The 2019 Rules Of Golf: Myths And Misconceptions.

  • October 26, 2019
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The world authorities on the Rules of Golf, The Royal & Ancient Rules Ltd (R&A) in collaboration with the United States Golf Administration (USGA) have revised the centuries-old Rules of Golf to meet the modern needs of the game, making the rules both easier to understand and apply today. The USGA administers the rules in the USA, its territories and Mexico while R&A has the same responsibilities for the rest of the world, Kenya included.

The modernized rules are written in an elaborate, simple language and style that is easy to understand. However, many golfers, either ignorantly or selectively, search for or read the rules specifically to suit their circumstances, almost invariably to avoid penalties. They do not read the cross-references in the rules, notes, exceptions and definitions, and this creates many myths and misconceptions about the rules. In this first of five part series, we peek at some of the misconceptions that the reader might have come across, some of which could confound and confuse a golf professional.

No. 1:  That you cannot take a free relief in a penalty area. You can.

The old water hazards have been re-defined as penalty areas, described as either yellow or red. In taking penalty relief, the old rule of keeping the point of entry in line with the hole and dropping behind that point without limit as to how far behind that point one goes has been retained. The dropping point has also been given a new name: “the relief area”. This applies to both yellow and red penalty areas. However, and, like before, the red penalty area has an additional option of taking a two-club length lateral (penalty) relief, not nearer the hole and not crossing over to the opposite margin of the penalty area. This was permitted in the old rules. When a penalty area is not marked, it is assumed to be a red penalty area. This is for obvious reasons: it could be a lake or ocean!

Whatever the situation a player experiences e.g. interference by an abnormal course condition, embedded or unplayable ball in the penalty area, the player’s option is to take a penalty under Rule 17.

However, there may be a situation when a dangerous animal in a penalty area such as an alligator, crocodile, hippo or a snake may pose danger to a player when a ball lies on or near the animal such that the player is prevented from playing the ball or risks death or injury if he attempted. In such a situation, the player is entitled to a free relief (ball to be dropped in the same penalty area) to escape from danger (Rule 17.3). The player still has the right to take a penalty outside the penalty area under Rule 17.

No 2: That you cannot play a provisional ball for a ball likely to be lost in a penalty area. You can.

In the new rules, there has been a deliberate effort to improve the pace of play. Not only has ball search time been reduced from five to three minutes, but to avoid the walk back time under the stroke and distance rule (which is mandatory under Rule 18.2), if a ball is likely to be lost outside or inside a penalty area but there is no certainty where that could be, the rule on provisional ball has been made flexible. A player is now allowed to play a provisional ball which is abandoned wherever the original ball is found. If the original ball is not found and there is no virtual certainty that it is lost in a penalty area, the original ball is deemed lost outside a penalty area and the provisional ball becomes the ball in play (Rule 18.3a). If the original ball is found in the penalty area, or evidence emerges to show that the ball was lost in the penalty area, the provisional ball must be abandoned as is when the original ball is found. 

The player may continue playing the provisional ball without it losing its provisional ball status. It, however, becomes the ball in play when the original ball is lost i.e. it is not found within three minutes after the beginning or the search for the ball or it has been played from a spot where the original ball is, or from nearer the hole than where the original ball is found.

However, a provisional ball is not permitted if the only area of the course where the ball is likely to be lost is only a penalty area. Such a ball, if played, instantly becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance (18.2). Otherwise, the original ball is a wrong ball. 

No 3: That you can drop a ball at or near a point where the ball is lost or ended out bounds. Don’t!

This was a proposal for a model local rule to be used in non-elite golf. There is NO Club that I know of that has adopted such as a local rule. Indeed it has been opposed or ignored across the globe. If such a rule were adopted by any club, the results of a competition cannot be used for handicapping purposes. Before contemplating such an action, you are advised to carefully read the club’s local rules or you will be disqualified. Some players have already met this fate. Rule 18.2 is categorical that “stroke and distance must be taken”.

No 4: That you cannot practise chipping and putting on or around a green just completed if you will play it again during a round (e.g. on a nine-hole course during the first round). You can.

Practising chipping or putting is permitted under the following circumstances:

During play, players are permitted to practise chipping and/or putting on or around the first tee, the hole just completed, the next tee area or a practice putting green (please note: not on a practice range, Rules 5.5b and 13.1e). Such practice strokes must not be made from a bunker and must not unreasonably delay play. Nevertheless, the competition committee may make it a condition of play that practice on or around the green just completed is prohibited under general penalty.  

No. 5: That you cannot tee up the ball when playing under penalty of stroke and distance if the previous stroke had been made from teeing area. You can.

Not only is teeing permitted when proceeding under stroke and distance, but whenever a stroke is made from the teeing area, even when a ball is already in play.

The teeing area of the hole being played has become privileged. All other teeing areas on the course are defined as general areas. Rule 6.2 states that “whenever a player is required or allowed to play a ball from the teeing area, including when starting play of a hole, the player will play again from the teeing area under a rule or the player’s ball is in play in the teeing area after a stroke or after the player has taken relief under the rules, the ball may be re- teed or played from the ground. This means that if a player makes a stroke at a ball that remains or lands back on the teeing area after the stroke, the ball may be re-teed without penalty.

SK Mwaura is a Golf and Golf Rules enthusiast for over 25 years and volunteers to do competitions refereeing assignments. skmparapet@gmail.com

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