Player one hits his tee shot a short distance, still in play, retrieves his ball and rehits. Player two hits his tee shot a distance he is unhappy with, hits another ball, picks up the first ball and plays the second.

DOUG WRITES: Mike, I'm really glad you brought up this subject-the famous "mulligan."I haven't found the term within the Rules of Golf book as of yet.

In scene one, Player A hits his tee shot a short distance, and not liking the results, goes forward, picks up his ball, comes back to the tee, and plays it again. This is a problem. First of all, he has put a ball into play under the rules. Then he moves his ball at rest, which is a one-stroke penalty and requires it to be replaced. Since he fails to do so, he incurs a two stroke penalty, but since he gets the two strokes, he does not get the additional one for moving the ball in the first place. (This is what rules officials call the 1+2=2 situation, and there are others.) So, he lies three when he plays his next stroke from the tee.

In scene two, Player B hits his tee shot poorly, but too far to retrieve, so he goes to his bag, pulls out another ball, and while teeing it up, declares it a "mulligan." He proceeds to hit it. Regardless of where the first ball went, by hitting this "mulligan" the player has put another ball into play in accordance with the rules. By his actions, he has made the first ball effectively "lost." Thus, he played under the "stroke and distance" option found in Rule 27 and now lies three with his "mulligan." All is okay as long as he continues to play the second ball into the hole. We have much greater issues should he pick up his mulligan and continue play with the first ball (but I'll save that for another article!)

Since I know YOU wouldn't do a thing like this, keep your partners straight with their "mulligans!" back to the top


Balls Hitting on the Green
Joseph Karlovich asks: My opponent in our weekly, match-play league hit a putt from just off the green, hit another player's ball and rolled closer to the hole than it would've been. The other player had just chipped up, but didn't have a chance to mark the ball, and my opponent didn't ask him to. My opponent replaced the other player's ball, but then just played his as it lied, and reported his score without any penalty. He tied me on that hole and won it because he got a stroke there. Did he really win the hole?

DOUG WRITES: Joseph,

Thanks for the question because it brings up some interesting points many players do not know. First, presuming your match was a "singles" match (that is, you versus the other player), the simple answer to your question is yes, he did win the hole. The reason is that the other ball was deemed to be an outside agency. Under Rule 19-1, "if a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green, no penalty is incurred and the ball shall be played as it lies."

The points I would like to make regarding your question are these:

1. Since the ball at rest belonged to another player, but not a player in your match, that makes it an outside agency (refer to the definitions in the rules book);
2. The fact that the player did not have a chance to mark the ball was not relevant in this case. However, if you had requested his ball to be marked first and your opponent played without giving the player a chance to mark the ball, then you would have won the hole. This is Rule 22 - Ball Interfering with or Assisting Play - and a rule which not many players know exists, much less understand. In this case, you had the right to request the other ball be lifted if you felt it might assist the play of any other player. And remember, you have the right to mark and lift your ball if you feel it might assist any other player, regardless of its location on the course. But make sure you don't clean it if your ball lies off of the green; otherwise, you would be penalized one stroke.

I hope this gets you ready for your next match. Good luck! back to the top


Hazard and Line-of-Flight
Jim Hoch from Minneapolis asks: Recently during play I sliced a tee shot to the right. The ball went through a bunker and into a lateral water hazard. Am I correct to assume that with a one stroke penalty I can drop the ball on the line of flight anywhere back towards the tee? And if the ball crossed the fairway, can I drop in the fairway, no closer the hole?

DOUG WRITES: Jim,

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to clarify a HUGE misunderstanding by many players!!

Under Rule 26 - Water Hazards (including Lateral Water Hazards), you would have five (5) options available in your situation. The first three are the same as those available for a Water Hazard, and those are:
(1) Play the ball as it lies;
(2) Under penalty of one stroke, play another ball from the spot where the previous stroke was played (stroke & distance); and
(3) Under penalty of one stroke, play another ball keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between you and the hole and go back as far as you wish.

Since your situation was a Lateral Water Hazard, you would have two additional options, and they are:
(4) Under penalty of one stroke, drop another ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, no nearer the hole; and,
(5) Under penalty of one stroke, drop another ball within two club-lengths of a spot on the opposite margin of the hazard, equidistant from the hole as where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. (NOTE: This option is not always available.)

So, if you read these carefully, you notice that your "line of flight" option is NOT one of those available.

