If you have a question on the Rules, or would like clarification on a disputed point, please use the Contact Us page to send your query.
Any words below in italics have a definition in the front of the Rule book. These definitions are fundamental to the understanding of the Rules of Golf and should be understood in order to increase knowledge of the Rules. Questions received may be edited by the website administrator if it helps to make the situation in question clearer from a Rules perspective.
Q. After searching for a ball for a minute, I headed back to the tee. I played another ball from the tee but the others in my group then found my original ball. I picked up my second ball and played on with the first one. Is that OK?
A. Providing you played your second ball before the 3-minute search time had expired and you had made it clear that you were playing a provisional ball, then you were correct in playing your first ball.
If your original ball was not found within the 3-minute search time, then that ball is deemed lost even if it is subsequently found. Your provisional ball becomes the ball in play under stroke and distance. If you played on with the original ball then you have played a wrong ball (R6.3). If you did that and did not correct your mistake before teeing off at the next hole, you are disqualified from the event in stroke play (or score 0 points for that hole if playing Stableford). In match play, you would have lost the hole as soon as you played a wrong ball.
Q. If I play a provisional ball and then find my original ball deep in the trees, can I choose to play my provisional ball.
A. No. A provisional ball is played in case the original ball is lost or out of bounds. If the original ball is found, you may as well pick up the provisional ball as it will never be played. If your original ball is not playable, you have to decide on what action to take within the rules. That may well include going back to play under stroke and distance. Yes, it is certainly not a time-saver, but under the rules, you cannot just choose to play the provisional ball if you do not like the original ball's lie.
Q. One of our ladies hit her bag with her club as she followed through playing a shot. Is she penalised?
A. No penalty. Rule 11.1.
Q. If the ball is lying off the putting green, can a ball pitch-mark on the putting green be repaired, even if it's on the line of play.
A. Yes, a player may repair ball pitch-marks, old hole plugs, spike marks and scrapes and indentations on the putting green at any time. R13.1. The ball does not have to lie on the putting green.
Q. Two singles matches are playing in the same group. AvB and CvD. C 's ball is on the putting green and it is A's turn to play from just off the putting green. He plays and as the ball is in motion, Player C, thinking A's ball may strike his ball, quickly marks and lifts his ball. Player B was annoyed by this and wanted to claim the hole from Player A because Player C was from the same Golf Club and Player A. Is that a valid claim?
A. No. A player may lift their ball at rest on the putting green when another ball is in motion that was played from on or off the green. Rule 11.3 Exception applies.
Q. My opponent's ball landed just next to the OB line marked with stakes. Just beyond this line was an immovable cable supporting an electric pole. The cable was beyond the OB line and outside the course (It did not mark the OB line). His back swing was interfered by the cable. What is the ruling?
A. As the cable was beyond the out of bounds line, no free relief is available; the player must play the ball as it lies or declare the ball unplayable under Rule 19 for a penalty of 1 stroke.
Q. We are running a Pennants day which is match play format. Can we also have a separate individual competition at the same time where each player plays against the card, so the pennants players can also be part of that competition?
A. Combining match play and stroke play is discouraged as certain Rules are substantially different between the two formats. But there will be times when players either request to combine the two forms of play or, having done so on their own, request a ruling. The Committee should make its best efforts to support players at these times. The Committee Procedures section of the R&A website references certain rules that players playing a match need to forego if they are also in a stroke play competition.
Q. If I hole a shot from off the putting green, do I have to remove the flagstick before I take the ball out of the hole?
A. No. R13.2 – If the ball is completely in the hole or is resting against the flagstick with any part of the ball below the surface of the putting green, the ball is treated as holed and can be picked up with or without removing the flagstick.
This applies regardless of whether the ball was played from on or off the green.
Q. Our course has many completely flooded bunkers in the current wet weather. Can we allow players to drop out of the bunker without penalty? May a Committee make a Local Rule allowing a player to drop out of any bunker filled with temporary water, without penalty, contrary to Rule 16.1c?
A. No. The Committee may not make a Local Rule that states any flooded bunker a player comes across may be treated as ground under repair.
