Friday, February 29, 2008

Rules #1-2008 Rules Changes

Every four years the USGA® and the R&A (Royal and Ancient) put their heads together to iron out some of the kinks in the golf rules. 2008 is one of those special years. There are several significant changes of which Joe and Jane Golfer should be aware, and others that involve minor tweaks to the rules. If you are interested in reading all of the principal changes, visit this link:

I will describe below in detail the changes that I feel are most important for you to know.

Rule 12-2, Identifying Ball

OLD RULE: Prior to 2008, you were not permitted to lift your ball for identification in a hazard (bunker or water hazard). You simply hit the ball you found and thought was yours; if it turned out that it wasn’t yours, you resumed your search, hit the next ball you found, and were not penalized for hitting a wrong ball.
NEW RULE: If your ball is in a hazard, and you are not able to identify it, you are now required to lift it for identification. If you hit a wrong ball out of a hazard, you will incur a two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play).
PROCEDURE: If you need to lift a ball for identification in a hazard (or anywhere else, for that matter), you must follow the correct procedure:
1. Tell someone in your group what you are doing, and ask that he watch you lift, identify, and replace your ball. Someone MUST observe you identifying your ball.
2. Mark the position of the ball.
3. Carefully lift it.
4. You are NOT permitted to clean this ball. However, if there is so much goop on it that you cannot read your identifying mark (I trust you heeded my prior warnings to put a personal identifying mark on your golf balls), you are permitted to clean off the least amount necessary to recognize the ball as yours.
5. If it is your ball, you will then replace it exactly as you found it. For example, if your ball was embedded in the sand, it will have to be re-embedded. If your ball was leaning against a loose impediment (a leaf, a twig, a half-eaten apple, a pine cone, etc.), it will have to be replaced in that same predicament.
Note: If you do not follow any part of this procedure (announcing, marking, lifting, replacing), you will incur a one-stroke penalty. If you do not properly replace your ball, the penalty is two strokes (loss of hole in match play).
RATIONALE: There are a couple of reasons for this rule change. One is that since there are other situations when you are permitted to lift a ball in a hazard, it is not unusual for a player to do so. (Examples: you may lift a ball to determine if it is “unfit for play,” which would be if the ball were cut, cracked, or out of shape; you may lift a ball that interferes with someone else’s stroke), But the more important reason, I feel, is to avoid the scary predicament of hitting an unidentified ball out of a hazard into a place where you will never be able to determine whether the ball you hit was yours. This could happen if you hit a ball from a bunker to an inaccessible out of bounds area, or perhaps hit a ball from a dry part of a water hazard into a deeper part from which you could not retrieve it.
REMINDERS: (1) Follow the proper procedure if you need to identify your ball in a hazard – one-stroke penalty if you don’t. (2) Two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play) if you hit a wrong ball out of a hazard.

Rule 19-2, Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped by Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment

OLD RULE: Remember the old days when you hit a ball and it ricocheted off a tree and hit you in the head, and then your pain was compounded by a two-stroke/loss of hole penalty? Those days are no more.
NEW RULE: Now, if you hit a ball that accidentally (would you ever hit yourself or your partner on purpose?) hits you, your partner, your equipment, or your caddie, the penalty has been reduced to one stroke.
RATIONALE: The reduced penalty is clearly more fair.
REMINDER: After your ball hits you and you assess yourself the new, easier-to-swallow one-stroke penalty, you will play the ball where it lies. If it landed in your partner’s pocket, take it out, ask your partner to step aside, and drop it right where he was standing.

Rule 4-1, Clubs

OLD RULE: If you carried a non-conforming club (e.g., a 60-inch driver, a weighted club with a goofy grip, a club to which you applied tape to reduce glare DURING THE ROUND), the penalty was disqualification.
NEW RULE: The penalty has been reduced in stroke play to two strokes per hole, maximum four per round. In match play, when you discover the error, complete the hole, and then deduct one hole from the state of the match, maximum two holes per round. In both match play and stroke play, if you hit the ball with a non-conforming club, you are disqualified. Also, if you discover the non-conforming club between holes, the penalty will apply to the next hole. So if you discover the breach on the way to the second hole, you will incur the maximum penalty (4 strokes in stroke play; state of match adjusted two holes in match play).
REMINDER: You must declare a non-conforming club out of play as soon as you discover it. If you make changes to your club during the round, such as adding or removing lead tape or applying tape to reduce glare, your club is now non-conforming, you will incur the penalty, and you must take it out of play (not use it for the remainder of the round).