I hope this helps! back to the top


Power pole obstruction, and boundry stake rules...
Jeff Allen asks: The ball lies under an immovable object, specifically a tower type power pole. The normal play is to chip out, however the ball lies so close to an out of bounds stake that the player cannot take a backswing for which to advance the ball. Is there relief in this situation? And when taking relief, the nearest relief would still leave the tower in the (possible?) line of flight of the ball.

DOUG WRITES: Jeff,

It sounds as though you have a good handle on the "power tower" and the options with it. However, if a player has interference from the boundary stake, he will not get relief. The definition of Obstruction states that "anything artificial ... except (a) Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes, and railings." As for the nearest point of relief, a player is not entitled to relief from "line of flight interference" (Rule 24-2a). While you have not mentioned it, I should note that a player whose ball strikes the tower is not entitled to cancel and replay the stroke but must play the ball as it lies. (Rule 19-1)

Thanks for your question. back to the top


Should I re-tee for OB or lost ball?
Robert J. Etten asks: Can you please explain again the rules invoked earlier this year when Phil Mickelson and Frank Lichliter (sp?) were on the 18th hole and both had to re-tee? I thought I knew the rules pretty well, but why was Phil mad they were looking for his ball? Lots of points of confusion: The television replay announcers said if he would have dropped and hit he would have been fine - but what forced him to re-tee? If it was OB he couldn't have dropped, but if it was a hazard he could have dropped. If it's lost, he can't drop, can he?

Here is a modified ruling my friends and I use I wanted to share with you: When my friends and I play and we hit one OB - and we don't have time to re-tee, instead of adding just one and dropping where it went OB (like you would a lateral hazard) but we add 2 strokes (both stroke and distance) - it seems more equitable and reflective of the rules of golf. It saves time, and is still fair - even if there is money on the line.

Nobody else I know does this, they just add one stroke, which seems a bit unfair.

DOUG WRITES: Robert,

This has caused much confusion and controversy for those not completely familiar with the rules. Basically, Phil had stated he did not want anyone to look for his ball, which is his right. However, it does not mean anybody must comply. Obviously, the person who found the ball (and there is some issue as to whether it was a volunteer or spectator) was in their right to search. Phil could not stop them. However, once a ball was found, Phil was obligated to identify it as his, which he did.

Both players had played provisional balls from the teeing ground. The definitions state a provisional ball is played when a player has reason to believe his original ball may be out of bounds or lost outside of a water hazard. Once Phil identified the ball as his, his provisional ball was out of play. Under the rules, he could not use it as an option under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) which he invoked for his original ball.

With respect to the announcers' remarks, I did not hear them personally, so I cannot make specific comments. However, if Phil had gone directly to his provisional ball and played it BEFORE his original ball had been found, then the provisional ball would have become the ball in play (Rule 27-2b). (I don't know if this would have been possible, as I believe his ball was found before he reached the area.)

You are almost correct in your understanding that if the ball were lost, he could not have dropped. The rule (27) states a player must put another ball into play "as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played. Since his last shot was from the teeing ground, he would have been entitled to re-tee the ball. However, since he declared his original ball unplayable, he had the three options available, two of which require him to drop the ball.

Regarding your modified rules, if that works for you and your friends, that's great, but don't ask me or the USGA to give you a ruling because, according to the USGA, you are not playing by the rules. And, likewise, I will choose not to comment on whether your policy is more fair than those people who do not add the second penalty stroke. In the future, while I can understand your logic in your policy, I would suggest playing in accordance with the Rules of Golf as they are written. back to the top


What if a squirrel hits a moving ball?
Charles Johnson asks: During the U.S Open, a squirrel ran across the green as Nick Faldo was putting and almost struck his ball. If the squirrel had struck the ball and caused it to change direction and possibly even roll off the green, what would be the options for Nick Faldo?

DOUG WRITES: Charles,

This deals with a situation not normally seen, and one in which the answer differs depending upon where the incident occurred. In Nick's case, had the squirrel caused the ball to be redirected or stopped, Rule 19-1b would take effect. It states, "If a ball in motion after a stroke on the putting green is deflected or stopped by, or comes to rest in or on, any moving or animate outside agency except a worm or an insect, the stroke shall be cancelled, the ball replaced and the stroke replayed." The only question to ask here is - what is the status of the squirrel? By definition, the squirrel is an outside agency, and, thus, Nick would have replayed his stroke without penalty.

