Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where's the Water?

             If I haven’t mentioned it before, I will tell you that a thorough understanding of the Definitions is the key to learning and understanding the Rules of Golf.  This week, as the Tour makes its home at the TPC of Scottsdale for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is the perfect time to highlight an extremely important and common definition that can be misunderstood: Water Hazard.
            There is no question that the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale is a desert course and yet there are water hazards and lateral water hazards throughout the golf course.  Most of the water hazards are pretty clear.  Looking at the 11th, the 12th, the 15th, 17th and 18th holes, large lakes and water are clearly present.  It’s when we look at situations like the 3rd hole that we have to look to the Rules to figure out what’s going on.

The definition reads: A “water hazard” is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course.   (A “lateral water hazard” is a water hazard or part of a water hazard situated in such a manner that it is impracticable to proceed under 26-1b – dropping on a line extending from the flagstick through the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard).

The key part of the definition is in the parentheses, “whether or not containing water.”  Despite the fact that the ditch or dry stream bed (whichever it may be) that crosses the third hole rarely, if ever, contains water, it is an open water course and meets the definition of water hazard.  This goes for any drainage ditch or open water course in desert areas.  If it is a feature that naturally holds water when water is present, it is likely to be a water hazard by definition.  The fact that water is not present is irrelevant. 
(For NCGA Rules Officials that read this a great example is the 1st and 18th holes at Poppy Hills Golf Course.  The ravine that runs between those holes occasionally rumbles with the flow of recent rains, particularly this time of year and it is clearly an open water course.  However, there are many months where the ravine has no water, either running or standing.  The ravine does not lose its status as a water hazard, it is still an open water course and therefore a water hazard).
It is important to differentiate between a dry desert area that meets the definition of water hazard and the so-called “Desert Rule” which declares all desert area to be treated as a lateral water hazard.  The “Desert Rule” is not permissible under the Rules and the Committee does not have the authority to mark or declare an area as a water hazard that does not meet the definition.

So the next question becomes what happens if the Committee neglects to mark a water hazard thinking that a dry streambed doesn’t qualify?  For that, we have Decision 26/3.   The Decision states, “It is the responsibility of the Committee to define accurately the margins of water hazards and lateral water hazards – see Rule 33-2a.  However, if the Committee has not done so, the ditch is, by definition, a lateral water hazard and the player should be permitted to proceed under Rule 26-1c(i).” 
So this is a great reason to know and understand the Definitions.  If you come upon an unmarked water hazard, you know that you can take relief.  If you are unaware of the Definition, you won’t know you’ve come upon an unmarked water hazard and may end up missing out on valuable relief options.

Just remember if in doubt, you should still contact the Committee or play two balls under Rule 3-3 to avoid unnecessary penalties.  

A New Kind of Deer on Tour

            You won’t find this Rules violation in the Rules of Golf or Decisions book, but this week is laced with controversy over Vijay Singh’s admitted use of Deer Antler Spray.  Let’s cover a few things: 1)What the heck is deer antler spray and why is it an issue; 2) What is the controversy surrounding Vijay;  and 3) general commentary on doping and the banned substance policy on Tour.

Deer Antler Spray: I don’t have antlers, I’m not a deer, what’s the big deal?
            Deer-antler spray, despite its title, is a health supplement spray originating from the company S.W.A.T.S, or Sports with Alternatives to Steroids.  It actually goes by the name “The Ultimate Spay.”  With a company name that dubious, I wonder why players were drawn to it in the first place.  The spray contains a chemical IGF-1 which is on the PGA Tour’s list of banned substances but is not tested for.  The chemical is a known growth factor that helps facilitate recovery and bone cell growth.  It is universally banned in all sports.