However, in conditions of extreme wetness, where specific bunkers are completely flooded prior to the competition commencing and there is no reasonable likelihood of the bunkers drying up during the competition, the Committee may, in such exceptional circumstances, introduce a Local Rule providing that specific bunkers, which are known to be flooded prior to the competition commencing, are deemed to be ground under repair and classified as in the general area. Therefore, relief may be taken outside these bunkers without penalty in accordance with Rule 16.1b. In a competition played over more than one round, such a Local Rule may be introduced or rescinded between rounds.
So, unless a bunker has been declared as GUR by Local Rule, there is no option to drop outside the bunker without penalty. To avoid a penalty, a player may drop the ball in a part of the bunker, no nearer the hole, that affords maximum relief (could be from 2 inches of water to 1 inch of water if no dry sand available). Otherwise, the player may drop outside the bunker in accordance with Rule 16.1c under penalty of one stroke.
If a club has known issues over a given period each year that affects play, the club should contact its district body to seek a temporary cessation of handicapping submissions. That way, a club can play its own competitions with unauthorised Local Rules.
Q. In a recent match play game, a ball that was thought to be on the fairway was marked and lifted (15cm placing on own fairway was the local rule). However, upon further inspection it was found the ball was in fact sitting in the 2nd cut. Would it have been permissible to have declared the ball unplayable, as it had not been replaced or played yet, for a 1 stroke penalty?
A. Having not declared it unplayable before lifting the ball, it would not be acceptable to act under Rule 19 at that point. However, having not played the ball, all is not lost. The fact that it has been lifted when not permitted by a Rule, the ball can be replaced under penalty of one stroke in both match play and stroke play. Please see Rule 9.4b.
Had the ball been played from a new position, then yes, loss of hole (or two strokes in Stroke Play) would have applied for a breach of Rule 9.4.
Q. May a bottle top be used as a tee?
A. Not sure as to why one would want to do this, but it is against the Rules.
Rule 6.2b(2) reads:
The player must not make a stroke at a ball on a non-conforming tee or a ball teed in a way not allowed by this rule.
Rule 4.3a describes the allowed and prohibited uses of equipment; in this case the equipment would be used in an abnormal way; meaning it is used fundamentally differently than its intended use and is not normally recognised as part of playing the game.
Equipment is defined as ‘anything used, worn or carried by the player‘. So a bottle top is “Equipment” for the purposes of the Rule.
Q. If a player's ball is on the Putting Green, may relief be taken from a plugged hole (that is sitting proud of the Putting Green surface)?
A. If it is a wooden or artificial plug, it is an Obstruction and relief may be taken under Rule 16.1a. If it just raised or low turf, the plug may be repaired under Rule 13.1c. If it cannot be repaired, the player may discontinue play and request the Committee to repair the plug. The Committee has the right to declare the plug as Ground Under Repair if it cannot be repaired without delaying play. If this is the case, the player would then be entitled to relief under Rule 16.1d
Q. Earlier this year a Local Rule was invoked at our club for an area of flaxes on the course. The Local Rule is worded as follows:
These formed gardens are Ground Under Repair and are an Abnormal Course Condition:
Flax gardens on Hole 4 and 5 - Drop Zones
If you hit your ball into the Flax on Hole 4 or 5 you MUST take a free drop in the nearest drop zone.
Note: It is not necessary to find the ball as long as it is known or virtually certain that the ball is in the flax. You would drop into the nearest drop zone from point of entry.
I have been asked for a ruling on the following:
A player's ball was not in the Flax garden, but in order to play the next stroke the player's stance was in the Flax garden. Can the player take normal relief under Rule 16.1a, or must the drop zone be used if relief is taken?
A. The Formed Gardens are declared as Ground Under Repair, but the Flax area on Hole 4 and 5 has a specific Local Rule that starts with "If you hit your ball into the Flax...", which technically means it does not apply to a ball sitting outside the flax. Then again, perhaps the ball went into the flax and out again, which means it does apply. The main issue is in the wording of the Local Rule. It is very important to avoid ambiguity, and for that reason Committees should refer to the specimen local rules provided in the Committees Procedures www.RandA.org/committeeprocedures when setting Local Rules.
