Skip to main content

The Official Website of the Golf Coaches Association of America



Rules Corner

September 2011
By John Reis

I know it’s rare in college golf for players to hit a shot that may go awry, but when that happens there are specific actions the player must make to protect himself. If a ball may be out of bounds or lost outside a water hazard, the player is entitled to hit a “Provisional Ball”. We encourage this practice, as should the ball, in fact, be lost he will have to proceed under stroke and distance, which requires him to play a ball from where he last made a stroke. The rationale for hitting a provisional is to save time. It saves no time if he goes forward to search and then decides to return to the previous spot to play the provisional. So it’s incumbent on the player to hit his provisional BEFORE he goes forward to search. We do allow him to go forward to retrieve another ball or different club from his golf bag. That in and of itself is not “going forward to search”. So when he opts to hit a provisional before search, he is obligated to announce what the status of this new ball is. He MUST announce that it is a provisional. Should he fail to do so by saying something like a)I’m going to reload, b)that’s a goner c)I’ll hit another, or d) if he says nothing, the ball then becomes the ball in play and his original is deemed to be lost.

But what happens if he hits a ball into bad country, goes forward to search and after a 2 minute search he decides to return to the previous spot to hit a provisional? He returns, announces and plays what he considers to be a provisional. Is it a provisional or now the ball in play? And what happens if he hits this ball, and before the allotted five minutes allowed for search for his original ball expires, his original is found. Should he play his provisional or his original? What must he do?

Decision (27-2a/1.5) explicitly says he is not permitted to return to hit a provisional after going forward to search. So when he does, that becomes the ball in play and his original is deemed lost. Should he then decide to lift his provisional and play out his original which was found within five minutes, he has played a wrong ball, and he must correct that error before teeing off the next hole or he will be disqualified.

So be sure to announce that your intent is to hit a provisional, and do it in a timely manner. Once you go forward to search, you’ve given up your right to hit a provisional.

Have a great Fall Season,

John Reis
Executive Director
Greater Cincinnati Golf Association
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

August 2011
By Lew Blakey

In sports games, there are Rules that serve to define each game, consequently differentiating
between games. In football and basketball, the game clock stops if a player with the ball steps
out of bounds but there is no penalty. In golf, there is no game clock to be stopped but there is
a penalty when a ball comes to rest out of bounds. The philosophical underpinnings of golf
penalties in stroke play are the subject of this article.

Golf differs from most sports games since in golf the player himself is often the one to both
observe a breach of the Rules and to assess the penalty for that breach. This responsibility is
particularly important in stroke play, as every player has the right to expect other players to
properly apply the Rules. The Rules of Golf express this responsibility in Rule 6-1, “The player
and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules,” and in Rule 6-6 which places the
burden for returning an accurate score card on the player. It has been observed by some, that
golf is unique among sports games in that the players should want to play the game properly;
that is, they do not seek to benefit from improper play. On-course officials tend to be present
only at higher level golf competitions and their primary role is to assist players with applying
the Rules properly rather than “calling” penalties as in other sports games.

In baseball, a runner is only out at first base if the umpire calls him out and in the same fashion
a foul is not committed in basketball unless the referee calls a foul. In golf, the Rules state that
when a player’s ball is in play and the player moves it or causes it to move except as permitted
by a Rule the player incurs a penalty. If this occurs during a competition, then in returning his
score card, the player must include this penalty because the player is responsible for the
correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. In order for the player to
meet his obligations, he must be aware both of the facts of the situation (that his ball in play
was moved) and the Rule (that there is a penalty for such movement). In every stroke play
competition, it is these two issues that are fundamental to a fair competition and the Rules
provide for a proper judgment for the player who proceeds improperly.

There is one further point to be made about the differences between golf and other sports with
respect to penalties. In other sports, sometimes a breach of a Rule is part of the strategy of the
game, such as an intentional foul in basketball to prevent an easy layup or to stop the game
clock. This may be a perfectly acceptable part of the game of basketball. In golf, a breach of
the Rules should never be part of the strategy of the game and the penalties are graded
accordingly to discourage a player from taking an action that is not permitted by the Rules.