Why is Vijay a deer?
            In a Sports Illustrated article highlighting the S.W.A.T.S company and its products, Vijay admitted to using the spray multiple times a day and all over his body.  He was anticipating a body change as a result of using the spray and admits he’s been trying holograph chips and all kinds of methods to help his aging body.  He has come out saying that he used the spray but did not realize it was or contained a banned substance.  Ok.  Actually, he said he was “shocked” to learn the spray contained a banned substance.  Let me get this straight, he was “shocked” that a spray from a company called Sports with Alternatives to Steroids, contained a banned substance.  Ok.  This week he withdrew from the Waste Management Phoenix Open citing a “sore back.”  Presumably, he’s stopped using the spray.

PGA Tour and Anti-Doping
            The controversy surrounding doping in sports has been going on for a long, long time.  It was only in 2006 that it became a hot topic for the PGA Tour, and it wasn’t until 2008 that a set policy and actual testing began.  Steroid use was never considered much of a factor for golf professionals because sheer strength and body building alone really didn’t help the professional golfer.  Muscle mass or the lack of mental control that results from steroid use would actually be a detriment to a pro’s golf game.  With recent advances in this area, human growth hormones in particular, specific kinds of steroids and supplements that fall under the banned substance category really could be beneficial to golfers, especially for healing.  Golfers could overcome pulled muscles, surgeries, bad backs and other aches much more quickly with human growth hormones or similar type substances.  These could really fall under the category of PED (Performance Enhancing Drug).  But there is also no sure-fire test for those, just as these is no test for the IGF-1 chemical in the deer-antler spray.

            It was 2011 that the PGA Tour put players on notice that the deer-antler spray marketed by S.W.A.T.S known as “The Ultimate Spray” contained a banned substance and should be avoided.  The Tour realized the problem when Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green were endorsing the product.  Yet, the SI article with Vijay’s admitted usage came out a couple days ago.  I’m sorry Vijay, but in this case, ignorance should not be bliss.  I don’t know what the Tour’s penalty for violation of the banned substance policy is, but you’re guilty.  Be angry with yourself all you want, the Tour put players on notice about this two years ago.  Good luck on the Champions Tour.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Penalize Them Already!

            I was hoping that Torrey Pines would bring about some obscure ruling that would allow an in-depth look into a hidden Decision, but instead we’re going to discuss how it could possibly take nearly four hours to complete 11 holes.  Tiger went on record questioning the Tour’s pace of play enforcement wondering whether the group of Eric Compton, Brad Fritsch and Steve Marino were ever warned or timed about their pace of play, so once again it becomes a topic of discussion.
            I’m on record in favor of stroke penalties being enforced on Tour.  I don’t have the official language of the PGA Tour’s pace of play policy, but I know stroke penalties are not enforced.  I also know it’s a rare occurrence that ANY penalty is actually enforced on Tour.  Despite the growing problem both on Tour and with the game in general, it simply isn’t a priority.  I’ll say it once so that it can be stated again:  If you start dealing out stroke penalties for pace of play, the pace will improve.  Period.
            As a player and a Rules Official I’ve both been through and enforced about as many different policies as you can imagine, so I’d like to highlight some of the different options that are available to associations and tournament directors throughout the country.

The Rule
            Rule 6-7 discusses Pace of Play and Undue Delay.  It states that the Committee may make guidelines in order to enforce Pace of Play.  It also states that the penalty for undue delay is the General Penalty (two stokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play) but that the Committee can modify the penalty to one stroke for the first offense and two strokes for the second offense in stroke play, or loss of hole for the first two offenses in match play.  There is some debate in the Rules world about how this permits Committees to enforce a Pace of Play policy that includes a warning for the first offense (you will see examples below), but that debate is for another time. 

