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Teammates and the Rules of Golf

November 2008
By Tim Kilty

Unfortunately, the Rules of Golf do not use the term "teammates" in any of the 34 Rules of Golf. The terms used, which would include teammates, are the player, partner, fellow competitor and opponent.

Why is it important to understand which of the above terms is appropriate? The main concern is Rule 8, Advice, which can vary a great deal, depending of the form of play the teammate is participating in.

In a stroke play competition, which is the major form of play used in college events, where both scores could count, a teammate is a fellow competitor, even if playing in the same group of players. Under these circumstances, Rule 8 does not allow advice between teammates. For example, you could not club each other.

In many other forms of competition your teammate would be considered your partner, thus you would be able to give each other advice and would conform to Rule 8. Such forms of competition would be Four-Ball Stroke Play (Rule 31), Four-Ball Match Play (Rule 30) and Foursomes, either stroke play or match play (Rule 29), sometimes referred to as an alternate shot competition.

In match play, and this is difficult to imagine, if you offer your opponent advice during the play of a hole, you lose the hole. If your opponent asks for advice during the play of a hole, he loses the hole.

Finally, what is advice? "Advice" is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, his choice of a club or the method of making a stroke. Information on the rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not considered advice.

As the result of a Note at the end of Rule 8 and in a team competition, the Committee may permit a coach or other person designated to give advice to members of his/her team.

The USGA Decisions on the Rules of Golf contain a number of interesting decisions involving teammates. Look under Teammates in the index.

Player Representative Questions

This month we received our second round of questions from player representatives from colleges and universities across the country.  We will ask players to submit rules questions each month to be answered by one of our rules experts.  Below is this month's question along with answer from Tim.

Q: What is the ruling if a player strikes another player's bag with his golf ball?

A: This is a very timely question as this rule (Rule 19. Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped) has changed as of January 1, 2008.

A player's bag is considered to be part of his equipment.

In stroke play, where your college  teammate is a fellow competitor (not a partner), there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. If the teammates are playing as partners in a four ball or similar stroke play competition (also called best ball) there would be a one stroke penalty and the ball would be played as it lies.

The first scenario is covered by Rule 19-1 By Outside Agency. The rule states that if a player's ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. A fellow competitor and his equipment (bag) are considered to be an outside agency

The second situation is covered by Rule 19-2. By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment (Bag) The rule states that if a player's ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by himself, his partner or either of their caddies or equipment, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be played as it lies.

A bit of a difference in match play. If a player's ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by an opponent, his caddy or his equipment, there is no penalty. The player may, before another stroke is made, cancel the stroke and play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played, or, he may play the ball as it lies. He has the option to do either.

As you can ascertain, Rule 19 can vary a great deal, depending on the type of play and who's involved.