Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ask Linda #56-"Winter Rules"

Hi Linda,
If you are playing winter rules and are allowed to bump your ball in the
fairway (no closer to the green of course), does that also mean you can bump
on the collar of the green? I was told that is considered part of the
fairway. Is that correct?

Dear Lulu,
The rule book is very specific regarding a local rule for “winter rules” (also known as “preferred lies”). You can find the precise wording in the back of your rule book in Appendix I, Part B, #4, c.

In order to understand the rule, you need to know that a “closely mown area” refers to any area on the course where the grass is cut to fairway height or less. This would include fairways, dew paths, and the apron around the green. So the answer to your question as to whether the apron (or collar) is considered “fairway,” in this context, is yes.

I’m a little concerned about your reference to “bumping,” however. Let’s take a look at the rule:

If your ball is lying on a closely mown area, you may lift and clean it without penalty. However, before lifting the ball you must mark it. You may then place it within a specified distance (e.g., 6”, one foot, one club-length, whatever distance is the rule for the day) from your mark that is not closer to the hole. You may NOT place it on a putting green or in a hazard.

Once you place the ball it is in play. You may not adjust the position a second time.

If you do not mark the ball before you lift it, or if you move it with a club, you incur a penalty of one stroke. So if by “bumping” you mean using a club to roll the ball, that’s a no-no.

I understand that, in a casual round, players might tend to move the ball with a club to save time. I would caution that this is a bad habit to get into, since you would be penalized for doing so in a tournament.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rules #6-Cink bunker rule

If any of you were watching the Zurich Classic on TV and saw Stewart Cink penalized for raking the sand in one bunker when his ball lay in another bunker (see “Cink Incident” below), you may be interested to know that the USGA and the R&A (Royal and Ancient) re-interpreted this rule at their April meeting. I was wandering around the USGA website today and came across the following announcement:

The Joint Rules Committee (JRC, which is made up of reps from the R&A and the USGA), decided that while Rule 13-4a prohibits a player from testing the condition of a hazard when his ball lies in a nearby, similar hazard (raking would be considered testing the condition), this might seem to contradict the section on etiquette in the rule book that advises players to rake the bunker before leaving it. Not wishing to violate their own rules of etiquette, the new ruling states that if a player’s ball lies in one bunker, it is not a penalty if he smoothes the sand in another bunker, provided that (1) he is doing so in order to neaten the bunker for following players, (2) he is not improving his stance or swing or line of play for his next stroke, and (3) it is unlikely that his next stroke will come to rest in that same area.

Please be aware that it is still a two-stroke penalty to rake the sand in the bunker in which your ball lies BEFORE you hit your ball.

If you would like to read this new ruling in its entirety, visit this link:

Cink Incident
Cink’s ball, incidentally, wasn’t even in the bunker; he had to stand in the bunker to hit his ball which was just outside the bunker. He hit that shot into a greenside bunker. His caddie then raked the bunker he had been standing in to smooth his footprints. It was ruled that Cink had breached Rule 13-4a by testing the conditions of a hazard when your ball lies in a similar hazard (a player is penalized for actions taken by his caddie). Cink was not aware of this rule, so he signed a scorecard that did not include the two-stroke penalty he had incurred. The penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard –for a score that is lower than what you shot– is disqualification, and Cink was therefore disqualified.

Here’s an interesting sidelight: If Cink’s caddie had not raked the trap, Cink would have been fined by the PGA; if Cink returned to rake the trap after playing his ball out of the greenside bunker, he might have been penalized for undue delay; if a following golfer hit a ball that landed in Cink’s footprint in the sand, that golfer would face an unfairly difficult shot. The rule was a bit of a Catch-22 for the golfer, so it would seem that the golf gurus made a wise decision to re-interpret the rule.

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ask Linda #54-Lulu replies to #53

Linda, thank you for including my question on your site…I discussed with my girls and the second section really none of us knew.
By the way, in the first section, I think you meant to say if your leaf-covered ball was in a bunker, not water hazard.