            The policy of timing groups that are out of position is what we see on Tour and for most professional events – both men and women.  With timing, the Committee sets a standard pace of play.  A group is then considered out of position based on being both behind that set pace and more than a set standard behind the group in front of them on the course.  For example, a group is out of position if they arrive at the teeing ground of a par 4 hole and the preceding group has cleared the putting green. 
            Once a group has been identified as out of position, then an official – typically a rover – is responsible for timing each individual player.  Player’s are given a set amount of time to complete a stroke.  The standard is around 40 seconds.  If a player receives a bad time they are given a warning.  If they have a second bad time they receive a one stroke penalty, a third bad time results in two strokes and a fourth bad time results in disqualification.  My understanding is that this is the policy in place for the PGA Tour, and I know it is the policy for the USGA Opens.  Remember Jim Furyk’s group being put on the clock at Olympic Club.  Furyk responded to the news he was on the clock by snap-hooking his drive on the par-5 16th hole.  Perhaps he should have kept up in the first place.

Colored Cards
            This policy has been perfected and made famous by the American Junior Golf Association.  Players are given a set amount of time to reach given points on the course.  When I was a junior golfer, there were three checkpoints.  The number has recently been increased to an unprecedented 6 checkpoints.  At each checkpoint there is a timing official who will raise a colored card, green, yellow or red.  If you have a green card, you are on pace and in position.  If you have a yellow card you are either out of position or behind time.  If you have a red card you are both behind time and out of position.  If you receive a red card, you are responsible for reaching the next checkpoint with at least a yellow card or you are liable to penalty.  The numerous checkpoints involved in this system allow for plenty of chances for players to regain ground and know where they stand.  The downside is the necessity to “throw someone under the bus” if you are stuck in a group with a particularly slow player.  In order to escape penalty it must be agreed that one person is responsible for slowing the group down.
            The AJGA has improved upon this policy with a green, red and double red card version.  It incorporates aspects of all the policies mentioned, including timing, colored cards and remaining in position using flagstick-in-hole times.  You can view their policy in its entirety here:

            There are different ways to do pure checkpoint pace of play.  The Northern California Golf Association runs the most events under the checkpoint system, and has improved upon the system originally adapted from the Royal Canadian Golf Association.  The NCGA uses two checkpoints at the 9th and 18th holes.  Missing one checkpoint results in a one-stroke penalty and missing both would result in 3 total penalty strokes (one stroke for the first checkpoint and an additional two strokes for the second missed checkpoint).
 In order to miss a checkpoint you must be over time-par AND more than 14 minutes behind the group in front of you (any time beyond 14 minutes and 59 seconds).  There is an appeal process immediately following the round if certain unforeseeable and permissible circumstances delayed your group.  Specifically, if your group was delayed by the Committee itself, by forces outside your group’s control (i.e. maintenance or acts of nature) or an individual in your group, you could appeal the penalty.  Poor golf in and of itself is not a reason to repeal a penalty and it is important to determine the overall time-par accordingly.
The USGA took the checkpoint policy and now uses it in their amateur championships.  However, they use four checkpoints.  The extra checkpoints add earlier points of information and a warning for the first missed checkpoint instead of an immediate penalty.  In practice in collegiate events I have run, using four checkpoints improves the overall pace of play for the day, and less stroke penalties are given.  On the down side it requires more officials to properly implement the policy.

