Date: September 07, 2016
Author: Sue Fabian, GA National Referee

Making the tough call to suspend play

Adverse Weather Conditions: Course Unplayable

Decisions about suspensions of play are often difficult for Committees. Rule 33-2d outlines the Committee’s responsibility:  “If the Committee or its authorised representative considers that for any reason the course is not in a playable condition or that there are circumstances that render the proper playing of the game impossible, it may, in match play or stroke play, order a temporary suspension of play or, in stroke play, declare a round null and void and cancel all scores for the round in question.”  Decision 33-2d/1 gives some guidelines on when a Committee should cancel a round. [Committees need to be familiar with GA Handicapping guidelines regarding incomplete and cancelled rounds.]

When a course is affected by sudden, heavy rainfall which causes flooding of greens or extensive areas of casual water, or strong winds which prevent balls coming to rest or remaining at rest on greens, a basic question for the Committee to consider is whether the course conditions allow for the proper playing of the game, under the Rules. Clearly, this is not the case in Figure 1!

Decision 33-2d/2 makes it clear that, once a hole is surrounded by casual water, the course is unplayable. In stroke play, the Committee should suspend play; in match play, the Committee should relocate the hole.

To some extent, situations resulting in suspension of play can be avoided by attention to expected weather conditions and careful hole placement, best done in consultation with the Course Superintendent. Consideration of expected wind direction and strength are also important in terms of hole positioning and green speed. When adverse weather conditions threaten, it is important that pins are not positioned in gutters where the flow of water through the hole position will make the hole unplayable, even though the hole may be located in a high position on the green as below.

In some circumstances, when only a few greens are affected by casual water, the Committee may be able to keep play going, thus avoiding the long delay involved in bringing a field in for a suspension of play. Decision 33/1 refers to the Committee’s ability to sanction the use of squeegees (and to permit players and caddies to assist) to clear casual water from a player’s line of putt. A “Squeegee Policy”, which gives guidance to players and officials, is very useful in such situations. (See the websites of GA “Elite Competition Manual” or R&A “Guidance on Running a Competition” for suggested wording.)

A very useful Decision with which Committees should  be familiar is 33-8/27, which states that a Committee may not make a Local Rule providing generally that flooded bunkers are ground under repair through the green, thus allowing a player to drop out of any bunker filled with casual water, without penalty, contrary to Rule 25-1b(ii). However, “in exceptional circumstances, where certain specific bunkers are completely flooded and there is no reasonable likelihood of the bunkers drying up during the round, the Committee may introduce a Local Rule providing relief without penalty from specific bunkers.”  Most usefully, the Decision provides suggested wording of a Local Rule which refers to the specific bunkers in question and their location, and, importantly, reminds players that “All other bunkers, regardless of whether or not they contain water, retain their status as hazards and the Rules apply accordingly”.

Suspension Of Play: Dangerous Situation

The presence of dangerous conditions, particularly lightning, places great responsibility and stress on players and Committee alike. It must be remembered that players have the right, under Rule 6-8a, to discontinue play if they believe that there is danger from lightning. Decision 6-8b/5 states “This is one of the rare occasions in which the player is virtually the final judge. The safety of players is paramount, especially as there is a common natural fear of lightning. Committees should not risk exposing players to danger.”  However, this Decision also states that, “if the Committee has used all reasonable means to ascertain the weather prospects and has concluded that no danger from lightning exists, it has the power to order a resumption of play and to disqualify any player who refuses to comply”.

The Note to Rule 6-8a refers to the fact that “the Committee may provide, in the conditions of a competition (Rule 33-1), that in potentially dangerous situations play must be discontinued immediately following a suspension of play by the Committee. If a player fails to discontinue play immediately, he is disqualified, unless circumstances warrant waiving the penalty as provided in Rule 33-7”. Section 4 in Part C of Appendix 1 (p158) of the 2016 Rules of Golf gives recommended wording for this Condition.

It is recommended that Committees use the universally recognised signals for suspension of play, as listed on Page 158 of the 2016 Rules of Golf:

• Discontinue play immediately: One prolonged note of  siren;

• Discontinue play: Three consecutive notes of siren, repeated;

• Resume play: Two short notes of siren, repeated.

Careful decision-making, prompt action and clear communication by the Committee can not only provide for player safety, but may also assist in alerting spectators to the need to take shelter.

Resumption Of Play

Committee members need to be familiar with Rule 6-8d to assist players with the procedure for resuming play after a discontinuance or suspension. 

• Play must be resumed from where it was discontinued, even if resumption occurs on a  subsequent day;

• If the player has lifted the ball, provided he was entitled to lift it, he must place the original or a substituted ball on the spot from which the original ball was lifted; otherwise, the original ball must be replaced (See Rule 6-8c);

• If the player has not lifted his ball, he may, provided he was entitled to lift it under Rule 6-8c, mark, lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball;

• If the player’s ball or ball-marker has moved (including by wind or water) while play is discontinued, a ball or ball-marker must be placed on the spot from which the original ball or marker was moved;

• If this spot is impossible to determine, it must be estimated and the ball placed on the estimated spot.

• If the lie of the ball is altered (for better or worse) by natural causes, the player must accept those conditions and is not entitled to the lie he had prior to the discontinuance (Decision 6-8d/1). If the course is altered by an outside agency, eg bunkers raked by course staff, the player must re-create his original lie, for instance, a footprint in which the ball originally lay.

• In estimating the spot where the ball must be placed, the player is not entitled to a significantly better lie than he had with the original ball (Decision 6-8d/5).