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.

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