Without knowing the exact intention of the Local Rule it is hard to advise fully, but if the intention was to stop players from making a stroke that will potentially damage an area deemed to require preservation, example wording would be:
"The area of flax gardens on Hole 4 and 5 is a no play zone. If a player's ball lies in this area, or if it interferes with the player's stance or the area of intended swing, the player must drop the ball in the nearest dropping zone without penalty."
Generally, dropping zones should be provided as optional relief and the player should be able to proceed as appropriate under the Rules, but the Committee has that discretion.
It should not be necessary to reiterate the procedure for a ball lost in ground under repair as part of the Local Rule. Rule 1.3b outlines player responsibility to know the Rules and to recognise when they breach them.
Your Referee's Association is able to provide advice on Local Rule wording prior to it being published at a Club.
Q. In a recent round of our Women's Club Championship Plate, two players completed a match 'off the stick' instead of applying the handicap allowance that Player B should have received. Player A won the match, but once it came to light that Player B should have received 10 strokes, Player A felt bad about the result and she conceded the match to Player B.
Is the concession permitted?
A. Player A cannot concede a match that has already completed (See Rule 3.2b(1).)
No handicaps were declared at the start of the match, so Player B in effect declared a handicap lower than the 10 shots she was entitled to - which is permitted (see Rule 3.2c (1)).
Player A won the match and should progress to the next round.
Q. A player was seen to knock down some leaves during a practice swing for a stroke to be played under a tree. Nothing was said to the player at the time, and the card was signed and handed in. Another player mentioned the situation to the Committee and the matter was investigated. Even by examining the scene, it was not possible to determine the number of leaves that had been knocked down. Is the Committee permitted to impose a 2-stroke penalty on the player even though the results have been posted on the Notice board?
If a player has an issue with the actions of another player, it should be raised with them at the time.
Just seeing some leaves falling does not mean a breach of the Rules has occurred – Rule 8.1. Was the other player in a position to clearly see the practice swing? Was the practice swing taken slightly to one side of the area of intended swing? The Definitions describe ‘Improve’ – “to alter one or more of the conditions affecting the stroke or other physical conditions affecting play so that a player gains a potential advantage for a stroke”. In some cases, knocking down a few leaves may not give the player any advantage. In other cases, knocking down one leaf may improve the area of intended swing.
Rule 20.1c(2) states “if a player knows or believes that another player has breached or might have breached the Rules and that other player does not recognise or is ignoring this, the player should tell the other player, the player’s marker, a referee or the Committee. This should be done promptly after the player becomes aware of the issue and no later than before the other player returns his or her scorecard”. Rule 20.2e(2) covers actions after a competition has closed; normally a player would be disqualified if they posted a score lower than actual – except where they were not aware they had incurred a penalty (see Rule 3.3b(3). The result posted for the competition therefore stands.
Q. A player repaired a pitch mark (off the putting green) about 12 inches (30cm) behind his ball. How far away from where a ball lies does a pitch mark have to be to not become a part of the intended swing path?
A. There are no firm guidelines on the distance. There is potential of mental interference even if the club does not touch the pitchmark on the backswing, so players are advised to not repair any pitchmarks (off the putting green) until they have played their next stroke. There are occasions when the player will be given the benefit of the doubt, but without being there to assess the situation, it is almost impossible to make a ruling.
Q. Is it permissible for a player to mark and lift a ball on the putting green more than once during the play of a hole?
A. Rule 14.1 covers the act of marking and lifting. As long as the process is followed correctly each time, there is nothing in the Rules limiting the number of times this can be done. However, an excessive number of times could result in a breach of Rule 5.6. for undue delay of play.
Q. If a ball is seen to enter a bunker but disappears under the sand after impact, what are the player's options? Is anyone allowed to move sand to locate the ball?
A. A player is permitted to identify a ball in a bunker even if it means probing for the ball with a club or otherwise. See Rule 7.1.
