Rules Review – Local Rules

What is the difference between a Rule and a Local Rule?

As you probably already know, the USGA has announced a new Local Rule concerning the accidental movement of a ball on the putting green that takes effect January 1, 2017. We will discuss that Rule in its entirety at a later date, but for now let’s discuss exactly what a Local Rule is.

Every time we step foot on a golf course to play a round, be it a casual Sunday afternoon round or the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, the Rules of Golf are in effect. The Rules of Golf are the standard set of regulations and procedures that every round of golf must be played by. Although the Rules are extensive, they do not always address EVERY situation a player might find herself in on every course in the world. For that reason, the USGA and the R&A created a standard set of Local Rules that can be put into effect by the Committee in charge when necessary.

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When you play in a CGA event, there is a standard set of Local Rules that we call our CGA Hard Card. This Hard Card includes Local Rules that are in effect at every CGA tournament, but are not covered in the Rules of Golf. At all CGA championships you will also receive a Notice to Competitors that is specific to that golf course and has specific Local Rules in effect for that day of competition. Additionally, most clubs across the country have a specific set of Local Rules that are in effect for their daily play.

So what is the difference between a Rule of Golf and a Local Rule? The difference is that the Rules of Golf are ALWAYS in effect and Local Rules must be PUT INTO effect. So, in order for a round of golf to be played under a Local Rule, the Rule must be put into effect by the Committee in charge. Like it sounds, a LOCAL Rule is LOCAL to that golf course and/or that competition.

Here are a few examples of commonly-used Local Rules:

  • EMBEDDED BALL: “Through the green”, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green. Exceptions: 1. 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. 2. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if interference by anything other than the condition covered by this Local Rule makes the stroke clearly impracticable.
  • DISTANCE MEASURING DEVICES: In this competition, a player may use a device to measure distance only. However, if, during a stipulated round, a player uses a function to measure other conditions that might affect his play (e.g., gradient, wind-speed, temperature, etc.); the player is in breach of Rule 14-3.
  • IMMOVABLE OBSTRUCTIONS CLOSE TO THE PUTTING GREEN (BALL IN CLOSELY-MOWN AREA): Relief from interference by an immovable obstruction may be taken under Rule 24-2.  In addition, if a ball lies off the putting green and in a closely mown area through the green and an immovable obstruction on or within two club-lengths of the putting green and within two club-lengths of the ball intervenes on the line of play between the ball and the hole, the player may take relief as follows: The ball must be lifted and dropped at the nearest point to where the ball lay that (a) is not nearer the hole, (b) avoids intervention and (c) is not in a hazard or on a putting green.  The ball may be cleaned when lifted.
  • STONES IN BUNKERS: Stones in bunkers are movable obstructions.

So why is this important? Because if distance measuring devices aren’t allowed by Local Rule, you are not allowed to use them and will be penalized (and possibly disqualified) if you do. Please remember that Local Rules must be put into effect in order for players to use them. If your club does not adopt the new Local Rule concerning the accidental movement of a ball on the putting green, that Rule does not apply to your round at your club.

Make sure to check back soon for another Rules Review!
Questions about Local Rules? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Parts of the Golf Course 4

Part Four of a Four-Part Series

Every golf course is divided into four major parts.  Understanding these four parts of the golf course is essential to understanding HOW to apply the Rules of Golf. In the next four weeks we are going to discuss the four parts of the golf course.

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Week Four: Through The Green

My very favorite part of the golf course – through the green! It is the most difficult and the most simple part of the golf course to describe. Through the green is the whole area of the course except a) the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played and b) all hazards on the course. Let’s pretend we’re playing Hole No. 5  – here are a few examples of through the green:

  • the putting green of Hole No. 7
  • any fairway on the golf course
  • the teeing ground of Hole No. 6
  • every single bit of rough on the golf course
  • trees, bushes, flower beds, pine straw beds, knee-high fescue grass
  • the fringe anywhere

Why is this important? When you are referencing your Rules book, you will notice that in relief situations, Rules will normally distinguish between the parts of the course and how to take relief in each part. You must know what through the green means in order to make sure you are in the correct spot to take relief under that portion of a Rule.