Rule 14-3, Note: Distance Measuring Devices

This is not a new rule, but it has been moved from the Decisions book to the rule book. Committees are allowed to establish a local rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices. The SJGA has decided to permit their use in tournaments beginning in 2008.
WARNING: The only such devices you are permitted to use are those that measure distance only. You may not use a device that also measures other factors that might affect your stroke, such as wind, gradient, or temperature, even if you leave those features turned off. The penalty is disqualification.

Other additions to the rule book:
1. You may exchange information on distance, including answering such questions as “How far is it from my ball to the hazard (over the hazard, to the hole, etc.)?” This is NOT advice.
2. “Stroke and distance” is now an official term in the rule book. It refers to any situation where you choose (e.g., unplayable ball, water hazard) or are required (e.g., ball lost or out of bounds) to assess yourself a one-stroke penalty and hit your next shot from the spot where your original ball was last played.
3. In Rule 15-2 (substituted ball), if you substitute a ball when you are not supposed to AND play it from a wrong place, the total penalty is two strokes. Previously, the penalty was one stroke for the incorrect substitution plus two for hitting from the wrong place. The new math is 1+2=2. (This same two-stroke penalty also appears in the penalty statements for Rule 18 and Rule 20-7c, which can be found in your USGA rule book on pages 58 and 67.)
4. There is no penalty for standing on or astride your line of putt if you do so accidentally or to avoid standing on someone else’s line of putt.
5. If the wrong person places or replaces your ball, the penalty is one stroke (see Rule 20-3a, pp. 63-64).
6. You are permitted to move a flagstick when a ball is in motion, provided the flagstick is being attended, removed, or held up (Rule 24-1). The important change here is that if you lay the flagstick on the green, someone putts his ball, and it appears that the ball might hit the flagstick, you may now pick up the flagstick and get it out of the way. In reality, the only time you may not move a flagstick is if it is in the hole and it is not attended. A player who putts a ball on the green and hits a flagstick that is in the hole and unattended will incur a two-stroke penalty. (Of course, if your putt from on the green hits an attended, removed, or held up flagstick, or the person holding the flagstick, there is still a two-stroke penalty. Please be very attentive when you are given the responsibility of attending the flagstick, and make sure you and the flagstick are not in the path of a putted ball.)
7. The old term, “reasonable evidence,” has been replaced by a new term, “known or virtually certain.” When you are deciding whether a ball that has been hit towards an obstruction, an abnormal ground condition (e.g., casual water, ground under repair), or a water hazard is lost, it must be “known or virtually certain” that the ball went into one of those conditions. If it is not “known or virtually certain,” you must proceed under stroke and distance (see #2).

I plan to explain in greater detail each of the rules and accompanying terminology that are referenced in these rules changes in future columns posted on the blog. If there is a particular rule that puzzles you, let me know and I’ll plan to address it sooner rather than later. Don’t forget to send me your questions on specific rules incidents – I think it’s fun for all of us to find out the strange and unusual situations that happen to others, and to learn how the rules of golf want us to deal with them.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ask Linda #44-Sharing blog; Finding old columns

Hey, Linda....

This was a great explanation [this is in reference to Ask Linda # 39-Understanding ESC]...As a former teacher myself, I really appreciate the organization and clarity of your writing....the ESC and the fact that it can vary from course to course is an area which too many people do not understand and therefore neglect....

Is it possible for me to give your "site" information to the 18 Holers at my club? They would really benefit from this....


Dear Lulu,

I am flattered by your compliment and delighted that you would like to share my blog with your 18-holers. You certainly have my permission to do so – I hope other golfers will take the same initiative and give my blog address to their friends. The more people that understand all the facets of the game, the more fun and fair it will be for all of us!