However, if his ball had not been on the putting green, say a few inches off the green but on the collar, the answer would have been different. Rule 19-1 states he would have been required to play the ball as it lies (unless it came to rest on the squirrel, which would be rather unlikely, don't you think?).

Thanks for the question. This brings out the important fact that the answers to rules situations can (and do) depend upon the location of event. back to the top


What about a ball lodged against the pin?
Tim Howe asks: IN MY LEAGUE LAST YEAR, I CHIPPED FROM ABOUT 40 YARDS OUT AND THE BALL LODGED AGAINST THE PIN WITHOUT DROPPING IN THE HOLE. THE VETERAN MEMBER IN OUR GROUP THOUGHT I HAD TO GO BACK AND RECHIP WITH A PENALTY STROKE. IS THAT CORRECT? THE BALL DID FALL IN AS I APPROACHED AND WE COUNTED IT. IS THERE A TIME LIMIT?

DOUG WRITES: Tim,

There are two very important points in your question. The first being a ball lodged against the flagstick after a stroke. Rule 17-4 states, "If the ball rests against the flagstick when it is in the hole, the player or another person authorized by the player may move or remove the flagstick and if the ball falls into the hole, the player shall be deemed to have holed out with the last stroke; otherwise, the ball, if moved, shall be placed on the lip of the hole, without penalty." So, since the ball ultimately fell in as you were approaching the hole, you holed out with your last stroke. As you can read, you even had the opportunity to adjust or remove the flagstick, and in so doing, if the ball fell in, you have holed out.

The second important point here is that there are many "veterans" or very experienced players who mean well but, unfortunately, do not know the rules very well. It is not limited to leagues such as yours, but to major events. Just this past week while conducting the MGA Amateur Championship in Winona (CC), I gave a ruling to a player who later admitted he had given wrong information on this point to another player previously (not in this competition, however). Also, last winter Sergio Garcia was penalized two strokes for improperly dropping a ball after he acted on rules advice given him by Greg Norman. So, you can see a person's experience does not necessarily mean he is knowledgeable on the rules. This is another reason why you should study the rules and keep a rules book in your bag at all times.

Good luck on the next situation!

Thanks for the question. back to the top


Confusion on water hazard boundaries...
Daniel Sjobeck writes: I am referring to the latest issue about casual water. A water hazard margin extended vertically also, therefore, if the ball was stuck in a tree that was in casual water it, the ball, would also be in the water. A few weeks back a player hit off of the bridge which was technically "in the water hazard" without penalty. I do not remember who the player was.

Doug Says: Daniel, you bring up a good point that could be confusing to some people, so let's make sure you are not getting two different situations confused.

First, reference the ball stuck in a tree rooted in casual water overhanging a water hazard. The revised rule regarding Rule 25 - Abnormal Ground Conditions (Ground Under Repair, Casual Water) states that a ball stuck in a tree rooted in such a condition is in the condition (GUR, Casual Water). However, if the ball overhangs a water hazard or out of bounds, a player is not entitled to relief without penalty because the margins of the water hazard or boundary extends vertically upwards and downwards and those rules (Rules 26 and 27) would take precedent.

The specific incident to which you referred, a player playing from a bridge, is perfectly legal under Rule 13 (Ball Played as It Lies) and Rule 24 (Obstructions). Under Rule 13-4b, a player cannot "touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with a club or otherwise." But, while the bridge is within the margins of the water hazard, it is not considered "ground" and, obviously, it is not water. The player is not entitled to relief without penalty but may play from the bridge (just as he can play from within the hazard) and even can ground his club on the bridge.

I hope this clears up these two similar, but very different, situations!

Thanks for the question. back to the top


Testing the Putting Surface
Tim Cheslak asks: Are the following situations in violation of "testing the putting surface" ? In no case is the intent to test the surface.

* When marking the ball or putting the ball back on the green the golfer accidentally drops the ball & the ball rolls 5 feet.
* Tossing the ball to the caddy and it lands 15 feet short of him & rolls to his feet.
* A fellow competitor marks your ball & rolls it across the green to you.
* Your caddy or best ball partner marks your ball & rolls it across the green to you.

Doug Says: Tim, this is a good question because it brings up a point many people overlook when considering the rules - Player's Intent. Since you say that in none of these situations is the intent of the person doing the action to "test the surface" then there will not be a penalty. However, if in any of these there was an intention to test the surface, then the person who takes the action, specifically when the ball is tossed or rolled, could be penalized. As a rules official, if I saw such an action (like the last two), I would warn the player(s) involved to not do such action as it might result in a penalty.