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One of the most common misconceptions in golf is that if your ball is in the rough and you decide to take relief from an immovable obstruction (like in the picture above), you must find your nearest point of relief and drop your ball in the rough because you must stay in “like condition”. THIS IS FALSE! Because the fairway and the rough are both through the green, you can drop that ball anywhere that is through the green and within a club length of your nearest point of relief. The player in the picture above is welcome to take his relief in the fairway! (Decision 24-2b/8)

Helpful hints about through the green:

  • When you are finding your nearest point of relief from an immovable obstruction  (Rule 24-2), abnormal ground conditions (Rule 25-1) such as ground under repair or casual water, or from a wrong putting green (Rule 25-3), it is important to know that you must find your NEAREST point of relief, and not necessarily your NICEST point of relief. So, if you are taking relief from a cart path (immovable obstruction) and there are bushes that line the cart path, what are those bushes? They are through the green. Therefore, your nearest point of relief could be right in the middle of those bushes. Those bushes have the same status as the fairway and the rough!
  • Almost all amateur competitions (and many professional competitions) use the local Rule in Appendix I that gives players relief for an embedded ball through the green and not just in the fairway.
  • It’s important to know about margins (where through the green begins and ends) so that you get your maximum available relief and take relief if the correct way. For example, if your ball was in a grass-covered face of a bunker (see below), your options for an unplayable ball would be much different than if your ball was actually IN the bunker. (Rule 28)

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Make sure to check back soon for for another Rules Review!
Questions about through the green? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Parts of the Golf Course 3

Part Three of a Four-Part Series

Every golf course is divided into four major parts.  Understanding these four parts of the golf course is essential to understanding HOW to apply the Rules of Golf. In the next four weeks we are going to discuss the four parts of the golf course.

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Week Three: Hazards

A hazard, as illustrated in the photo above, is one of two things: a bunker or a water hazard. A bunker is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like. 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.

When referencing a Rules book, you will notice that oftentimes a Rule will refer to a bunker or a water hazard separately – in this case, although they are both ‘hazards’, they are treated differently. It is also important to understand that if a Rule ONLY refers to a ‘hazard’ it is being inclusive of both a bunker AND a water hazard. For example, Rule 23 (Loose Impediments) states that Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in and touch the same hazard, loose impediments may be removed without penalty. In this case, ‘hazard’ covers both bunkers and water hazards.

We will go into more detail about both bunkers and water hazards separately in the coming weeks, but for now, we will discuss a few helpful hints that pertain to hazards in general, whether it’s a bunker OR a water hazard.

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Helpful hints about hazards:

  • You cannot touch the ground in a hazard or water in a water hazard with your hand or club (Rule 13-4b) – but make sure you fully understand the meaning of ‘grounding your club’. In order for a player to breach this Rule (thus grounding her club), the grass must be compressed to the point where it will support the weight of the club. (Decision 13-4/8) This means that you can touch any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing at address or in the backward movement for the stroke. (Note to Rule 13-4) Furthermore, you CAN touch grass with your club during your practice swing in a hazard as long as you are not grounding your club. (Decision 13-4/4)
  • Loose impediments CANNOT be moved in hazards, no matter what. If your ball and the loose impediment touch the same hazard, don’t move the loose impediment unless you want a two-stroke penalty. (Rule 23)
  • Movable obstructions can be moved ANYWHERE on the golf course, so you can move a movable obstruction in a hazard. Movable obstructions are movable man-made objects such as water bottles, cigarette butts, rakes, etc. (Rule 24-1)
  • A ball cannot be embedded in a hazard. Whether you’re in a water hazard or a bunker, your ball can never be considered embedded and you will never get relief for an embedded ball. (Rule 25-2)

Make sure to check back next week for Part Four of this series – Through the Green!
Questions about hazards? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Parts of the Golf Course 2

Part Two of a Four-Part Series

Every golf course is divided into four major parts.  Understanding these four parts of the golf course is essential to understanding HOW to apply the Rules of Golf. In the next four weeks we are going to discuss the four parts of the golf course.

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Week Two: The Putting Green

The putting green is all ground of the hole being played (similar to the teeing ground, it must be of the hole being played) that is specially prepared for putting or otherwise defined as such by the Committee. Every other putting green (including practice putting or chipping greens) are WRONG putting greens. (see Rule 25-3)

A ball is ON the putting green when ANY part of it touches the putting green. This is perhaps the most important part of the definition – if even ONE dimple of your golf ball is touching the putting green, your ball is ON the putting green. Why is that important? Because now you can mark your ball, lift it and clean it before making a stroke!