If you want to print out a particular column and post it at your club (or e-mail it to your friends), please include my name, as all my material is copyrighted.

You might want to advise any friends that may not be familiar with blogs that if they wish to read any Ask Linda columns from a PRIOR month, they will have to click on the small ARROWHEAD to the left of the month to access the columns from that month.


P.S. I also hope that if you catch me in a mistake that you won't hesitate to correct me!

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ask Linda #43-Cut ball; Wrong green

Hi Linda,
I'm really enjoying your Blog.
Here's a couple little questions that actually came up this week. Yes, I play in cold weather.
Question 1: A friend hit his 2nd shot near the green. When he got to the ball he could see that he had ripped the cover off. It actually had a flap, not just a cut. Since we were just playing our little course, he just changed balls. But, What is the proper thing to do?
Question 2: Someone hit their ball astray and it landed on the wrong green. Can you use any club to hit the ball off that green? I'm thinking an iron could make a divot on the green. My guess is he has to move the ball & take a penalty, but I know you know the right answer.

Dear Lulu,
I play in the cold weather, too! I enjoy the winter novelties of playing on empty courses and not keeping score – I can get good exercise and not bruise my ego!

Answer 1:
Rule 5-3 will tell you that “a ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape.” Your friend’s ball with the ripped off cover clearly fits the definition of an unfit ball.

If this were a serious game of golf, the proper procedure would be for him to call you over and have you watch him mark, lift, and inspect the ball. I have no doubt you would agree to allow him to chuck that partially naked ball in the trash and replace it with a shiny new one. He would place that new one in front of his marker and carry on.

If he skips any part of the process (calling you over, marking, lifting, making sure you agree) he incurs a penalty of one stroke. If he substitutes another ball when there was really nothing wrong with the original ball (perhaps he picked up some road rash on it when it caromed off the cart path or had a close encounter with a tree), his penalty would be two strokes.

Answer 2:
Rule 25-3 explains that you are not permitted to hit your ball when it is lying on a wrong putting green. You must take free relief by dropping it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief. That point must not be nearer the hole, and must not be in a hazard. I have to tell you that while there is no penalty for this required drop, there is a two-stroke penalty if you play that ball from the wrong green!

When I am on a green and an errant shot from another player lands on that green, I always make it a point to wait until the player is within earshot and then mention diplomatically that he will have to drop the ball off the green. (This does not count as “advice” as defined and prohibited in the rule book; information about the rules may be offered at any time without penalty.) Many players are unaware that they are not permitted to play that ball on the wrong green, and we should all try to do our part to protect the greens (and teach someone a new rule!).


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ask Linda #42-Who hits first?

Hi Linda - I like your answer to #41 [see Ask Linda #41-Divot nightmare]. I do believe she should have hit her ball before the bozo because he was on her hole. Am I wrong that the person playing on the correct hole has preference?

Also, if you are going to continue these "Golf Rules in Plain English" (which I love), how should we store them? You have got to write a book.

Dear Lulu,

There is no hard and fast rule about who should hit first when a player from another group has hit a ball onto your fairway. Technically, it is your fairway, and you should have the right of way. However, who hits first may depend on the circumstances: Who gets to his ball first? How many players will be inconvenienced by the player either having to wait or playing first? How will it effect pace of play?

Personally, I feel that the people playing the correct hole should be in charge. It is their decision whether to invite the visitor to play first or make him wait in the wings while they complete their shots. If my shot strays onto the wrong fairway, I always wait safely behind a tree and take my cue from the golfers who are playing the hole.

It really comes down to good manners -- if people always exhibited proper manners on the golf course there would be little need for a section on Etiquette in the rule book!

With regard to storing my columns, I will leave all my columns on the blog. You can access them there at any time. If you want to store them yourself, you can highlight each column and copy and paste them into a Word document. If you have subscribed to my blog, you are receiving each new column in an e-mail and can store them in a folder in your e-mail program.

