Hit & Myths

The game of golf abounds with myths and misconceptions when it comes to the Rules. Either through years of club committees making up Rules without authority to do so, or people simply failing to keep up with the constant changes to the Rules, some of these misconceptions have become widespread and ingrained, passed from one generation of golfers to the next. This page looks at some of these misguided beliefs.

Myth 1. 'Suckered Ball' Rule.

There are a number of golf clubs that periodically operate a Local Rule (commonly known as the 'Suckered Ball' rule) allowing players by agreement with a fellow competitor or opponent, to drop another ball into play without penalty in the vicinity of where a ball is assumed to be lost in its own pitchmark. However, this is not an authorised Local Rule.

Clubs, Associations or National Governing Bodies do not have the authority to introduce such a Local Rule.  Only if it is known or virtually certain that the ball has been removed by an Outside Agency (Rule 18), or it is lost in an Obstruction (Rule 24), an Abnormal Ground Condition (Rule 25) or a Water Hazard (Rule 26), can a player avoid returning to the place from where the previous stroke was made, and the resulting penalty of stroke and distance.

Somehow over the years, this 'rule' has made its way onto club scorecards and local rules boards, but its use is completely flawed in that players make quick assumptions that the ball has been lost in this manner, when on occasions it is possible that the ball could just be lost in long grass.

With golf being a predominantly winter game in New Zealand, courses can have large areas of soft ground.  These areas should be clearly defined and declared as Ground Under Repair.  A player with a ball known or virtually certain to be lost in one of the these areas can then proceed under Rule 25-1c.

Myth 2. 'Through The Green' Clean and Place

The operation of Clean and Place is only intended for closely-mown areas. The recommended wording for this should be published in full when it is in operation to avoid any ambiguity.  If course conditions are such that it warrants Clean and Place being extended to Clean and Place Through the Green (more often than not, this is done without justification, just to make the game easier), it is not recommended that cards be assessed for handicapping.

Myth 3. Drains and ditches can be deemed as Abnormal Ground Conditions.

By definition, a drain or ditch is a water hazard.  It does not have to be marked but it is advised that the committee does so in order to define the margins clearly. The Committee does not have the power to declare drains and ditches to be Abnormal Ground Conditions or Obstructions, offering the player free relief, unless they are filled with stones/scoria or the like.

Myth 4. You can simultaneously play a match and enter the pro-shop Stableford scramble.

Some clubs allow players taking part in a match (such as a round of the Club Championship) to also enter the pro-shop scramble, which is normally a stroke play format such as Stableford.  This is not permitted, as very clearly stated in Rule 33-1.

There are many differences in the Rules between the two formats of play, so there is potential to have to do something requiring a different process for each format of play.  For example if Player A tees off outside the teeing ground; in a match, Player B can recall the stroke or ignore it and let Player A continue (no penalty incurred either way) - however in stroke play, Player A must play from inside the teeing ground under a penalty of two strokes.  Another example is if Player A strikes Player B's equipment; in a match, Player A can replay the stroke, but in stroke play it's just rub of the green.

Rule 33-1 states that any match played under such circumstances is null and void. Both players are also disqualified from the scramble (stroke play event).

Myth 5. You can pluck Paspalum stalks or other types of invasive grass near your ball in play.

No, it is not permissible. It's another unauthorised Local Rule of unknown origin that some clubs even have permanently fixed on their Local Rules board and/or scorecards. The R&A has provided a written decision that states allowing anything growing to be plucked would amend a Rule of Golf, therefore this cannot be authorised by Clubs, Associations or National Governing Bodies.

If a particular invasive grass is an issue, Clubs have the authority to introduce a Local Rule using the same provisions as the traditional 'Clean and Place' Local Rule. The recommended wording for this can be found in our Local Rules section.

Myth 6. A Committee can declare any part of the course to be a Water Hazard as long as it is clearly defined.

No it is not permissible. A Water Hazard by definition will more than likely at some point each year be a natural water course, but does not have to contain water at all times.  For example, Committees are not permitted to declare an area as a Lateral Water Hazard to speed up play just because it is a piece of ground that is very difficult to play from, or to find a ball in.

The Ruling Bodies are very clear about this in Decision 33-8/35.  However, help is on the way.  The proposed changes to the Rules for 1 January, 2019 will allow this. Please visit www.randa.org.nz for more details on the proposed Rules changes.

Myth 7. When dropping a ball, you have to drop it in the same 'class of country'.

A Local Rule with wording to this effect was spotted on a club scorecard sent to our Association.  This Local Rule is stating that if a ball lay in the rough but the player was entitled to a drop under a specific Rule, the player would have to drop the ball in the rough.

This would amend a Rule of Golf so is not an authorised Local Rule.  If the limits of the dropping area allow the ball to be dropped in a more favourable lie (such as the fairway when the ball originally lay in the rough), that is to the good fortune of the player and such relief cannot be denied.

Myth 8. You can not take your clubs into a hazard.

A player will be penalised under Rule 13-4 (Ball in Hazard, Prohibited Actions) for grounding his club prior to making a stroke at a ball, however there is no penalty if the player places his clubs in a hazard, provided he does nothing to test the condition of the hazard (Exception 1b to Rule 13-4).

Myth 9. You always get free relief from a “plugged” ball.

Rule 25-2 (Embedded Ball) provides relief without penalty if a ball becomes embedded in its own pitch-mark in any closely-mown area (the ball must be found to action this). This relief does not extend to a ball embedded elsewhere (such as the rough) unless a Local Rule is in force providing relief for an embedded ball 'through the green'.  There is a proposed change to this Rule for 1 January, 2019.  Please visit www.randa.org.nz for more details on the proposed Rules changes.