Thanks for the question. back to the top


Unidentifiable Buried Ball in a Bunker
Pat Weber asks: A ball buries under the lip of a bunker. It is unidentifiable because only a few dimples are showing. Question #1-How much can a player move the ball to identify it as his? Question #2-How does he replace it after identifying it? Question #3-If he declares it unplayable, must he remain in the bunker? If so, can the ball be placed or must it be dropped?

Doug Says: Pat, good questions. These bring up some interesting points.

Question #1-How much can a player move the ball to identify it as his? With the rules changes that occurred in 2008, a player will now be penalized (loss of hole or two strokes) for playing a wrong ball from a hazard (bunker or water). Thus, the Rules now give the player the opportunity to lift the ball for identification purposes. In order to identify it, he must follow the procedure outlined in Rule 12-2. There are three specific steps he must follow. He must (1) announce in advance to his opponent, marker, or fellow-competitor that he intends to lift the ball in order to identify it, (2) mark its position before lifting, and (3) give his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement. And, the ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification when lifted under Rule 12-2.

Question #2-How does he replace it after identifying it? He must replace it (as compared to dropping it) and re-create the original lie, which means he must bury it to the same extent it was originally buried.

Question #3-If he declares it unplayable, must he remain in the bunker? If so, can the ball be placed or must it be dropped? Under Rule 28 - Ball Unplayable, the player has three options, all under a penalty of one stroke:

(a) Drop a ball as near as possible to the place where the ball was originally played (stroke & distance);
(b) Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lies, and
(c) Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.

If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, the player may proceed under Clause a, b, or c. If he elects to proceed under Clause b or c, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.

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Mismarked Water Hazard
Dan Kral asks: I shot a ball over a water hazard (it was not marked yellow or red, but it was not casual water) that was right in front of a green. The ball had enough spin on it that after striking the ground over the hazard it came back and entered the hazard. What are my options for dropping a new ball after taking the penalty stroke? Can I stay on the side of the hazard where I entered or do I have to drop on the far side of the hazard. Also imbedded in this question is whether an unmarked water hazard is a water hazard (yellow) or a lateral water hazard (red). Obviously, the drop options are different for yellow marked water hazards and red marked water hazards and thus the second question may answer the first.

Doug says:
This is a great question because it brings up the question of whether a hazard, if not marked, remains a hazard. Decision 26/3 covers this by saying, in part, that a hazard remains a hazard by definition, despite it not being marked by the Committee. So, in your case, you correctly considered the body of water a hazard.

The question of whether it is a water hazard (yellow) or lateral (red) is a little less clear. However, in your description you stated the hazard was positioned in front of the green and required a shot over it to get to the green. Thus, I would tell you that it is a water hazard (some refer to it as a direct hazard) and you must proceed under Rule 26-1 a or b, BUT NOT c, meaning you must play your next stroke from behind the water despite its last crossing the hazard margin on the green side.

Thanks and Good Luck!
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Why was Lee Janzen penalized during the US Open to miss the cut when he thought he had made the cut?

Answer:
Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen was assessed a two-stroke penalty prior to the start of play Saturday morning for a Rules breach that occurred prior to the resumption of play on Friday. The resulting two-stroke penalty put the Orlando, Fla., resident at 7-over-par 147 and one shot off the 36-hole cut. At 7 a.m. Friday, Janzen used a towel to absorb moisture from the ninth fairway before replacing his ball that was in play. The action was a violation of Rule 13-2 (Decisions 13-2/35 and 6-8d/1). The committee acted under Decision 34-3/1.

"Ordinarily, when a player fails to incur a penalty and signs for a score lower than should have been recorded, the result is disqualification," said Reed Mackenzie, USGA vice president and chairman of the Rules of Golf Committee. "But since the committeeman observed the violation and failed to notify the player of the penalty, the penalty of disqualification is waived. However, the penalty strokes must still be added to the score."

Janzen was contacted and the action was taken at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday.

Here is a breakdown of the rules:

-Rule 13: Ball played as it lies.
-Rule 13-2: Improving lie, area of intended stance or swing, or lie of play.
-Decision 13-2/35: Removal of dew or frost.

The removal of dew or frost from the area immediately behind or to the side of a player's ball is not permitted. Such action is deemed to improve the position or lie of the ball or the area of the player's intended swing and is a breach of Rule 13-2, unless it occurs incidentally to some other action permitted under the Rules, such as in addressing the ball or removing loose impediments.