The Analysis
Some of the problems with professional pace of play lie in the Rule and policies themselves.  The timing policy is one of the most difficult and most subjective to enforce.  When does the timing begin?  Even with the clearest of guidelines, there is still subjectivity to when you start the stopwatch.  It becomes very easy for a lesser-known player to argue bias when they see leaders or more famous players let off the hook when out of position.
Another issue is the lack of definite flexibility in the Rule itself.  It technically only allows the Committee certain penalties, even though the USGA’s own policy is in violation of those limitations.  We saw this issue at the Sybase Match Play.  Rule 6-7 only permits the Committee to use loss of hole penalties for pace of play violations in match play.  Unfortunately for Morgan Pressel, that results in an overly harsh, almost Draconian penalty for a violation she was only being timed for because of her opponent’s initial slow play.  Had the LPGA been free to use an adjustment to the state of the match penalty (see Rule 4 for examples), the breach would have been far less severe (she would have gone from 3-up to 2-up instead of 3-up to 1-up) and less controversial.
It’s time Rule 6-7 was modified.  Part A should cover undue delay, which is different from pace of play.  It should have the general penalty for any violation.  Part B should discuss pace of play, which should permit the Committee any penalty structure it sees fit (which is exactly what’s already going on).
In the end, the key to successful Pace of Play policies is enforcement.  A policy that is rarely enforced is rarely followed.  Start issuing a stroke penalty to the final group on Sunday when they fall a hole behind and they’ll play faster.  Most importantly, get that first slow group to play more quickly and the whole round will do so.  Tiger had a point.  The pace of play on Tour is abysmal.  There was no reason that they should not have been able to complete around 30 holes on Sunday and they weren’t even close.  It was even worse that today’s coverage had snails and turtles lapping it.  I watched an hour of coverage at lunch.  I managed to see Tiger hole a putt on the 10th hole through his tee shot on the 12th.  One hour and less than 3 holes.  That’s just brutal.
What's your solution to Pace of Play?  Comment Below.
(You can also see the complete text of the aforementioned pace of play policies on the "Pace of Play" page of this blog).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bifurcation? Is that the new Furby?

                I promised in an earlier post that I would not say another word about the new proposed anchoring Rule until there was actually news to report.  So I won’t.  I will, however, discuss the issue of bifurcation.  For those of you who don’t follow golf news on an hourly basis like myself, bifurcation the term being used for having two separate Rules of Golf.  The PGA of America President Ted Bishop is vehemently arguing in favor of two sets of Rules, one for amateurs and one for professionals, in order to avoid alienating new and aging golfers with the new anchoring ban.  This article will go over the pluses and minuses of bifurcation, hopefully with as little bias as possible.  However, since I do have an opinion on the subject, I will tell you that straightforward before reading the analysis.

                I am against bifurcation as it is being described.  The Rules of Golf should be one and the same for everybody.  That is part of what makes this game more special than other professional sports.  With that said, I want it noted that we already have a form of semi-bifurcation in place with the groove specifications Condition.  Currently, professionals are limited to the groove specifications put forth by the Condition of Competition effective January 1, 2010.  Amateurs, including amateurs in USGA championships, are not bound by this unless they attempt to qualify for or play in those professional events.  It is currently a recommendation that regional golf associations adopt the Condition of Competition no later than 2014.  The USGA will adopt it for their amateur competitions no later than 2014.  It will not be until at least 2024, however, that the new groove specifications will officially be part of the Rules of Golf.  For 14 years, we have different Rules for professionals and amateurs except when amateur tournaments adopt the Condition of Competition.  I’m surprised this hasn’t been brought up before.

                And I make my judgment based on that.  I have colleagues who disagree with this, but I propose introducing a Condition of Competition for the anchoring ban.  If the USGA and R&A so badly want the Rule in effect, let them do it for their own championships first.  At least that way, the new Rule won’t alienate new players who are just trying to find a way to play the game comfortably.

                Another option would be to introduce an Exception to the new 14-1b – a medical exception.  We see this kind of medical exception for Rule 14-3, why not in this case?  Tim Clark and most seniors would be exempt under the Exception and the ruling bodies would still get their way as far as how a stroke should be made by those who are physically able to do so.  I’m not as much in favor of this option, but it’s better than nothing.

                In the end, I am a PGA Professional with my allegiance to the game of Golf.  For 22 of my 28 years, this game has been a part of my life.  For 20 of those years I have been a competitor.  For 12 of those years I have been an employee and for 6 of those years I have been a professional.  I do not agree with my organization’s President and the brinksmanship he is using against the new Rule, even if I do agree with some of his points.  What’s best for this game is for everyone to work together to solve the real underlying issues:  the game takes too long, it is too expensive, it has not been considered welcoming to new golfers and there is a definite racial and gender gap that needs to be breached.  The turmoil surrounding bifurcation may bring attention to the game, but it is not bringing us together.  It is my profession; it is the majority of my life, my hobby and my passion.  It is also, just a game and games should be fun.

