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.

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