Thanks for the compliment, Lulu. Knowing you're enjoying these columns makes the effort seem very worthwhile.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ask Linda #41-Divot nightmare

Dear Linda,
I have this nightmare where I hit my drive to a perfect spot in the middle of the fairway. Some bozo from an adjacent hole hits a shot that lands next to my ball. I mark my ball so that he can hit first. He takes a big divot when he hits his ball. When I try to replace my ball, it is now lying in a big divot hole. It seems unfair that I have to hit it out of a divot hole.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
It is unfair, and you do not have to hit your ball out of the divot hole. You are always entitled to the lie you had when your ball came to rest. Here are your choices:

1. You may hit the ball out of the divot hole (probably not the choice you want to make).
2. You may replace the divot and generally try to restore your original lie, replace your ball, and hit it (probably not a good choice either – you might feel a bit uncomfortable hitting a ball that is perched on a replaced divot).
3. If you cannot restore the original lie, you may place the ball on the nearest spot within one club-length of the original spot that is most similar to your original lie. That spot cannot be closer to the hole or in a hazard. (I saved the best choice for last!) My reference is Decision 13-2/8.7.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ask Linda #40-Ball stopped by rake

Dear Linda,
I hit my ball just over a sand bunker where it was stopped by a rake. My ball was not in the bunker, but since it was leaning against the rake, when I lifted the rake the ball rolled into the bunker. Do I have to play the ball out of the bunker? Do I have to count a penalty stroke because the ball moved when I lifted the rake?

Dear Lulu,
A rake on the golf course is called a movable obstruction in golf-speak. You do not incur a penalty when your ball moves because you removed the obstruction. Neither do you have to play the ball out of the bunker. This is one of those rare occurrences on a golf course where the rules give you a break.

Here is what you need to do. Since you are certain the ball will move when you remove the rake, mark the spot where the ball lies. After you lift the rake and the ball rolls into the bunker, retrieve your ball and replace it. If it rolls after you replace it, try a second time. If it still won’t stay put, you must now place it at the nearest spot that is not closer to the hole or in the bunker where it will remain at rest (Rules 24-1 and 20-3d).


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ask Linda #39-Understanding ESC

Hi Linda,
I just wanted to ask you to emphasize to those women who may not be aware of it that the ESC limit for each hole may vary depending on the slope and rating of the course being played, especially if one's Handicap Index is near the upper part of its decade (i.e., 19 or 29). I've experienced casual games at very difficult courses with people whose Handicap Index is 18 or 19. They didn't seem to realize that the more difficult slope and rating also increased their handicaps and, correspondingly, their ESC limit. Of course, that can also work in reverse. When we discussed it, they seemed to be unaware of the adjustments this might require.

Dear Lulu,
This is an excellent point, and I’m glad to have an excuse to explain Equitable Score Control® (ESC®) to everyone.

Let’s start with the basics. Every serious golfer has a Handicap Index®. This is a number taken to one decimal place (e.g., 18.2), and it represents your potential playing ability.

When you play at any given course, your Handicap Index has to be converted into what is known as a Course Handicap®. You have to consult the Course Handicap Table for the set of tees you are playing (e.g., blue, white, red), locate your Handicap Index, and look across to see what your Course Handicap will be at that particular course. Each course should have a handicap table for you to consult.

If you would like to know your Course Handicap before you arrive at any given course, go to, put your cursor on Rules and Handicapping and click on Handicaps, click on Course Handicap Calculator, enter your Handicap Index and the slope rating of the course you will be playing (that’s a three digit number between 100 and 155), click on Calculate, and the site will display your Course Handicap.

Example 1, Course A:
1. Your Handicap Index is 18.2.
2. The slope rating from the red tees at the course you are playing is 106.
3. The handicap table indicates that players whose Handicap Index is between 17.6 and 18.6 will have a Course Handicap of 17.

Example 2, Course B:
1. Your Handicap Index is 18.2.
2. The slope rating from the red tees at the course you are playing is 142.
3. The handicap table indicates that players whose Handicap Index is between 18.0 and 18.7 will have a Course Handicap of 23.

Course A is so easy that your Course Handicap (17) is actually one less than your Handicap Index (18.2). Course B is so difficult that your Course Handicap will be 23, five strokes higher than your Handicap Index.