Bifurcation – The Good Side

·         Like College vs. Pro football, allows for a gradual increase in difficulty, with pros bound by the strictest Rules.

·         New golfers would not be turned away by the harsh nature of the Rules and their difficulty.  The focus could be on making the game easier and more fun to play.

·         Complete bifurcation would allow the Tours to remove Rules professionals have complained about that do not give players any advantage when breached. 

·         Potentially, bifurcated Rules could be simplified to seem more welcoming for amateur golfers


Bifurcation – The Down Side

·         A game that has been governed by the same set of Rules for nearly 260 years would be split in two.

·         Potentially, different professional championships could be played by different sets of Rules (i.e. US Open and Open Championship would obviously be governed by the USGA/R&A Rules of Golf, with the PGA Championship and PGA Tour using “Tour Rules").

·         In efforts to appease some professionals, professional Rules could actually become simpler than amateur Rules, further alienating new golfers from an already complicated game.

·         The USGA and R & A, organizations that believe it or not, have the game’s best interests at heart, would have some of their influence diluted.  That influence is part of what allows them to implement youth and educational programs throughout the country.

Like any divisive issue, there are far more points that could be made by either side.  Tim Finchem’s comments this week and PGA President Ted Bishop’s fiery remarks make bifurcation seem far more likely than it may actually be.  Only time will tell. 

Now it’s time for you to decide.  Comment below with your opinion on bifurcation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fog Horn!

                Weather once again is helping to break my Rules writer’s block as we are in the midst of a weather delay at the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.  More specifically, fog has descended upon the historic municipal venue, to the point where player’s can not see more than 30 yards according to PGA Tour VP of Rules and Competitions Mark Russell.

                The day started by delaying play for about 3 hours, as fog did not allow players to begin their 3rd round.  The Tour eventually decided to take a chance and get play started.  Six players in all made a stroke before play was again suspended.  Only the grouping of John Mallinger, Robert Garrigus and Hunter Mahan managed to complete a hole, and only because they elected to do so after play was again suspended.

                This situation is a perfect time to review Rule 6-8 which covers discontinuing, suspending and resuming play.  The Rule is broken into four subsections: a) When [suspending play is] permitted; b) Procedure when play is suspended by Committee; c) Lifting ball when play discontinued; and d) Procedure when play resumed.  For this article we’ll discuss what to do when the Committee suspends play as they have for the fog.

                6-8b tell us when play is suspended by the Committee, how you may proceed depends on where you are in the course of a hole.  If play is suspended while your entire group is between the play of two holes, you must not resume play or continue until the Committee orders the resumption of play.  If any player in your grouping has begun the play of a hole, provided you do so without delay, the entire group may then proceed to complete the hole.  This is exactly what Malliner, Garrigus and Mahan did.  Because play was not being suspended for a dangerous situation, they to complete the hole and resume play on the 11th tee (their second hole of the round) when the Committee orders play to be resumed.  Chez Reavie, Boo Weekly and Mike Weir, who had also begun their round and were in the middle of a hole, used their option to discontinue play immediately.

                Since the Committee suspended play, Reavie, Weekly and Weir were permitted to lift their balls without penalty (but not required to).  They were required to mark the position of the ball, and typically players would do so more extensively than they would on the putting green (i.e using multiple tees surrounding the position of the ball as opposed to a small coin).  Finding the place where the ball was at rest is important for resuming play.

                When the PGA Tour decides to resume play, whether that happens today or tomorrow, Mallinger, Garrigus and Mahan will resume play simply by putting a ball into play from the 11th teeing ground.  Reavie, Weekly and Weir, however, will follow the procedure laid out in 6-8d.