Myth 10. On the green, you must mark behind the ball before lifting it.

Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking), recommends that the ball be marked by placing a ball marker behind the ball, but there is no restriction under the rules if the marker is placed other than behind the ball. Just make sure you replace it exactly where it was lifted from. Marking behind the ball is recommended best practice.

Myth 11. You can declare a ball on the green to be “marked” to save time.

We have all seen instances when a player, in order to not hold up the members of his group, declares his ball to be marked, the theory being that another player on the green may putt without fear of being penalised if his ball strikes the “marked” ball. Nowhere in the Rules is this practice allowed. If a player's ball (when played from the putting green), strikes another ball in play on the putting green, a penalty of two strokes is incurred in stroke play by the person playing the putt (not the other person whose ball it hit), but there is no penalty in match play (see Rule 19-5).

Myth 12. You can declare your ball to be lost.

The ball is lost if it is not found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player's side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it. Before the five minutes is up, the ball can only be deemed lost if a player takes a specific action. Simply saying a ball is lost does not make it so. 

The definition of Lost Ball in the front of the Rule Book clearly lists the actions that will deem the original ball to be lost.

Myth 13. You always get free relief from a rabbit hole (or other abnormal ground condition).

Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions) provides relief from conditions such as rabbit scrapes, ground under repair and casual water. However there is an exception to this rule where relief is not available if it is unreasonable to make a stroke because of interference by something other than the abnormal ground condition.

Simply put, if the condition (e.g. rabbit scrape) were not there, would the ball be playable? If the answer is no, then relief is denied and the player should proceed under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) with a penalty of one stroke.

It is important to note that this exception also applies when seeking relief from an immovable obstruction (Rule 24-2).

Myth 14. If someone else marks my ball, then that person has to replace it.

Under Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking), a ball to be lifted under the rules may be lifted by the player, his partner, or another person authorised by the player.

Under Rule 20-3 (Placing and Replacing) a ball to be replaced may be replaced by the player, his partner, or the person who lifted it.

Regardless of who does the lifting and replacing, the player is responsible for any breach of the Rules that may occur.

Myth 15. If you’re off the green you can’t have the flagstick held.

Still a common belief among players, but not true. Rule 17-1 (Flagstick Attended, Removed or Held Up) states “before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up……”.

The only difference between a ball played from on the green, to one played from off the green is that there is no penalty in the latter instance if the ball strikes an unattended flagstick. Also, the same penalty applies to a ball that strikes an attended flagstick, regardless of where it has been played from (Rule 17-3 Ball Striking Flagstick or Attendant).

Myth 16. If the ball is marked on the putting green it is out of play.

A common misconception is that when a player replaces a ball in front of his marker on the green, the ball is still not in play.  This is not the case.  If the ball marker is not lifted after the ball is replaced and the ball is subsequently moved by the slope of the green or by the wind, the ball must be played from where it comes to rest in its new position.

If the ball is then replaced by the player back in front of the marker and played, the player has played from a wrong place and incurs a two stroke penalty.  If it is also deemed that the ball played from the wrong place gave the player a significant advantage, he would also have to replace the the ball in the new position and play out the hole from there in addition to the two-stroke penalty.  See Rule 20-7. 

Myth 17. You cannot smooth the sand if your ball is still in the bunker.

After making a stroke, if a player fails to extricate his ball from the bunker it is permissible to rake the sand that has just been disturbed as long as that sand does not affect the lie, stance or line of play of the next stroke.   It does not matter if after playing the next stroke the ball comes back into the area that has just been smoothed.

Exception 2 to Rule 13-4 allows the sand to be smoothed prior to the first stroke being made in the bunker, as long as it is solely for the intention of caring for the course and that the area being smoothed does not affect the lie, stance or line of play of the next stroke.

Myth 18.  A ball not on the putting green should be played before a ball lying on the putting green.

In stroke-play anything to assist speed of play is condoned, as long as it is not being done to give someone else an advantage.

In Match Play it's a different story. The player whose ball is furthest from the hole MUST play first. Player A's ball could be on the putting green some distance from the hole, whilst Player B's ball may be off the putting green or even in a bunker, but nearer the hole than the ball of Player A. In this case Player A MUST play first.   However, if a player does play out of turn, the opponent can choose to let the stroke count, or he can recall the stroke by telling the player to play the stroke again without penalty after he (Player A) has played his own stroke.  In most cases, players are playing in logical order to speed up play and rarely are strokes recalled, but be warned - that nice chip-in you just made from off the putting green may be cancelled by an opponent lying further from the hole.

Also, there is no right to finish out a short putt in Match Play. If your opponent does not concede your putt, the ball must be marked if your opponent's ball is further from the hole.

Myth 19.  You can go back and play a provisional ball

Not true. Players often leave people searching for their ball and go back to play another.  This is NOT a provisional ball.  A provisional is played before going forward to search for the original ball.

If a player clearly announces he is going back to put a provisional ball into play - albeit an incorrect statement - he can still play the original ball if the other people searching find it within the five minutes.  However, as soon as a stroke is made at that "provisional ball", it becomes the ball in play and the original ball is lost.

If the player does not make the incorrect statement that he is going back to play a provisional ball, he is acting correctly under Rule 27-1 and the new ball is in play as soon as it is played from the teeing ground, or as soon as it is dropped, if not on the teeing ground.