I have said and will continue to say that the Rules of Golf are too complicated and need to be simplified. That said, I’m very proud of my first semester classmates. This semester, we had four people get A’s on the final exam and four people get A’s in the class. Most years, that number is just one – one A on the final and one A in the class. We also had three people get A’s on the mid-term, which I’m told is a rarity. So here they are, surely not for the last time, the Rules of Golf (with my most memorable takeaways from each and a little running commentary by yours truly):
Rule 1: The Game
Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred (Rule 1-3). Translation: Don’t disrespect The Game.
Rule 2: Match Play
Here’s something I didn’t know until this class – a player may concede a match or hole at any time prior to the start/conclusion of that match/hole. But a player may only concede his opponent’s next stroke provided the opponent’s ball is at rest. Who comes up with this stuff, and why, in the big scheme of things, does it matter when a player concedes his opponent’s next stroke?
Rule 3: Stroke Play
Rule 3-3. Doubt as to Procedure. This is a good one to know. If the competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls. The player must then report the facts of the situation to the Committee (Rule 33) before returning his scorecard.
Rule 4: Clubs
Rule 4-3a. Damage in Normal Course of Play. If, during a stipulated round, a player’s club is damaged in the normal course of play, he may: (i) use the club in its damaged state for the remainder of the stipulated round; or (ii) without unduly delaying play (seriously, who talks like this?), repair it or have it repaired; or (iii) as an additional option available only if the club is unfit for play, replace the damaged club with any club.
Rule 4-4a. Selection and Addition of Clubs
The player must not start a stipulated round with more than 14 clubs. He is limited to the clubs thus selected for that round, except that if he started with fewer than 14 clubs, he may add any number, provided his total number does not exceed 14. Penalty for breach of rule is two strokes for each hole at which the breach occurred (maximum penalty per round is four strokes).
Rule 5: The Ball
Rule 5-3. Ball Unfit for Play. A ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape. A ball is not unfit for play solely because mud or other materials adhere to it, its surface is scratched or scraped or its paint is damaged or discolored.
If a ball breaks into pieces as a result of a stroke, the stroke is canceled and the player must play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played (see Rule 20-5).
Rule 6: The Player
Rule 6-3a. Time of Starting. If the player arrives at his starting point, ready to play, within five minutes after his starting time, the penalty for failure to start on time is loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play. Otherwise, the penalty for breach of this Rule is disqualification. Show up to the tee on-time or pay the price!
Rule 7: Practice
Rule 7-1b. Stroke Play. Practice putting or chipping on or near the first teeing ground or any practice area before starting a round or play-off is permitted.
Rule 7-2. During Round. Between the play of two holes a player must not make a practice stroke, except that he may practice putting or chipping on or near: the putting green of the hole last played, any practice putting green, or the teeing ground of the next hole to be played in the round, provided a practice stroke is not made from a hazard and does not unduly delay play.
Rule 8: Advice; Indicating Line of Play
Advice is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the 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 the hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice.
Rule 9: Information as to Strokes Taken
Rule 9-3. Stroke Play. A competitor who has incurred a penalty should inform his marker as soon as practicable.
Rule 10: Order of Play
Rule 10-1c. Playing Out of Turn. If a player plays when his opponent should have played (in Match Play), there is no penalty, but the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel the stroke so made and, in correct order, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.
Rule 11: Teeing Ground
Rule 11-1. Teeing. A player may stand outside the teeing ground to play a ball within it.
Rule 11-3. Ball Falling off Tee. If a ball, when not in play, falls off a tee or is knocked off a tee by the player in addressing it, it may be re-teed, without penalty. However, if a stroke is made at the ball in these circumstances, whether the ball is moving or not, the stroke counts, but there is not penalty.
Rule 12: Searching for and Identifying Ball
Rule 12-1. Seeing Ball; Searching for Ball. A player has not necessarily entitled to see his ball when making a stroke.
Rule 12-1a. Searching for or Identifying Ball Covered by Sand. If the player’s ball lying anywhere on the course is believed to be covered by sand, to the extent that he cannot find or identify it, he may, without penalty, tough or move the sand in order to find or identify the ball. If the ball is found, and identified as his, the player must re-create the lie as nearly as possible by replacing the sand. If the ball is moving during the touching or moving of sand while searching for or identifying the ball, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced and the lie re-created. In re-creating a lie under this Rule, the player is permitted to leave a small part of the ball visible.
