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 and any golf played with this 'rule' in placed must not be assessed for handicap purposes.

If the area that the ball was known or virtually certain to be lost in is a defined Abnormal Course Condition, the player may proceed under Rule 16.1a, otherwise, unless there was another reason the ball is missing, such as moved by an outside agency, the ball is lost and stroke and distance applies (or alternative to stroke and distance Local Rule E-5, if in play).

Myth 2. Clean and Place in the General Area

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 in the General Area (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 Course Conditions.

By definition, a drain or ditch is a penalty area.  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 Course Conditions or Obstructions, offering the player free relief, unless they are an open watercourse that does not usually contain water in which case the Committee may define that area as part of the General Area - and define the area as Abnormal Course Condition through the relevant period it is affected by temporary water.

Myth 4. 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.

Myth 5. 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 6. You may not take your clubs into a Bunker.

A player will be penalised under Rule 12.2b (Restrictions on Touching Sand in Bunker) for grounding his club in the area right in front of or right behind the ball prior to making a stroke at a ball, however there is no penalty if the player places his or her clubs or equipment in a bunker, provided he or she does nothing to test the condition of the bunker (Rule 12.2b(2) – When Touching Sand Does Not Result in Penalty).

Myth 7. On the green, you must mark behind the ball before lifting it.

Rule 14-1a (Lifting and Marking), requires the spot is marked by placing a ball-marker or a club on the ground right behind or right next to the ball.  A ball may be marked in any position around the ball so long as it is marked right next to it; this includes placing a ball-marker in front of or to the side of the ball. Marking behind the ball is recommended best practice.

Myth 8. 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 or her ball to be marked, the theory being that another player on the green may putt without fear of being penalised if his or her 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 11.1).

Myth 9. You can declare your ball to be lost.

The ball is lost if it is not found or identified as his or hers by the player within three minutes after the player's side or their caddies have begun to search for it. Before the three 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. If the player asks others to not search for their ball, there is no obligation on the others to comply.

The definition of Lost clearly lists the actions that will deem the original ball to be lost.

Myth 10. You always get free relief from an animal hole (or other abnormal course conditions).

Rule 16.1a (Abnormal Course Conditions) provides relief from conditions such as animal holes, ground under repair and temporary 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 course condition.

Simply put, if the condition (e.g. animal hole) was not there, would the ball be playable? If the answer is no, then relief is denied and the player should proceed under Rule 19 (Unplayable Ball) with a penalty of one stroke.

It is important to note that this exception also applies when seeking relief from an immovable obstruction (Rule 16.1a).

Myth 11. If someone else marks my ball, then that person has to replace it.

Under Rule 14.1b (Lifting and Marking – who must replace ball), a ball to be lifted under the rules may be lifted by the player, their partner, their caddie on the putting green, or another person authorised by the player.

Under Rule 14.2b (Placing and Replacing ball – who must replace) a ball to be replaced may be replaced by the player, their 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 12. If you’re off the green you can’t have the flagstick held.

Still a common belief among players, but not true. Rule 13.2 (The Flagstick) states “the player may leave the flagstick in the hole or have it removed (which includes having someone attend the flagstick and remove it after the ball is played), but must decide before making a stroke. There is no penalty if a ball in motion hits the attended flagstick accidentally.  This rule applies to a ball played from anywhere on the course, whether on or off the putting green.

Myth 13. 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.  Part of the Definition of ‘In Play’ states “If a ball has been lifted and replaced, it is in play even if the ball-marker has not been removed”. 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 replaced on its original spot.

If the ball that should have been replaced on its original spot is played from its new position, 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 or she would also have to replace the ball on the original position and play out the hole from there in addition to the two-stroke penalty.  (Loss of hole in match play as soon as ball was played from the wrong place) See Rule 14-7. 

Myth 14. You cannot smooth the sand if your ball is still in the bunker.

When your ball is in a bunker, you may rake the bunker at any time (care for the course) – as long as you do not improve the conditions affecting your next stroke (R12.2b).  Refer to the Definition of “Conditions Affecting the Stroke”.  If you take any of the actions that improve the conditions – improve lie, area of intended stance, area of intended swing or line of play, then you will incur a 2-stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play (R8.1a).

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.

If you have played from a bunker to then find your ball is in a position that requires you to return to the bunker to play your next stroke, there is no penalty for having raked the bunker even though you will be dropping a ball in the same area.

Myth 15.  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. Players are both allowed and encouraged to play “ready golf”. Rule 6.4 - Purpose of Rule.

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. This must be done promptly and before either player makes another 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.

In the Exception to Rule 6.4a(2), to save time, the player may invite the opponent to play out of turn or may agree to the opponent’s request to play out of turn; if the opponent then makes the stroke out of turn, the player has given up the right to cancel the stroke.

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 16.  I Don’t Have to Play A Provisional Ball - I can play my next stroke from where my ball went out of bounds.

If your club has adopted the Local Rule – Alternative to Stroke and Distance For A Lost Ball or Ball Out of Bounds, then you will be able to play as per the Local Rule or play by the normal Rules (play a provisional ball).  Confusion abounds over this rule with many players believing it will apply at all courses. This is not the case; each Committee will make their own decision on whether to adopt the rule and how they will apply it.

Be aware if you play at different courses to check the local notice board – as each course or competition may or may not have the rule applied.  See Model Local Rule E-5.