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A few Rules to remember about the putting green:

  • You may repair a ball mark on the putting green at ANY time, whether or not your ball lies on the putting green. You may also repair an old hole plug at any time. (Rule 16-1c)
  • You MAY NOT repair spike marks or any other damage to the putting green if it might assist you in the subsequent play of the hole. (Rule 16-1c)
  • You MUST NOT touch your line of put, except in these seven instances (Rule 16-1a):
    1. you may move loose impediments
    2. you may place the club in front of the ball when addressing it
    3. in measuring (i.e. when you are moving your ball marker out of someone’s line of putt)
    4. in lifting or replacing the ball
    5. in pressing down a ball marker
    6. in repairing old hole plugs or ball marks on the putting green
    7. in removing movable obstructions (such as a cigarette butt)
  • You, your partner or a person you authorize (such as a caddy) may mark and lift your golf ball on the putting green. (Rule 20-1)
  • Similarly, you, your partner or the person who lifted the ball may replace your golf ball on the putting green. (Rule 20-3a)

Helpful hints about the putting green:

  • Whether you’re playing match play or stroke play, the ball farthest from the hole should always be played first. It does not matter if one ball is on the green and the other is not. (Rule 10-1b, Rule 10-2b)
  • If a player’s ball is in motion and it may strike the removed flagstick, you CAN move the flagstick so that the player’s ball does not strike it and therefore incur a penalty. (Rule 24-1)
  • Once you have finished putting and all players in your group are done with the hole, it is fine to tap down spike marks for the players coming behind you. (Decision 1-2/0.7)

Make sure to check back next week for Part Three of this series – Hazards!
Questions about the putting green? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Parts of the Golf Course

Part One of a Four-Part Series

Every golf course is divided into four major parts.  Understanding these four parts of the golf course is essential to understanding HOW to apply the Rules of Golf. In the next four weeks we are going to discuss the four parts of the golf course.rules-of-golf-notes_html_3debb6f2

Week One: The Teeing Ground

The teeing ground is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers.  ONLY the two club-length area is considered the teeing ground, even though that area does not take up all the area on a tee box.

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A few Rules to remember about the teeing ground:

  • If you accidentally knock your ball off the tee and you had no intention of making a stroke, there is no penalty. You may replace the ball and play away. (Rule 11-3)
  • You may stand outside the teeing ground to make a stroke at a ball that is inside the teeing ground. (Rule 11-1)
  • Don’t touch the tee markers – if you move a tee marker before you make your first stroke from the teeing ground, you will be penalized under Rule 13-2 for improving your lie, area of intended swing or line of play. (Rule 11-2)
  • Make sure you’re playing from the correct tee markers – In stroke play, if a player plays from outside the teeing ground (which also includes playing from the WRONG teeing ground), she incurs a two-stroke penalty and must then play a ball from inside the teeing ground. If she fails to do so before making a stroke from the next teeing ground, she is disqualified. Make sure you know which set of tee markers you are supposed to play from BEFORE starting your round. (Rule 11-4b)

Helpful hints about the teeing ground:

  • If you are proceeding under the stroke and distance option of a Rule (i.e. you hit your ball out of bounds and must return to the tee, you are taking relief from a water hazard, you have declared your ball unplayable), and your original stroke was made from the teeing ground, you can tee your ball for your next stroke.
  • Every tee box on the course other than the teeing ground of the hole being played is THROUGH THE GREEN (therefore, if a relief option is available that will allow you to drop on a different tee box, you do NOT get to re-tee the ball).

Make sure to check back next week for Part Two of this series – the Putting Green!
Questions about the teeing ground? Email Maggie.

Rules Review

Declaring Virtual Certainty: How certain are you?

A player hits her tee shot toward a lateral water hazard (red line) that runs down the left side of the hole. She (and her playing partners) see the ball heading toward the water, but nobody is quite sure where it ends up. When she reaches the spot where she believes her ball could be, she can’t find it and there is a lot of thick grass and shrubbery around the area. How should she proceed?  Should she assume her ball is in the water hazard and take relief?