                That procedure will vary depending on whether they lifted the ball, or if they did, if they are able to find where the ball was marked.  If the ball was lifted, the player must place the original or a substituted ball on the original spot.  If the ball wasn’t lifted and it’s still in the same place, the player may lift, clean and replace the ball or substitute a ball.  If the ball or the ball-marker is moved while play is discontinued, a ball or ball-marker must be placed on the spot from which the original ball or ball-marker was removed.  If, however, the spot where the ball is to be placed is impossible to determine, that spot must be estimated and the ball placed on the estimated spot.   Because play is being resumed, the provisions of Rule 20-3c do not apply, meaning the player will not drop the ball on the estimated spot but will place the ball.

                There are lots of variables when discussing discontinuing play.  For example, had this week’s event been suspended for a dangerous situation, Mahan’s group would not have been permitted to complete the play of the hole.  In fact, a player would be disqualified if he made a stroke after play was discontinued for a dangerous situation.  As it is, the group will start at the 11th hole without penalty…eventually.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Here We Go Again... 18-2b

So apparently, Justin Rose could use a quick read from my earlier post, "Stop-and Go, Blow-Wind-Blow" because he clearly didn't get the memo...

On the 17th hole during the first round of the Qatar Masters, Rose addressed his ball on the putting green, and when he did so he believed he had caused the ball to oscillate.  After discussing with the Rules Official he did not have sufficient evidence that he did not cause the ball to move and was assessed a one-stroke penalty.  To be specific, he then had to replace the ball, however small the movement was.

"I feel hard done by," said Rose via Sky Sports, to cut to the chase the greens aren't perfect and have a lot of ridges and humps and hollows."  He claimed that poor timing was the culprit as the ball finished settling into one of those hollows just as he set his putter behind the ball.  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Let's take a look back to remind ourselves about the new Exeption to Rule 18-2b and the Rule itself so we can stop having controversy every time the ball moves a little:

b. Ball Moving After Address

If a player's ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), 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.

Exception:  If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply.

A lot of Tour players are upset when they believe gravity is the cause of movement, such as an uneven hollow for a ball to settle in.  What they don't know, unless they read the Decisions book, is that the ruling bodies have decided against gravity as an agency for this exception.  Decision 18-2b/11 states, "Gravity is not in itself an element that should be considered when applying the Exception to Rule 18-2b; therefore unless it is known or virtually certain that some agency other than gravity (e.g., outside agency or wind) caused the ball to move after address, the player is subject to a one stroke penalty under Rule 18-2b and must replace the ball."

As I stated in my previous article, the Exception to Rule 18-2b was written specifically with wind in mind.  You still need to be careful when addressing the ball in any situation.

Justin Rose did have one quote that at least took this Rules blogger off his case, "...but I guess that's the good thing about golf - you have to self-police out there.  Nobody else in the group saw it, but I knew the ball had moved when I addressed it."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sandy Tiger

                Well it’s been a slow start to the season, at least from a Rules perspective, but I can now thank Mr. Woods for bringing to light a very important rule.  Unfortunately his breach cost him a chance at playing the weekend in Abu Dhabi, but I’m sure he’ll find something else to do…

                During the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship on the 5th hole, Tiger’s drive landed in an area of sand and vines.  Tiger looked at his ball and believed it was embedded.  He called his fellow-competitor Martin Kaymer to confirm that the ball was indeed embedded.  Tiger proceeded to take relief and played the ball.

                Unfortunately, you are not entitled to relief for a ball that is embedded in sand.  The European Tour and most major golf associations use the Local Rule in Appendix I that allows relief for a ball that is embedded through the green.  The term through the green does include sand by definition, “Through the green is the whole area of the course except the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played and all hazards on the course.”  However, the Local Rule providing for relief through the green has an exception: “A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.” 