Dear Lulu,

Please read Rule 13-4c, which will tell you that you may not touch or move a loose impediment in a hazard prior to hitting your ball. By "hazard," the rule book means both bunkers and water hazards. Don't be confused by the word "water;" just because your ball is in a water hazard, that does not mean it is in water. Your ball can be sitting on dry land in a water hazard (indeed, some water hazards contain no water at all!). If you choose to hit your ball when it is lying in a water hazard (or a bunker) you will incur a two-stroke penalty for touching or moving any loose impediments before you hit the ball.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ask Linda #55-lateral hazard not marked

Hi Linda…
If the tee shot lands on the ground and bounces into a water hazard running along the side of the fairway, and the hazard is not marked with either out-of-bounds stakes or lateral-hazard stakes, what is the correct thing for the person to do?
Thanks. Lulu

Dear Lulu,
If there are no out-of-bounds stakes, then your ball is not OB; it is in a lateral water hazard.

Since the hazard is not marked, you will have to imagine where the stakes defining the margin of the hazard would be placed. Don't let your imagination run too wild – if there were stakes, they would be placed where the ground breaks down to form the depression containing the water.

Please read Ask Linda #12, posted in January, for a full explanation on how to take relief from water hazards and lateral water hazards.

You might want to try to encourage the management at your golf course to mark the hazards. If you are playing in a competition at a course where the hazards are not defined, then there is really no way to insure that all competitors are taking relief in the same manner.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ask Linda #53-ID ball in hazard

[Note to readers: This e-mail is in response to Ask Linda #51-leaf on ball in hazard.]

But, Linda, could she not have first lifted the leaf to identify the ball and put the ball and leaf back and hit, without penalty?

Also on your rule #4, removing loose sand/dirt from putting surface, what if you are on the collar, may you remove sand in front of you that is on the collar? And/or on the putting surface, since you are not yet putting?

Dear Lulu,
Your first question brings up a different issue (you may have noticed by now that golf has MANY issues!).

The reader in Ask Linda #51 removed a leaf that was covering her ball in the water hazard and then hit the ball, incurring a two-stroke penalty for moving a loose impediment in a hazard (Rule 13-4c). Your question regarding lifting the leaf in order to identify the ball as hers is a horse of a different color. If you must remove loose impediments in a hazard in order to identify your ball, you may do so. You must then put those loose impediments back on top of your ball, leaving only a small opening so that only part of your ball is visible (Rule 12-1).When you lift those loose impediments, there is no penalty if you move your ball, as long as you replace it. If the ball that you uncover is STILL unidentifiable (perhaps it is embedded), you should summon another player to observe you as you mark, lift, and identify the ball. If it is yours, you must replace it exactly the way you found it (for example, if it was embedded, you must re-embed it), and then put the loose impediments back on top.

Regarding your second question, you may remove sand and loose soil from the putting green, even if your ball does not lie on the putting green. You MAY NOT remove sand or loose soil from the collar (apron, frog hair, fringe–whatever you choose to call it, we’re talking about the first cut surrounding the green generally about a yard wide). There is one exception: If your ball is lying on the apron, and another player subsequently hits a sand shot and dumps sand on or around your ball, you may remove it. You are entitled to the lie and line of play that you had when your ball came to rest.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Reply from Lulu:
Wow you are good! Loved the sand from the bunker rule! Will keep this
email in my golf bag, as I see lots of people "wiping" their line. As a
matter of fact, being the rules person I am I may have done it myself, and I
think always wondered about it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ask Linda #52-Through the Green

Linda: In the Ask Linda # 51 leaf on ball in hazard USGA rules explanation, I think that it would be helpful to the golfers to define the term " through the green ", which according to the USGA is defined as any area of the course mowed to fairway height or less EXCEPT teeing grounds, putting greens and areas defined as hazards. It is my experience that most golfers are not familiar with the definition of the statement. Respectfully submitted. Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
The USGA definition of “Through the Green” is as follows:
“Through the green” is the whole area of the course except:
a. The teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played; and
b. All hazards on the course.

I included that definition in the second paragraph of my response to Ask Linda #51. It appears in parenthesis at the end of the paragraph.

Areas of the course mowed to fairway height or less, known as “closely mown areas,” are not part of the definition of “through the green,” which you will note includes ALL areas of the course with the exceptions listed above. Your ball is “through the green” when it is in the fairway, the first cut, the rough, the apron around the green, the woods, the fescue, the heather, and all other favorable or unfavorable locations EXCEPT the teeing ground and the putting green of the hole you are playing and all water hazards and bunkers.