After you finish your round, you will total your 18-hole score. If you are playing in a tournament, this is the score that will determine where you place. However, when you record your score for handicap purposes, you must review the score for each hole and subtract strokes from each hole where your score was greater than the maximum number you are allowed to record (this is known as your ESC score).

If your Course Handicap (NOT your Handicap Index) is 9 or less, the maximum score you are allowed to record for any given hole is double bogey; for a Course Handicap between 10 and 19, the maximum is 7; between 20 and 29, the maximum is 8; between 30 and 39, the maximum is 9; and over 40 the maximum is 10.

Returning to my examples, on Course A, where your Course Handicap is 17, your ESC maximum is 7; on Course B, where your Course Handicap is 23, your ESC maximum is 8.

In summary, the maximum number of strokes you are allowed to take on a hole (for handicap purposes only) may change from course to course, depending on how your Handicap Index converts to a Course Handicap at each particular course.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ask Linda #38-Posting scores for others

Dear Linda,
I know that when we play an SJGA tournament our scores are posted by SJGA. However, I observed that some scores from team matches were not posted to the slope and rating of the course played, but posted using the home course slope and rating. I'm not sure how this affects the handicap. Could you explain the correct way of posting scores and how this affects our handicaps?

Dear Lulu,
When one person assumes the responsibility of posting scores for others (as, for example, a captain does when she posts the match scores for her team), she must take great care in posting the correct information. The date, course rating and slope rating of the course played, ESC® score, and the name of the course played must be carefully recorded.

The problem I noticed last year was that some captains entered the correct course and slope ratings for the course played when the match was at an away course, but accidentally entered the name of their home course in each player’s record. This created some confusion for the Team Match Committee, but did not adversely affect those players’ handicaps. If the correct course and slope rating are entered, then the handicap will be accurate.

I am somewhat dismayed to learn from your question that scores were posted with the slope and rating for the home course when the match was played away. This is an error that needs to be corrected, and that can be accomplished by notifying your club pro (or the person responsible for the GHIN computer at your club). You cannot correct this information yourself – there is a code to enter the program to enable someone to make corrections, and private individuals do not have access to that code.

Each course that you play has a different playing difficulty, and this is reflected in the USGA Course Rating®. A score of 90 at Harbor Pines, for example, where the women’s rating is 68.5/118, is not as exceptional as shooting 90 at Woodcrest, where the rating is 73.4/128. If you enter the rating for Woodcrest, and you actually played the match at Harbor Pines, then your handicap will be too low when it is computed (generally twice a month).

It might be a good idea for a player on every team to volunteer to help the captain enter the scores after each match. It is also the responsibility of each player to review her scores, and to ask the pro to make corrections when they are warranted.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ask Linda #37-Amateur Status

Dear Linda,
How much cash can an amateur win per year? If you’re an amateur and declare (before a tournament) that you wish to play as a professional, and don't win any money, can you declare yourself an amateur in the next event?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I’m surprised and pleased to learn we have some budding professionals within our organization!

The USGA rules regarding amateur status appear in the back of the rule book immediately following Appendix III. They are very detailed and specific, and anyone concerned about preserving his amateur status should read them carefully. I would also recommend that they consult the USGA for an opinion if they are not certain whether a particular activity will jeopardize their amateur status.

Here are the answers to your questions:

1. An amateur golfer may not participate in a tournament where prize money is offered unless he waives his right to a prize prior to the tournament. You will notice amateurs playing in professional tournaments (Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods, for example, played in professional tournaments when they were still amateurs), but if you scan the list of PGA tournament winners in the newspaper you will notice that amateurs do not receive prize money for their efforts.

2. An amateur may not accept a prize that has a retail value greater than $750 per competition. There is one exception to this limit – amateurs may accept a prize for a hole-in-one that exceeds the $750 limit.

3. You cannot waiver back and forth between playing as an amateur and as a professional. Once a player has become a professional, he must appeal to the Amateur Status Committee of the USGA for reinstatement as an amateur. That waiting period is generally one to two years.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.