Decision 6-8d/1: Resuming play from where it was discontinued; lie altered by natural causes. Natural causes such as wind, rain and water may change the conditions at the spot where the ball is to be replaced and the player must accept those conditions, whether they worsen or improve the lie of the ball.
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Two-Man Best Ball Rules Clarification...
We play in tournaments that are called "2 man best-ball" which seem to follow the format of rule 31 "Four-ball stroke play". Should rule 2-4 apply, as in telling the competition the par putt is conceded to prevent the player from showing the line for the waiting birdie putt? Also, as regards rule 27 in the same format competition, as long as there is no delay & no contrary committee rule, would a practice putt or chip on the last green played be permitted?

Doug says:
The format you describe is often referred to as a "Two-man Best ball" by many people, even by those who have been in the golf industry for a long time. In your case, as in most others, the correct term for this format (as by the Rules of Golf) is a "Four-Ball" event (refer to the definition). It is only a matter of whether the event is a "stroke play" or "match play" event.

Which Rule Then? In your question, you mention Rule 31 but then ask if Rule 2-4 should apply? Since Rule 2 deals specifically with Match Play, you cannot exercise any of the options available under this rule (those pertaining to concessions) when playing a stroke play event. So, if you and your partner are playing in a Four-Ball, Stroke play event, a player on the other side may pick up his ball if out of the hole, or the player may continue to play, even to the extent it might show the line of putt to the partner. However, you have no authority to concede the putt or prohibit him from putting. Of course, there is Rule 30 -- Three-Ball, Best-Ball, and Four-Ball Match Play, and the answer is different if it was "Match Play" (Decision 2-4/6). I would encourage you to read both Rules 30 and 31 in preparation for your next competition.

With respect to your last question, I am not sure I am correct in my understanding, but I'll give it a try. In a "Four-Ball, Stroke Play" event, is it possible for you to play a practice stroke or chip if you have "picked up" because you were "out of the hole?" The answer is YES, for the most part. If, after your partner has holed out, you play a practice putt or chip, there is no penalty. But, if you do anything which assists your partner not in the normal course of your play, then your partner will incur a penalty (Decisions 30-3f/6 & 7).

Again, thanks for the questions, there are many misconceptions out there regarding the terminology as well as the rules. I hope these answers have made your understanding clearer.

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How many strokes does a double hit cost?
How many strokes do you incur if you double hit a chip shot? I saw T.C. Chen do it, and recently, Lee Westwood did it in the U.S. Open, however, I did not hear the ruling.

Doug says:
It is a shame when T.C. Chen is best known as "Two Chip" Chen because of his misfortune at the U.S. Open back in 1985, but it has made more of the golfing public aware of this rule. At least he has company now in Lee Westwood.

Rule 14-4 covers this situation, and states, "If a player's club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player shall count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all." Notice that it is irrelevant how many times the player struck the ball, be it two, three, or more. The player is then required to play the ball as it lies.

Thanks for the question and being so observant!

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Slope and rating; what makes one course tougher than another?
I am new to golf. Can you give me an explanation of slope and rating, and how they would apply to each course? Can they be used to compare courses? For example, my work associate is in a league at Rich Valley. I play at Bluff Creek. I tell him that his course is easier. Can slope and rating prove anything?

Doug says:
Welcome to golf! As a PGA member, I hope you enjoy a long life on the course! Remember, golf is a game, so keep it in perspective.

As for your question, "course rating" and "slope rating" are two terms which people seem to understand but often are not totally clear with their meanings. It seems you have a good idea of why they are used, and in fact, you are correct. They were created as part of the handicap system in order to allow for the more accurate calculation of a person's handicap, based on the courses they play. I'll give you the official definitions as found in the USGA Handicap System manual.

USGA Course Rating:
"USGA Course Rating" is the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions. It is expressed as strokes taken to one decimal place, and is based on yardage and other obstacles to the extent that they affect the scoring ability of a scratch golfer."

USGA Slope Rating:
"USGA Slope Rating" is a measure of the relative playing difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers. The lowest Slope Rating is 55, and the highest is 155. A golf course of standard playing difficulty would have a USGA Slope Rating of 113.

Can they prove anything? Yes, they can prove a course is more or less difficult than another, and even by how much when you compare the USGA Course Ratings. But keep in mind the course ratings deal with scratch golfers (those golfers whose handicaps are 0), and are primarily based on distance. The slope ratings account for other factors, such as bunkers, water hazards, trees, etc.