If the ball cannot be found in a bunker it is a lost ball and the player must proceed under stroke and distance.
If the ball is moved by anyone during the search, there is no penalty (see Rule 7.4) and the ball must be replaced.
Once found and before the stroke is made, the ball should be re-covered with sand with just a small part of the ball showing so the player can see its position.
Q. On the putting green, a player replaces his ball but leaves the marker in position. A gust of wind then moves the ball. Can the player replace the ball in front of the marker, or does it have to be played from the new position?
A. The ball is in play when it is replaced and at rest regardless of whether the ball marker is still behind the ball. (See Definitions of ‘In Play’ – if a ball has been lifted and replaced, it is in play even if the ball-marker has not been removed). If the ball subsequently moves due to natural forces such as wind or slope of the putting green, the ball should be replaced on its original spot (see exception to Rule 9.3). If it is not replaced and the player plays it from its new position, they have played from a wrong place R14.7.
Had the ball not been lifted and replaced and was moved by natural forces, it would be played from its new spot.
Q. Our Club has a Local Rule defining bare ground to be an Abnormal Course Condition from which relief is granted under Rule R16.1a. My ball was on a pile of loose impediments within an area of bare ground. Should I get relief as there was bare ground under the loose impediments?
A. Normally, if the ball or the player's stance is in or touching an Abnormal Course Condition, relief would be granted (even if the ball is off the ground). However, the issue here is with the Local Rule. It's another case of a club wanting to appease members by making the game a little easier with an unauthorised Local Rule (see Hit & Myths section for other examples).
Bare ground is part of the game - it is not an Abnormal Course Condition. Clubs have strict parameters around the Local Rules that can be introduced and anything outside of those parameters must be authorised by the Ruling body (i.e. R&A or USGA). Those Ruling bodies will never accept a Local Rule granting relief from all bare ground.
Sometimes there are specific areas of bare ground caused by machinery, and even some around areas of newly laid turf - but such areas should be defined with white paint so Rule 16.1 can be applied.
Should a club choose to introduce such a Local Rule, a decision on a dispute such as yours can never be made outside of the Club as it would be rejected by any Rules of Golf Committee of the R&A. The club must decide the outcome of the dispute internally as only they know the true intention of the Local Rule (in your case is it for a ball directly on bare ground, or a ball in an area of bare ground).
The Referee's Association is available to help clubs with wording and advice on Local Rules that will ensure the game is played within the same rules by everyone.
Q. After playing 15 holes in a club competition, Player A is asked by the other players in his group to drop back and play with the group behind. The other players felt his inferior skill level was affecting the concentration of Player B who had the opportunity to break the course record. Player A obliged. Was there a breach of the Rules and if so by whom?
A. If groups have been arranged by the committee, Rule 5.4b requires the competitors to remain in those groups for the stipulated round unless the Committee authorises a change.
Subsequently, Player A and all other players in the group that condoned this change are disqualified. It is the responsibility of all players to know the Rules, so ignorance of 5.4b is not an excuse to avoid the penalty.
The reasoning behind this group change is so against the spirit of the game, it should have been denied even if they had made contact with a Committee member to seek a change.
If the Group behind were not part of the discussion on the change of groups, and they picked up Player A as they reached the next teeing ground, the Committee should ratify the change to that following group, which means all players in that following group (other than Player A) would not be disqualified.
Q. If the Conditions of Competition state that players may not use transportation, can a player's caddie use a cart to carry the clubs as long as the player does not ride in the cart?
A. No, a caddie will need his/her own medical exemption certificate. This will allow him/her to ride with the clubs but the player cannot ride unless he/she too has an exemption.
If a player has the medical exemption and employs a caddie without an exemption, the caddie must carry the clubs and the transportation can only be used to carry the player.
Q. I witnessed several players at a tournament grounding their putter on the line of putt whilst assessing their putt. Is this permitted?
A. Yes, Rule 10.2b(2) allows a player to touch the putting green with their hand, foot or anything he or she is holding but must not improve the condition affecting the stroke in breach of R8.1a. This is a new rule in 2019.