Richard Tufts, in his 1960 book The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf suggests dividing
penalties into four categories, those that may result from [1] ordinary play (striking a ball out of
bounds), [2] an accidental act of the player (moving a ball in play), [3] a purposeful act of the
player (improving the lie of the ball), and [4] failure to correctly follow a required procedure
(dropping the ball in an improper manner). The term penalty should not be thought of as
indicating punishment but rather as an adjustment to a player’s score, which means that the
penalty must not be less than the advantage gained from the Rules violation.

There is no sliding or fractional scale for penalties. The Rules in stroke play call for only three
gradations in penalty, [1] one stroke, [2] two strokes and [3] disqualification.

There are 17 penalties of one stroke, including not following the prescribed procedure for
determining if a ball is unfit for play, marking the position of a ball, or dropping a ball; for taking
relief from a water hazard or deeming a ball unplayable. The advantage gained by the player in
not following a prescribed procedure may be only slight but nonetheless he has proceeded
other than in accordance with the Rules and there must be an adjustment to his score relative
to the player who proceeded properly. In taking relief from a water hazard or deeming a ball
unplayable, the penalty of one stroke is somewhat analogous or equivalent to the stroke that
the player might have made at the ball as it lies to remove it from that situation.

The penalty of two strokes is generally applied when there might be more than a one stroke
advantage or there might be an indefinite but non-serious advantage gained from a violation,
such as improving the line of play, asking for advice from a fellow-competitor or striking a
flagstick with a ball played from the putting green. It’s worth observing that nearly all penalties
of two strokes can be easily avoided by proper knowledge of the Rules.

Disqualification penalties in stroke play are more complex, seldom encountered and fit a broad
spectrum of violations. These penalties are in no way an adjustment for an advantage gained
but rather are the logical final outcome of an act that is contrary to the spirit of the game. For
example, a disqualification penalty is required in situations involving [1] a serious breach of
etiquette (repeatedly intentionally distracting another player or offending someone), [2]
interference with the orderly conduct of the competition (not starting on time or not remaining in
an assigned group), [3] interference with the integrity of the competition (knowing a player has
breached the Rules but does not inform the player or the Committee with the clear intention of
allowing the player to return an incorrect score or returning an incorrect score card with a score
for a hole lower than that actually achieved), [4] breach of a Rule defining the game (failure to
hole out or use of a non-conforming club), [5] failure to report to the Committee when required
(in play of a second ball when in doubt of how to proceed or not settling a doubtful point with
the Committee when advised of a violation by a fellow-competitor) and [6] dishonesty or
cheating (after lifting a ball on a putting green, a player repeatedly replaces the ball nearer the
hole). It should be noted that only the last category covers dishonesty or cheating whereas
several categories, comprising the majority of situations, simply constitute a particular breach
of the Rules of the game, not an act of bad behavior such as fighting in the game of football,
which could result in disqualification of the player.

Some breaches may fit into several of the above categories, depending upon the type of
breach that is involved. For example, in stroke play, a player is required to return a score card
with correct scores for each hole and signed by a marker and the player. A particular type of
scorecard issue – incorrect score because of failure to include a penalty of which the player is
not aware – could be slotted into multiple categories but fundamentally strikes at the integrity
of the competition, thus fits primarily into category 3. Particularly in modern times from clublevel
to the highest level, the whole field has access to scoreboards and the like, and thus
each player thinks he knows where he stands relative to the rest of the field. Failure to include
a penalty in a recorded score for a hole in a returned score card can influence judgments
made by every competitor in the competition while the competition is ongoing even though
these effects, which are real, cannot be isolated. When there is no way to replay so as to erase
all of those judgments and their effects, the player must be disqualified for affecting the
integrity of the entire competition -- whether the player intended to do so or not.

Scorecard violations of the example above have nothing to do with an advantage gained by a
particular player; the penalty adjustment for the advantage gained is the penalty imposed for
the underlying breach, which should be reflected in the proper score for the hole. The
scorecard issue or breach is a separate issue, and goes to the integrity of the competition and
its orderly conduct.

