By Lew Blakey
In the past, a college player's chief concerns about his clubs and other equipment were to be sure that he started with no more than 14 clubs, carried enough balls and tees in his bag to complete the round and perhaps also had a glove. Today, with all the different swing aides and other devices in use for training, stretching and practice, questions often arise about which of these items a player may take with him during a round as equipment and how they may be used, if at all.
The answers to most of these questions will be found in reading Rule 14-3 [Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment] and pouring over the details in the corresponding Decisions found in the USGA book, Decisions on the Rules of Golf.
As a general rule, it is not a violation to simply carry an artificial device such as a swing trainer unless it also could be classified as a non-conforming club, which would be a violation of Rule 4-1. The breach of Rule 14-3 comes when the swing trainer is used during the round in a practice swing or practice stroke. There are exceptions for medical reasons.
Devices that may be carried but not used include a compass to determine direction, a calibrated wind sock, or an electronic device to analyze data collected during a round on greens in regulation, sand saves or the like. On the other hand, there are many devices that may be carried and used, such as binoculars, hand warmers, ear plugs to keep out sound, a CD player and ear phones for music, or even an electronic device to recall information published prior to the round that might include swing tips or information about the course.
It is also permissible to use during a round a device designed for stretching, unless the device is specifically designed to be used in a golf swing and the player uses it in a practice swing or stroke, in which case there would be a violation.
A player may not use any ordinary equipment in an unusual way to make a stroke that counts in his score, such as placing a ball in his hand against the grip when putting or to steady himself by leaning on another club to hole a short putt on a windy day. A player may sometimes be permitted to use equipment for other than a stroke if that use is traditionally accepted, such as using a putter as a plumb-line to assist in determining the slope on a putting green. However, he may not use a bottled drink as a level as that is using equipment in an unusual manner that is not traditionally accepted.
Certainly, any questions should be resolved before play. For instance, if you have a doubt as to whether you may tuck the shirt that you have on under your arm to "stay connected" in making a stroke, ask an official for a ruling. The correct answer is that it is permitted.
Player Representative Question
Q: This fall I ran into a difficult rules decision with another player in my group. His shot was near the green, in the rough, and being interfered with a sprinkler head. The sprinkler head was where he would stand. He wanted to take relief, and figured he could drop it in the fairway. I thought he had to keep the same integrity of the lie, by keeping it in the rough. He did not agree with that, but since we could not come to it and he did not feel it necessary to play two balls, he just played it as it was. I was unsure though as we went on, and just wanted to clarify it.
A: For a player whose ball lies in the rough, not in a hazard, and whose stance for his stroke at the ball as it lies would be on a sprinkler head, he is entitled to relief under the obstruction Rule [Rule 24-2b].
There is no requirement in the Rules for the player "to keep the same integrity of the lie, by keeping it in the rough" when he takes relief.
If he chooses to take relief, he must lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief.
The nearest point of relief is the point on the course nearest to where the ball lies that is (i) not nearer the hole, and (ii) where, if the ball were so positioned, no interference by the condition from relief is sought would exist for the stroke the player would have made from the original position if the condition were not there. This nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green.
There is no distinction in the Rules between the common golf terms, "fairway" and "rough." Both of these terms are covered by the more precise term, defined in the Rules, "through the green," which is 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.
For more information, see Rule 24-2b in the booklet, The Rules of Golf 2008-2009, and Decision 24-2b/8 that is in the book, Decisions on the Rules of Golf, 2008-2009, both publications that are available from the USGA.