Before a player can proceed under Rule 26-1 (Relief For Ball in a Water Hazard), she must FIRST have knowledge or virtual certainty that the ball is in the water hazard.  Just because a player hits her ball TOWARD a water hazard doesn’t necessarily mean that the ball ended up IN the water hazard. In the absence of knowledge or virtual certainty, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1c (Ball Not Found Within Five Minutes), which is a stroke and distance penalty (same as hitting your ball out of bounds). So how can you be virtually certain if you don’t physically FIND your ball in the hazard?  Let’s look at a couple photos:

In the picture on the left, if you hit your ball to the left or right (or behind the green) and can’t find it, chances are it is IN the water. That’s mostly because there’s really nowhere else it could be.  The grass around the bank is short, there aren’t many trees or shrubs, and there’s nowhere that the ball could really be lost other than IN the water. However, in the picture on the right, there is tall grass around the edge of the water, trees on either side of the hazard and LOTS of places a ball could be lost other than in the water. I would argue that if you hit your ball toward the hazard on the right and you didn’t physically see it go in or see or hear a splash, there’s a really good chance that ball is NOT in the hazard. Therefore, you would not have virtual certainty.

Decision 26-1/1 clearly defines knowledge or virtual certainty and in order to truly understand this concept, it is a must-read. The decisions states: in determining whether “virtual certainty” exists, some of the relevant factors in the area of the water hazard to be considered include topography, turf conditions, grass heights, visibility, weather conditions and the proximity of trees, bushes and abnormal ground conditions.

The bottom line with virtual certainty is this: You need to be virtually certain that the ball cannot be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN in the water hazard in order to take relief under this Rule. If there is an argument that the ball could be lost ANYWHERE ELSE, you don’t have virtual certainty and you cannot proceed with your water hazard relief options under Rule 26-1.

Make sure to check back next week for another Rules Review!
Questions about virtual certainty? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Four-Ball Match Play

Rules to Remember

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Since it’s Ryder Cup weekend, let’s discuss a very popular form of play in women’s golf and a huge part of the Ryder Cup format: Four-Ball Match Play.  As always, we’ll start with the definition: A four-ball match is a match in which two players play their better ball against the better ball of two other players. Often times this format is referred to as “better ball” or “best ball.”  Most ladies’ interclub leagues have a four-ball match play format, so you have likely played this format before. Below are a few Rules to remember when playing your next four-ball match.

Putting Out After Concession of Stroke – If your next stroke has been conceded, you are entitled to putt out if you would like. HOWEVER, in four-ball match play, if putting out would assist your partner in any way (help them read the line, for example), you are not entitled to putt out. If you do, your partner is disqualified for the hole. (Decision 2-4/6)

Representation of Side – Is your partner running late? No problem, play away. A side may be represented by one partner for all or any part of the match. Furthermore, an absent partner may join a match between holes, but not during the play of a hole. (Rule 30-3a)

Order of Play – Balls belonging to the same side may be played in the order the side considers best. This means that if your partner has a shorter putt for par and you have a longer putt for birdie on the same line, your partner can putt out first to give you a look at the line (but be careful – if your opponents decide to concede the shorter putt, your partner can’t putt out). (Rule 30-3b)

Advice – Players can give and receive advice from their partner or from either of their caddies. (Rule 8-1)

Player Plays Partner’s Ball – In four-ball match play, if a player plays the wrong ball he is disqualified for the hole. If that wrong ball happens to be his partner’s ball, his partner incurs no penalty and he must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was played and play from there. (Rule 30-3c)

Breach of Rule Assists Partner – If a player’s breach of a Rule assists his partner’s play or adversely affects an opponent’s play, the partner incurs the applicable penalty in addition to any penalty incurred by the player. For example, let’s pretend that A and B are partners and they both lie in the same bunker. A picks up and moves several pine cones (loose impediments) in the bunker that are between both of their balls and the green. As you know from a previous Rules Review, this is a breach of Rule 23. Player A is disqualified for the hole because she moved loose impediments in a bunker. AND, because Player A’s action ASSISTS Player B (the pine cones were between BOTH of their balls), Player B is now also disqualified for the hole. With both players disqualified for the hole, the side will automatically lose the hole. (Rule 30-3f, Decision 30-3f/1)

Make sure to check back next week for another Rules Review!
Questions about four-ball match play? Email Maggie.

