Date: May 25, 2016
Author: Tom Duguid

Rules: Common mistakes players make

As most club golfers learn about the Rules from their playing partners, it is no wonder that many myths about the rules prevail. Having tried to answer a multitude of queries from golfers of all levels over many years, I am no longer surprised at some of their perceptions or misconceptions. Even Tour players register amazement at times when denied relief from a situation that they just assume entitles them to a free drop. No doubt at your club there are local interpretations repeatedly based incorrectly on hearsay or precedent rather than on the written laws.

Some of the more common misconceptions include:-

· You cannot hit a ball with the back of the clubhead. WRONG! Rule 14-1 merely states that “the ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club …..”.  Decision 14-1/1 clarifies this.

· You cannot hold the flagstick with one hand while putting with the other hand. WRONG! Provided the ball does not strike the flagstick, this action is legal. See Decision 17-1/5.

· You always get free relief from wheel marks. WRONG! Although many club and tournament Local Rules provide such relief, some players incorrectly expect it at all times. Deep ruts should be marked by the Committee but shallow indentations are not abnormal to a golf course.

· You always get free relief from staked trees. WRONG! Again, you need to check your Local Rules for the particular course. Many clubs and competitions require compulsory relief to protect the tree, while others provide optional relief. If required, a carefully framed Local Rule should also cover other aspects such as tree guards, trenches, mulch and other items used by the ground staff to encourage tree and shrub growth. Some clubs limit relief to plants under a certain size, for example two club lengths or two metres in height. Club length restrictions are preferred as a club cannot expect players to carry tape measures in their bags!

· Once the player has declared the ball lost, it is lost. WRONG! A ball is lost when one of the five conditions specified in the Definitions for “Lost Ball” has been satisfied. A player’s verbal declaration has no standing.

· In match play, you lose the hole if you attend the flag without your opponent asking you to. WRONG! Provided that the player is aware that you are attending the flag, no penalty is incurred. Unless the player about to putt objects, tacit authorisation is assumed. In any event, the attendance is only a breach if the act may influence the movement of the ball. But see Decisions 17-2/1 and /2 for more clarity.

· When taking relief from a water hazard, complete relief including stance must be taken. WRONG! The specific part of Rule 20-2c requires a re-drop “if it rolls into and comes to rest in a hazard”. It is irrelevant that the player’s stance may be in the water hazard after dropping outside it.

· My marker said I could do it so I cannot be penalised. WRONG! By all means discuss any issue with your marker before taking action but their acquiescence does not provide a safeguard against a penalty for a breach of the Rules.