However, as a major exception to the above, the Rules have recently provided that where the
player could not reasonably have known the facts that caused his breach, then in fairness to
the player, he would incur the penalty for this breach but would not be disqualified from the
competition for the score card error. This balances the concerns for integrity of the competition
and fairness to the player involved. This type of score card error is rare.

Over the years, the Rules of Golf have been revised to accommodate the conditions of the
times and in the process some penalties have been altered. For instance, in the first USGA
Rules of Golf in 1897, a lost ball called for a penalty of one stroke in addition to loss of
distance, since the player was required to play again from the spot of the previous stroke. In
1947, this penalty was changed in the Rules to loss of distance only and then in 1952
subsequently revised to the original penalty of one stroke and distance where it remains today.
However, in stroke play, there are two Rules that over time have consistently called for a
disqualification penalty – failure to hole out and returning an incorrect score card where a
score for a hole is recorded lower than actually made with the major exception mentioned in
the previous paragraph.

April 2011
By Lew Blakey

Several years ago at the Atlantic Coast Conference Golf Championship, Bill Haas, then a senior at Wake Forest University, struck a tee shot off to the right into a wooded area. An official was present in a golf cart some thirty yards forward of where the stroke was made. After the group of three players had played, they put their golf bags on their backs and headed from the tee in the direction of their shots. Haas stopped to ask the official if there was a water hazard near where his ball had gone. The official responded in the negative. Haas then returned to the tee and played a provisional ball. Was this procedure proper or had he lost his opportunity to play a provisional ball when he went forward of where he played his tee shot? The answer is that in this circumstance the procedure of going forward did not preclude his play of a provisional ball.

According to the Rules of Golf, if a ball may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally in accordance with the lost ball Rule, which means the provisional ball must be played from the spot of the previous stroke. In stroke play, the player must inform his marker or a fellow-competitor that he intends to play a provisional ball and he must play it before he goes forward to search for the original ball. Because the sole purpose of the provisional ball Rule is to save time, the only way the player can effectively do so is to play the provisional ball before he goes forward for the purpose of searching for the original ball. This does not preclude a player from playing a provisional ball even though he has proceeded from where he last played in the direction of the original ball. In the Haas case, the player walked forward for the purpose of questioning an official to determine something that affected his thinking about the advisability of playing a provisional ball. Since he had not gone forward for the purpose of searching for the original ball, he was entitled to play a provisional ball.

However, in the above case, the player’s uncertainty about playing a provisional ball may have rested on a common misconception about play of a provisional ball. Some believe incorrectly that a player may not play a provisional ball if his original ball might be lost in a water hazard. There are two important principles to remember about situations where a player may be considering play of a provisional ball in the presence of a water hazard where his ball might be in the water hazard: [1] a provisional ball may be played if the original ball might also be lost outside the water hazard or out of bounds, that is, the possibility that the original ball is in a water hazard may not preclude play of a provisional ball and [2] a provisional ball may not be played if the original ball is clearly not lost outside the water hazard or out of bounds, that is, in the absence of a reasonable possibility that the ball is lost outside the water hazard or is out of
bounds, a player may not play a provisional ball. These principles apply at the time that the player is considering play of a provisional ball and has not yet gone forward to search.

Sometimes, believing his original ball might be lost outside a water hazard, a player properly plays a provisional ball from the tee, goes forward to search, and then discovers that it is known or virtually certain that his original ball is in a water hazard. The question then arises as to whether he did proceed correctly in playing the provisional ball. The answer turns on the fact that when he played the second ball from the tee it was in the belief that his original ball might be lost outside a water hazard. The subsequent discovery that the area into which his ball was struck is a water hazard is irrelevant. In this situation, the player must abandon the provisional ball and proceed under the water hazard Rule.

May 2011
By John Reis

1)    You should know that the player whose ball is farther from the hole ALWAYS, yes ALWAYS, goes first, and if he fails to do so, you have the right to recall his shot. Your opponent doesn’t lose the hole nor incur a penalty, but you may recall the shot and require him to replay the stroke.