Believe it or not, this actually happened at the Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour earlier this year. Jimmy Walker pulled his drive off the tee at the Par-4 12th hole. The ball disappeared into the left bunker… literally. Walker couldn’t find it and had to start digging furiously in the sand. Walker found the ball and went on to win the tournament.
Rule 13: Ball Played as It Lies
Rule 13-3. Building Stance. I remember this Rule as unlucky Rule No. 13. A player is entitled to place his feet firmly in taking his stance, but he must not build a stance. In the 3rd round of the 1987 San Diego Open at Torrey Pines, Craig Stadler hit his tee shot on the Par-4 14th hole under a low-hanging branch of a large cypress tree. To make his swing easier, Stadler decided to hit his next shot from his knees. Point for creativity Craiger! But in order to hit the shot without staining his expensive pretty blue pants on the wet grass, Stadler placed a towel under his knees. Uh, Craig? That’ll be two. What’s worse, somehow the infraction wasn’t discovered until Sunday after Stadler had just finished in a three-way tied for 2nd. Because Stadler had signed for a score lower than what he actually made (Rule 6-6d) Saturday, he was promptly disqualified. The move cost Stadler more than $37,000 in prize money and the 2nd-place finish. The moral of this story? No blue pants are worth saving.
Rule 14: Striking the Ball
Rule 14-4. Striking the Ball More Than Once. If a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all. Think T.C. (Two Chip) Chen at the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club, the most memorable occurence of this rule in golf history.
Rule 15: Substituted Ball; Wrong Ball
Rule 15-2. Substituted Ball. If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted to do so under the Rules, that substituted ball is not a wrong ball; it becomes the ball in play.
Rule 15-3a. Match Play. If the player and opponent exchange balls during the play of a hole, the first to make a stroke at a wrong ball loses the hole. Them’s the breaks.
Rule 16: The Putting Green
Rule 16-1c. Repair of Hole Plugs, Ball Marks and Other Damage. The player may repair an old hole plug or damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball, whether or not the player’s ball lies on the putting green.
Rule 17: The Flagstick
Don’t call it a pin. It’s a flagstick. Rule 17-2. Unauthorized Attendance. If an opponent or his caddie in match play or a fellow-competitor or his caddie in stroke play, without the player’s authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and the act might influence the movement of the ball, the opponent or fellow-competitor incurs the applicable penalty – loss of hole in match play. Two strokes in stroke play.
Rule 18: Ball at Rest Moved
Rule 18-2b. Ball Moving After Address. If a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it, (grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance) the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke. The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made.
This actually just happened to Dustin Johnson at The Masters. After replacing his ball on the Par-4 7th green during the final round, Johnson went down the hill to read his birdie putt from the low side. That’s when gravity took over. Johnson’s ball rolled much closer to the hole, and he made the putt for birdie. When you read Rules like this, you think this stuff never happens. And then you see it on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour from the best players in the world.
Rule 19: Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped
Rule 19-2. By Player, Caddie or Equipment. 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. The ball must be played as it lies, except when it comes to rest in or on the player’s, his partner’s or either of their caddies’ clothes or equipment.
Rule 20: Lifting, Dropping and Placing; Playing from Wrong Place
Rule 20-2c. When to Re-Drop. A dropped ball must be re-dropped, without penalty, if it: (i) rolls into and comes to rest in a hazard; (ii) rolls out of and comes to rest outside a hazard; (iii) rolls onto and comes to rest on a putting green; (iv) rolls and comes to rest out of bounds; (v) rolls to and comes to rest in a position where there is interference by the condition from which relief was taken under Rule 24-2b (immovable obstruction), Rule 25-1 (abnormal ground conditions), Rule 25-3 (wrong putting green), or a Local Rule (Rule 33-8a), or rolls back into the pitch-mark from which it was lifted under Rule 25-2 (embedded ball); (vi) rolls and comes to rest more than two club-lengths from where it first struck part of the course; or (vii) rolls and comes to rest nearer the hole than: (a) its original position or estimated position (see Rule 20-2b) unless otherwise permitted by the Rules; or (b) the nearest point of relief or maximum available relief (Rule 24-2, 25-1 or 25-3); or (c) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or lateral water hazard (Rule 26-1).