Q. In match play, if an opponent does not mark his ball, is it permissible for a player to purposely aim for that ball, if he felt it to be advantageous in some way.
A. There must have been interesting matches back in the day with the Stymie rule in play. Even though stymies are long gone, the fact that there is still no penalty for striking an opponent's ball on the green is based on retaining elements of the old form of the game.
If Player A in a match chooses to not mark his ball, there is nothing stopping Player B from taking dead aim at that ball. If the ball is moved, Player A would replace his ball and Player B would play from the position his ball comes to rest. If Player B holes a stroke that deflects off his opponent's ball, that is his good fortune.
Player B has no right to ask Player A to leave his ball in play, but does have the right to ask it to be lifted.
Q. What is the procedure if a ball is stuck up a tree?
A. Assuming the base of the tree is not within Ground Under Repair, or that the ball is not within the margins of a Penalty Area, the ball needs to be found and identified otherwise it is lost, and stroke and distance will apply under Rule 18.
The player may climb the tree or even use binoculars if readily available to spot the identification mark on the ball. If the ball is identified and not playable, the player should declare it unplayable and proceed under Rule 19. The reference point for option 19.2c (two club-length option) is the point on the ground directly under where the ball lies in the tree. The player may substitute the ball when proceeding under Rule 19, so there is no need to retrieve the ball as long as it has been identified.
It is important that the ball is declared unplayable before it is dislodged by any direct action (such as shaking the tree or throwing a club at it). If it is not declared unplayable first and the ball moves due to a direct action, the player incurs a penalty of one shot for moving a ball in play and at rest. Normally the ball would have to be replaced, but under these circumstances the player may proceed with the unplayable ball rule with the additional penalty stroke under Rule 19.
If it is known or virtually certain that the ball is lost in a tree and the calculated position of the ball is also within the margins of a Penalty Area, the player must proceed under Rule 17.
If the ball is found and identified in a tree of which the trunk lies entirely or partially within the margins of Ground Under Repair, the player may proceed without penalty under Rule 16.1b. The reference point is the point on the ground directly under where the ball lies in the tree. The ball may be substituted.
If the ball is not found or identified, but is known or virtually certain to be in a tree of which the trunk lies entirely or partially within the margins of Ground Under Repair, the player may proceed under Rule 16.1e.
Q. My ball went into the penalty area, whilst certain it went in, I played a provisional in the event it was lost. We found the ball in the penalty area marked by yellow stakes. I continued to play the provisional ball believing it to be the now playable ball of which I would have chosen to return to the last spot to play the ball from the penalty area anyway. This saved time. Was this the correct ruling or was I supposed to return and play another ball deeming the provisional ball to be void?
A. It comes down to the definition of a Provisional Ball.
"Another ball played in case the ball last played by the player may be out of bounds or lost outside a penalty area.
From your statement it appears you were virtually certain the ball went into the Penalty Area. So, using the definition above, you are not entitled to play a provisional ball, you can only act under the Penalty Area rule (17). When you dropped another ball (or teed up another ball), even though you may well have said "provisional ball", it was not the case. Your action with the other ball is deemed to be you acting under the Penalty Area rule by playing a stroke from where the previous stroke was made (Rule 17.1d(1)). So yes, you have done the right thing by continuing with that ball, even though your assumption was that you were continuing with your Provisional Ball. The trouble would have started if you had dropped the original ball out of the Penalty Area.
Let me change the scenario slightly. If you believed that the ball you hit towards the penalty area may or may not have reached the penalty area, and that there is a possibility of the ball being lost outside of the penalty area, you can play a Provisional Ball. Then, if you find your original ball in the penalty area, the provisional ball is no longer an option. Consider it picked up. You now have the normal choices under the penalty area rule. If you wish to go back to the place where the last stroke you made - go for it, but forget the Provisional Ball. If you continue with the Provisional Ball in this case, you have played a wrong ball and incur a two-stroke penalty. You then have to correct the error by proceeding under the Penalty Area Rule with respect to the original ball.