2)    A stroke (as well as the hole being played, and yes, even the match itself) can be conceded at any time. Be sure that when you concede a stroke, the ball is at rest, and once that has happened, that concession cannot be declined or withdrawn. The hole or match may be conceded at any time prior to the start or conclusion of either.

3)    But a little known part of the match play rules which arose this past March at the Callaway Match Play Championship revolves around the principle that at all times both players must know the status of the match. In stroke play if there is doubt, a player is permitted to play two balls under Rule 3-3, but he is not allowed to do so in match play. Why? It’s simple. If your opponent is playing two balls on the hole, there is likely to be confusion as to what his ultimate score for the hole will be, and that will have an adverse effect on your strategy as you play the hole. Along those same lines, players are required to inform each other of any penalty strokes incurred during the play of a hole. That information must be shared in a timely manner. So, referring to the incident at the Callaway this spring, a player hit his ball into a water hazard, and his opponent didn’t see the stroke and was unaware that he had incurred a penalty stroke. So what happened? He lost the hole. A severe penalty, but one that’s warranted. Rule 9-2b (i) reads as follows: …fails to inform his opponent as soon as practicable that he has incurred a penalty, unless (a) he was obviously proceeding under a rule involving a penalty and this was observed by his opponent… so if you believe your opponent did not observe your breach of the rules, be sure to inform him as soon as practical.

4)    There are some other instances where loss of hole is not the applicable penalty. For instance, if a ball were accidently stopped or deflected by your opponent after a stroke, you would have the right to replay the shot and there would be no penalty. But if that ball struck you, you would incur a one stroke penalty.

5)    If you touch or move your opponent’s ball, you would incur a penalty. But WAIT, you say! If that’s the case why should I take that risk and help my opponent search for his ball if I might move the ball and get penalized? Well, again, it’s simple. DURING SEARCH ONLY, we absolve the opponent from that penalty so that he can help search. That’s why the game is great.

There are a number of other rules that apply only to match play, and I encourage all of you to take a look at Rules 2 and 9 especially before you begin what so many consider a very exciting form of play. Match play is fun, nerve-racking, and outcomes of matches are always in doubt. Strategy is all important.

Best of luck at Division l Finals this year. If you’re fortunate enough to achieve that lofty goal, you will remember your matches all your lives.

March 2011
By Clyde Luther

I have been associated with NCAA golf for over 20 years and looking back I vividly remember one Rule that has happened or almost happened so many times that I feel it imperative to bring it to the attention of as many players as possible and certainly the coaches as well.

What is that situation that alarms me, officials and certainly the players and the coaches after it happens? WRONG SCORECARDS!!!!

It has happened numerous times and a couple of times it didn’t have any affect on the overall team standings after going to the fifth man score. Back in the early 90’s at a Division III championship a player carelessly put down a score lower that he scored on a hole, and this came to the Committee’s attention shortly after he left the scoring area and he was disqualified. Then, at the Duke Finals Championship back in the early 2000’s, another player carelessly put down a wrong score, which was lower that he made on a hole and he was also disqualified.

This next one was about as serious as it can get. At one of our regional championships a player had played extremely well and it appeared he had the medal locked up. Shortly after the score was posted it came to the attention of one of the competitors that the player had posted a score on a hole lower than what he had actually scored, and he was of course disqualified and didn’t win the medal. But now comes the worst part. With his score not counting it was necessary to count the fifth player’s score which was not good and was disastrous for the team….they lost their spot that they were assured of getting in the Championship.

Then at another of our final championships in Ohio a scorer was able to alert a player and save him from a DQ. In this case the player had not played up to his or the team’s expectations and he was not happy with himself and as he entered the scoring area he proceeded immediately to put his scorecard in the scoring box, which finalizes the game. The scorer placed his hand over the slot and said “Don’t do that, sit down and let’s check it”. The player unhappily complied. A quick look at the card revealed a disaster that had just been prevented by an alert Rules Official in the scoring tent: the player, a top ranked player, had failed to sign his card.

The point in all of this is, always remember, as long as you play the game, to your dying day, the game isn’t over until the scorecard has been signed and placed in the box.