Sadly for Tiger, a bed of vines is not a closely mown area and therefore he was not entitled to take relief in his situation.  Because the Local Rule did not apply Tiger's lifting of the ball and failure to replace it was a breach of Rule 18-2a for which the penalty is two strokes.  European Tour Chief Referee Andy McFee informed Tiger of this on the 11th tee after confirming the breach on the television recording.  Although it seems clear from his quotes that Tiger did not like the ruling, McFee says he did not question it.  It is easy to understand the confusion, but it is also important to know the Rules.

What is difficult here is to put aside a common myth that golfers are entitled to relief for an embedded ball anywhere except in hazards.  Rule 25-2 only provides relief for an embedded ball in “any closely mown area through the green.”  Basically, only in the fairway or collar of the green.  It takes the Local Rule in Appendix I to allow relief for an embedded ball in rough, or anywhere “through the green.”  The confusion for Tiger is the Exception in the Local Rule, which prohibits relief in sand. And then he missed the cut by one stroke.  Ouch.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Stop-And-Go, Blow Wind Blow!

                Rickie Fowler will go down in history as the player to begin the 2013 PGA Tour Season – 3 times.  That record may never be broken (unless of course the Tour neglects to move the date of the Hyundai TOC), and thanks to Slugger White I have  wonderful Rules issues to discuss on Week 1 of 2013.

Cancelling a Round

                The PGA Tour was forced to start and cancel two rounds that had started and some were questioning the fairness of that action.  Decision 33-2d/1 gives us guidelines on whether or not a round should be cancelled.  The first sentence of the answer says it all, “There is no hard-and-fast rule.”  Really, there is no way to make a hard-and-fast rule though because the conditions that could warrant cancelling a round can vary so much from course to course.  At Kapalua, the wind is the major factor.  Here on the Monterey Peninsula, fog could be the factor.  In Abu Dhabi, sand storms could be the factor.

                The guideline that the Decision gives is “a round should be canceled only in a case where it would be grossly unfair not to cancel it.  The example given is exactly what occurred at Kapalua, where some players begin play in extremely adverse conditions and others do not have to play in those conditions.  For those who had to play 5-9 holes in terrible wind, they would be at a 5-9 hole disadvantage to those who never had to tee the ball up.  By the book, Slugger White and his crew got this one right – twice. 

Ball Falling Off Tee

                Yesterday’s non-existent round began (or did it?) ominously for Matt Kuchar as the wind blew his ball off of the tee on his first hole.  He called in a Rules Official.  Fortunately, there is a specific Rule that covers this situation, Rule 11-3 (Ball Falling Off Tee).  When a ball is not in play, a ball that falls off a tee or is knocked off the tee when not making a stroke, it may be re-teed, without penalty.  So for all of you who tease your buddies when the nervously tap the ball off the tee at the start of a hole, there’s no penalty and it isn’t, “One!”

                If the ball falls off the tee while you’re making a stroke at it and you whiff, well, then you don’t have a penalty but you have made a stroke.  That could have caused some issues at Kapalua over the last few days.  I, for one, would cherish the opportunity to see professionals whiff like the rest of us.  It only takes 50 MPH gusts to even the field…

                Just to change the facts a little… if you manage to whiff a teed ball and it stays put, and then you accidentally knock it off the tee, you would then be liable to a one-stroke penalty under 18-2a or 18-2b (depending on whether you had addressed the ball) and the ball must be replaced (See Decision 11-3/1).

Ball Moving on the Putting Green

                Now we can finally get this right.  The Kapalua wind is exactly what the new Exception to 18-2b was written for in 2012.  If you address a ball (it need not be on the putting green, it could be anywhere) and the wind causes it to move, you are not penalized and you must play the ball from where it comes to rest.  Gusts of 50 MPH are enough to say with certainty that the wind did in fact, cause the ball to move.  You still need to be careful, however, because if the wind blows the ball back into your putter, you would still be responsible for a one-stroke penalty under Rule 19-2 (Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped by Player, partner, Caddie or Equipment).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Local Rules for the New Year

                Happy New Year and welcome back to all of you who have recently returned from vacation or just missed the articles over the holiday season.  It is now 2013, the PGA Tour is off and running again in Hawaii and for me, it’s Rules School season.   Many of you are still unable to play due to the cold and snow, but some are creeping back to the links enjoying the “Winter Rules” many courses use during the off-season.  So for the first article of the New Year, let’s look at a couple of Local Rules and the myths surrounding them.


