Friday, May 5, 2017

Casual Water or Loose Impediments: At the Option of the Player

                Last week I had the honor of serving on the Pac-12 Championship Committee for the Men’s championship at Boulder Country Club in Colorado.  I must say it became one of the most unique experiences in officiating I have ever had, and I was also perfectly content to not be the official-in-charge.  Kudos to Jim Moriarty (along with Brad Gregory, Keith Hansen, Missy Jones and the CGA staff that worked Golf Admin hours to get in as many holes as possible) for handling an incredibly difficult set of circumstances, especially with all of us jeering him along…
                The unique circumstance, as many of you witnessed from Golfweek or other national news
outlets, was that we ended up playing in the snow. Eventually, the snow won over and forced Saturday to be a complete day off, but we had “chamber of commerce weather” on Sunday that melted the snow and allowed us to shotgun the players and complete 54 holes.  As we were preparing for that final round and the snow was thawing (see numerous pictures included here), a number of great questions came up from coaches and officials about how to handle the snow.
Using the Sprinklers to Help Thaw the Snow

I Strongly Recommend the Loose Impediments Option

I don't think the heavy stuff's coming down for quite a while, I'd keep playing...

                Fortunately, snow is specifically discussed in the Definitions of the Rules of Golf. Twice, in fact.  Under Casual Water, we see, “Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player.”  The same sentence appears again under Loose Impediments. 
                On the surface, that seems to make our rulings very simple, either take relief under Rule 25-1 or brush the snow away without moving the ball.  And in most cases, it really is that simple.  But as the snow started to thaw and became more patchy, where one patch started and another began became a little more obscured. So let’s look at some of the questions we thought might come up and how we decided to handle them:
Thanks to the great help from BCC Members and staff!

A player brushes away snow before making the decision to treat the snow as casual water:
Unfortunately, once the player treated the snow as loose impediments, the right to take relief for casual water from that same patch of snow went away.  If we permitted the player to treat the same patch of snow in two different manners, nothing would prevent a player from taking casual water relief, but brushing away a circle to drop in a desired spot.

A player takes relief from one snow patch and a separate snow patch interferes at the nearest point of relief:
We had to treat each snow patch as a different “puddle” of casual water. So if a player took relief from one snow patch, we found the nearest point of relief from that specific snow patch. If the player then had interference from a separate snow patch, he would be entitled to take relief from the new snow patch or play the ball as it lies.

A player decides to take casual water relief, then wishes to brush the snow away:
Once the player sees that the nearest point of relief would not be in a desirable spot, the preference became to simply brush the snow away.  So the answer in this scenario depends on whether the player has lifted the ball or not. If the player has not lifted the ball, nothing prevented the player from deciding to treat the snow as loose impediments and brushing it away. If, however, the player had lifted the ball, in order to avoid penalty he had to take complete relief.           

In the end, I can tell you that in the group I walked with on Sunday, we had absolutely zero rulings regarding the snow. But before the round, the possibilities were endless!