For you and your co-worker to play evenly, you each would apply your "Handicap Index" to the "Course Handicap Table" for the course and tees you will be using to give you a "Course Handicap." For example, you are a 10.6 and he is a 12.8. If you play Rich Valley, your respective handicaps might be 8 and 11; but if you play Bluff Creek, they may be 11 and 15.

I know this seems very confusing; I just hope I haven't made it more so. But as you play more, you will become more accustomed to how it all works.

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What's the maximum score I can take?
I play often with a player of similar ability to my own, approximately 15-18 handicap. Are there rules governing the maximum score we should take on a hole with respect to par so as not to artificially inflate our handicap, or do we simply record the score and pray to avoid the inevitable "blow-up holes"?

Doug says:
This is a great question for all golfers, and very timely with the season beginning.

Yes, there is a maximum number of strokes a player may take on a hole for handicap purposes. Unfortunately, this has come about because there are players who will (and do) intentionally "mess up" for the purposes of inflating their handicap. Thus, the USGA has created "Equitable Stroke Control."

The following procedure shall be followed by all players when returning scores.

1. Use a Course Handicap Table to convert your USGA Handicap Index to a Course Handicap for the course you are going to play. (These should be posted at each course, but if not check with the Golf Shop.)

2. Use the chart below to look up the maximum score you can post on any hole based on your Course Handicap.
18-hole course handicap Maximum allowable score you can post on any hole
9 handicap or lower double bogey
10-19 handicap 7 is the max score
20-29 handicap 8 is the max score
30-39 handicap 9 is the max score
40+ handicap 10 is the max score


3. If you did not complete a hole, write down the score you most likely would have made. If you do not play a hole or do not play a hole under the Rules of Golf, write down par plus the handicap strokes you would receive on that hole. Such scores should be preceded by an "X." Do not write down your maximum score for an incomplete hole unless your probable score exceeds your maximum score.

4. Once you have completed your round, scan your score card to locate any holes with scores higher than your maximum score and reduce them to adjust your maximum score.

5. There is no limit to the number of holes that you can adjust.

If you have any other questions, see the PGA Professional at your course or contact your state or regional golf association.

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Hitting a shot that's buried in a bunker:
I hit a ball into a sand trap, and the ball sunk deep into the sand (probably about 4 inches down). Is it legal to pop the ball out of the hole, or do I have to try to hit it from there?

Doug's answer: This is a good question and not an uncommon situation, especially early in the season when facilities are working on their courses.

Presuming the bunker has not been declared as "ground under repair, through the green," you must play the ball as it lies or take relief under Rule 28 -- Ball Unplayable. If you declare your ball unplayable, you have three options, all under a penalty of one (1) stroke. They are as follows:

a. Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball as last played (commonly referred to as "stroke and distance," see Rule 20-5);

or

b. Drop a ball within two (2) club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole (the ball MUST be dropped in the bunker);

or

c. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping the point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped (as in clause "b" above, the ball MUST be dropped in the bunker).

The only option allowing a player to drop outside of the bunker is the first one, stroke and distance.

This situation can be avoided if the courses doing bunker work would temporarily declare those bunkers as "ground under repair, through the green." By doing so, it takes away the hazard designation from the bunker and allows for dropping outside of the condition. However, only the course or a tournament committee can make such a local rule.

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Ball in motion, deflected by partner or opponent:
Player 1 is standing off to the side of the green cleaning his ball. Player 2 attempts to hit a flop shot and accidentally shanks the ball off Player 1's head. Is there a penalty on either player?

Doug's answer: This is another good question which deals with Rule 19 -- Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped. The correct answer depends upon the form of play.

In individual stroke play, there is no penalty on either player and the ball shall be played as it lies. (Player 2 in this case is a "fellow competitor"; refer to Rule 19-4).

In singles (or individual) match play, there is no penalty on either player and Player 2 has the option of playing the ball as it lies or to replay the shot. If Player 2 decides to replay the shot, it must be done before another stroke is played by either player.

In a team competition where Players 1 and 2 are "partners," Player 2 will incur a penalty of two (2) strokes in stroke play or he and his partner will lose the hole in match play.

Knowing the rules can make a big difference in how a player must proceed. In this case, should this have been a singles match, this would be a great break for Player 2 as he/she now gets to replay the shot without penalty.

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