Rules Review – Embedded Ball

How do I know if it’s embedded and how can I get relief?

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If you have ever played a course that is unusually wet, chances are you’ve had one or two embedded balls.  There are a few key points to understand about embedded balls and just like most rules in the Rules of Golf, the most important point to understand is the definition.

Rule 25-2 states that “a ball is “embedded” when it is in its own pitch-mark and part of the ball is below the level of the ground. A ball does not necessarily have to touch the soil to be embedded (e.g., grass, loose impediments and the like may intervene between the ball and the soil).” There is also a very handy decision (Decision 25-2/0.5) that expands on the definition of an embedded ball.  The decision goes on to state that a ball is deemed to be embedded in the ground ONLY IF 1. the impact of the ball landing has created a pitch-mark in the ground 2. the ball is in its own pitch-mark AND 3. part of the ball is below the level of the ground.

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Now that we know the definition and we can determine that the ball is, in fact, embedded, we need to know how to take relief from that embedded ball. Relief is simple: the player may lift, clean and drop the ball, without penalty, as near as possible to the spot where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.

Your first question: do I have to mark it when I lift it?
Answer: No, but you can.  There is no harm in marking the position of the ball if you would like.

Your next question: can I clean it?
Answer: YES! And you should – it’s probably dirty!

Your last question: How close do I have to drop it to the pitch mark?
Answer: Your best bet is to try and drop that ball directly back into its pitch-mark. (If you’re able to get it back in the pitch-mark, send me a video)

Make sure to check back next week for another Rules Review!
Questions about embedded golf balls? Email Maggie.

**Note: This post does not address the difference between Rule 25-2 and the local Rule found in Appendix I that allows relief through the green for an embedded ball. Because most amateur events (and all CGA events) utilize the local Rule, this distinction was left out of this post for the purpose of clarity.

Handicapping Help: What is ESC and why is it important?

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ESC stands for Equitable Stroke Control. All scores for handicap purposes, including tournament scores, are subject to the application of Equitable Stroke Control (ESC). This mandatory procedure reduces high hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC is used when a player’s actual or most likely score exceeds the maximum number of strokes a player can post for a hole. Players should use the table below which shows their ESC stroke limit based on their course handicap from the tees played for an 18-hole round. IMPORTANT: maximum number of strokes are based on COURSE handicap, not Handicap Index. That means that your ESC may be higher or lower at different courses or when playing different tees based on your individual course handicap.

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Need to figure out your course handicap? Use this super-easy course handicap calculator.

Rules Review: Loose Impediments

What are they and what can I do with them?

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Every single time you step on the golf course, you encounter loose impediments. Pine needles, twigs, stones, worms and leaves are all loose impediments and can get in your way on the course. So what can you do about them? First, let’s look at the definition of loose impediments so we can understand exactly what they are.

Loose impediments are natural objects, including: 1. stones, leaves, twigs, branches and the like, 2. dung, and 3. worms, insects and the like, and the casts and heaps made by them, provided they are not: 1. fixed or growing, 2. solidly embedded, or 3. adhering to the ball.

Now that we know what a loose impediment IS, what do we do with them when they’re in the way? Rule 23 in the Rules of Golf tells us that except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty. That means that a leaf in the fairway, rough, on the putting green, on the teeing ground, ANYWHERE other than in a hazard with your ball, can be moved at any time for any reason (except when a ball is in motion and the removal of the loose impediment might influence the movement of the ball). However, if your ball lies in the same hazard (which includes both water hazards and bunkers) as the loose impediment, you CANNOT move it.

Alright, we know what they are and we know when we can (and cannot) move them. The last vital thing to remember about loose impediments is that when moving the loose impediment, you must make sure that your ball DOES NOT move. Rule 23 will tell us that if the ball lies anywhere other than on the putting green and the removal of the loose impediment by the player causes the ball to move, the player will incur a 1-stroke penalty and the ball MUST be replaced. So only move the loose impediment if you’re sure that you’re not going to move the ball.  Something like this:

Make sure to check back next week for another Rules Review!
Questions about loose impediments? Email Maggie.