Rule 21: Cleaning Ball
A ball on the putting green may be cleaned when lifted. Elsewhere, a ball may be cleaned when lifted, except when it has been lifted: (a) To determine if it is unfit for play (Rule 5-3); (b) For identification (Rule 12-2), in which case it may be cleaned only to the extent necessary for identification; or (c) Because it is assisting or interfering with play (Rule 22).
Rule 22: Ball Assisting or Interfering with Play
Rule 22-2. Ball Interfering with Play. Note 1: Except on the putting green, a player may not lift his ball solely because he considers that it might interfere with the play of another player. If a player lifts his ball without being asked to do so, he incurs a penalty of one stroke for a breach of Rule 18-2a, but there is no additional penalty under Rule 22.
Rule 23: Loose Impediments
Rule 23-1. Relief. On the putting green, if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of the player removing a loose impediment, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the removal of the loose impediment.
Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player.
Dew and frost are not loose impediments.
Rule 24: Obstructions
Rule 24-2a. Interference. Interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing.
Rule 25: Abnormal Ground Conditions, Embedded Ball and Wrong Putting Green
Rule 25-1a. Interference. Interference by an abnormal ground condition occurs when a ball lies in or touches the condition or when the condition interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing.
Rule 26: Water Hazards (Including Lateral Water Hazards)
Rule 26-1. Relief for Ball in Water Hazard. The player may under penalty of one stroke: (a) Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or (b) Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or (c) As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of an not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.
Remember the fuss over Tiger Woods’ drop in the 2nd round of the 2013 Masters Tournament? After Woods decided to lay-up on the Par-5 15th hole, his wedge shot hit the pin and rolled back into the water short of the green. In addition to using the drop area, Woods had the options of either playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played or dropping a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with not limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped. Because Woods’s shot caromed off the flagstick, that line was well to the left of where he hit his shot. So, instead of playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played, Woods later admitted to dropping two yards further back. At the discretion of the Committee, Woods was given a two-stroke penalty but not disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Of course, Woods never re-gained his momentum and went on to lose the tournament.
Rule 27: Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball
Rule 27-2a. Procedure. 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 Rule 27-1. The player must inform his opponent that he intends to play a provisional ball, and he must play it before he or his partner goes forward to search for the original ball. If he fails to do so and plays another ball, that ball is not a provisional ball and becomes the ball in play under the penalty of stroke and distance.
Rule 28: Ball Unplayable
The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.
Rule 29: Threesomes and Foursomes
A Threesome is a match in which one player plays against two other players, and each side plays one ball. A Foursome is a match in which two players play against two other player, and each side plays one ball. If you ever try to ask for a Foursome at St. Andrews or any of the other courses in the British Isles, you will get precisely what you ask for. Instead, say nothing.
Rule 30: Three-Ball, Best-Ball and Four-Ball Match Play
Rule 30-2b. Ball Deflected or Stopped by an Opponent Accidentally. If a player’s ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by an opponent, his caddie or equipment, there is no penalty. In his match with that opponent the player may, before another stroke is made by either side, cancel the stroke and play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5) or he may play the ball as it lies.
Rule 31: Four-Ball Stroke Play
Rule 31-5. Wrong Ball. If a competitor is in breach of Rule 15-3b for making a stroke at a wrong ball, he incurs a penalty of two strokes and must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules.
Rule 32: Bogey, Par and Stableford Competitions
Rule 32b. Stableford Competitions. The scoring in Stableford competitions is made by points awarded in relation to a fixed score at each hole. The winner is the competitor who scores the highest number of points. It’s in the Rules, but that does’t mean we have to like Stableford Competitions. There is no doubt that this is the weirdest way to keep score in golf. The Barracuda Championship is the only event on the PGA Tour that uses the Stableford scoring format, and it’s a Modified Stableford scoring system.
Rule 33: The Committee
The committee in charge of the competition or, if the matter does not arise in a competition, the committee in charge of the course.
Rule 34: Disputes and Decisions
Rule 34-2. Referee’s Decision. If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final.
Rule 34-3. Committee’s Decision. In the absence of a referee, any dispute or doubtful point on the Rules must be referred to the Committee, whose decision is final.