“Winter Rules,” “Preferred Lies” or “Lift, Clean and Place”

                During the winter season I get to hear the words, “Oh, just bump the ball a little, we’re using winter rules.”  As a Rules Official my stomach churns when I hear this so I want to dispel some common fallacies when applying “Winter Rules” so you can proceed correctly next time around:

1.            “Bumping” the ball is never permitted.  When “winter rules” are in effect you still need to mark the golf ball prior to lifting it.

2.            Just because it is winter, does not mean “winter rules” are in effect.

3.            “Winter Rules” requires that you name a specific area in which lifting and cleaning the ball is permitted, and the distance from the original spot the ball must be placed within.  Typically the ball may be lifted in closely mown areas through the green and must be placed within 6 inches of the original spot.

4.            “Winter rules” are not only for winter.  Specifically, “Preferred Lies” can be used in situations where extreme heat has created adverse conditions throughout the golf course.

5.            If you’re looking for a solution for one day after heavy rain because mud is collecting on the ball, use “Lift, Clean and Replace.”  This local Rule can be found in Appendix I under Cleaning Ball.


Desert Rule

                I grew up in Arizona where golf course surroundings were not particularly friendly to stray golf balls, and I frequently saw the “Desert Rule” on the back of scorecards.  Here’s what you should know about the “Desert Rule”:

1.            It is not permissible for a golf course to make a Local Rule treating rough or areas adjacent to fairways as lateral water hazards (See Decision 33-8/35).  If the area is to be marked as a lateral water hazard, it must meet the definition of a water hazard.

2.            It is, however, permissible to mark a desert area as a lateral water hazard if it would carry water after heavy rains (like monsoons).  Even if it is dry most of the year, it could still meet the definition of water hazard.

3.            There is no specific Rule that gets you out of the desert onto the nearest grass area with or without penalty.  Under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) you would only get back to grass if a) the grass is within two club-lengths of where your ball lies, b) while keeping the point where your ball lies between you and the hole you can reach grass behind you on that line or c) you operate under stroke and distance and the previous spot you played from was on grass.  All of those options come with a one stroke penalty.


Drop Zones

                Dropping Zones are not something any player wants to need, but they can be extremely helpful in tricky situations.  A drop zone should be used as an additional option under the Rule in question when the Rule may not provide adequate relief options (penalized or not).  Unfortunately, the ability to put drop zones in has frequently been abused or just done incorrectly altogether.  Here are some important notes about dropping zones:

1.            Drop zones do not have to be circular.  You may use forward teeing grounds, squares or any odd shape you feel like painting if necessary. 

2.            A ball may roll out of the drop zone or nearer the hole when dropped.  It must not roll more than two club-lengths from where it originally touches the ground.

3.            A drop zone may NOT be located on the green-side of a hazard.  You are not allowed to get out of negotiating the hazard (See Decision 33-9/2).

4.            A Water Hazard does not always have a drop zone.  Drop Zones are additional options, not part of the Rule. 


                The key to remember when creating or using Local Rules is that you cannot waive a Rule of Golf.  You cannot permit “gimmies” or mulligans, allow out of bounds to be played as a lateral water hazard or “bumping” of the ball.  Local Rules are exactly as named: local.  They are to help golfers with abnormal situations that occur at a specific facility so that they may play within the Rules.  If you have questions about Local Rules you can first check Appendix I of the Rules of Golf and also Decisions under Rule 33-8.  If you cannot find what you are looking for you may contact the USGA or regional golf association with specific questions.