Your confusion may stem from the wording of the embedded ball rule (Rule 25-2). That rule allows relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch mark in any closely mown area through the green. The embedded ball rule does not define “through the green” as a “closely mown area,” but rather limits your relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch mark to only those areas through the green that are closely mown. There is no relief from a ball embedded in its own pitch mark through the green unless it is in a closely mown area. If your ball embeds in the rough, for example, you must play it as it lies or declare it unplayable (which allows a drop but adds a penalty stroke to your score). The ONLY time you are permitted free relief for a ball embedded other than in a closely mown area is if a Local Rule has been adopted allowing you to do so. As a tournament director, I always include the local rule that permits relief for an embedded ball through the green. If you would like to read that rule, you can find it in your rule book in Appendix I, Part B: Specimen Local Rules, #4a.

Lou, I’m delighted that you asked this question. If someone so obviously attentive to the rules was puzzled by this definition, then there are probably many readers who will benefit from my clarification. Thank you for helping everyone!


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ask Linda #51-leaf on ball in hazard

Dear Linda,
Last week my ball was in a water hazard and there was a leaf on top. I picked the leaf off the ball (the ball didn’t move) and played the ball. No one said anything, but I’m wondering if what I did was OK.

Dear Lulu,
I’m afraid not, dear. When your ball is lying in a hazard, you are not permitted to touch or move a loose impediment that is also in the hazard. (Loose impediments are natural objects, such as leaves, stones, pine cones, insects, dead birds, and branches that have fallen off a tree.) If you touch or move a loose impediment in a hazard, the penalty is two strokes (stroke play) or loss of hole (match play).

Golf rules can often be confusing because they change as you move from one part of the golf course to another. Golf courses basically have four distinct areas: the teeing ground, the putting green, hazards, and what is known as “through the green.” (“Through the green” refers to all areas of the course EXCEPT the teeing ground and the putting green of the hole being played, and except ALL hazards on the course.)

Certain acts are permitted in some areas and penalized in others. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
1. If you picked that leaf off your ball that was lying anywhere except in a hazard, there would be no penalty, provided you did not move your ball in the process.
2. On the teeing ground you are permitted to pull out weeds or tamp down dirt around your ball. Try that anywhere else and you are assessed two strokes (loss of hole) for improving your lie or the area of your intended stance or swing.
3. You may ground your club lightly everywhere but in a hazard (hazards include both water hazards and bunkers, commonly known as sand traps). Ground your club in a hazard and it will cost you two strokes (loss of hole).
4. You may remove sand and loose soil from the putting green, but not elsewhere (two strokes/loss of hole).
5. The only place you are allowed to remove dew, frost, or water is from the teeing ground. Do it anywhere else and (you must have guessed it by now) the penalty is two strokes/loss of hole.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Since golf has so many persnickety rules, here’s something to keep in mine: If you are not certain of your rights, then play the ball as it lies. If you haven’t touched or moved anything, then it is highly unlikely you will have broken any of the rules of golf.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rules #5-Pace of Play Suggestions

Now that the 2008 season has begun in the Garden State, I thought this might be a good time to take a short break from the rules and look at an issue that affects everyone’s experience on the golf course – pace of play. Regardless of whether your handicap is low or astronomical, a considerate golfer playing in a group of four should be able to make it through 18 holes in under four and a half hours for a casual round, under five hours in a tournament. I have listed every suggestion I can think of below to help speed up your round; if any of you has a recommendation to add to this list, please e-mail it to me and I will re-post the list with your idea included.

Please remember that your goal is to keep up with the group in front of you. Your group is technically out of position if it (a) is taking more than the allotted time to play and (b) reaches the teeing ground of a par-3 hole and the preceding group has cleared the next tee; reaches the teeing ground of a par-4 hole and the putting green is clear; or reaches the teeing ground of a par-5 hole when the preceding group is on the putting green. Both (a) and (b) must apply for a group to be out of position.

It may be of interest to some of you that the USGA has begun implementing a checkpoint system whereby players must reach each checkpoint hole in the allotted time or they will be warned and then penalized. Please consult the USGA for details. (A sample of the USGA policy can be viewed by visiting:

Linda’s Pace of Play Suggestions
1. Be ready to play when it’s your turn. You should choose your club (or bring a selection) before it’s your turn and walk to your ball. Try to analyze your lie and figure out the yardage while others are hitting so that you’ll be ready to step up and hit when it’s your turn.

2. Drop your partner at his ball and proceed to your own. He can catch you after his shot or you can return to pick him up.

3. Park your cart on the side of the putting green towards the next tee. This way others can hit up as soon as you clear the green.

4. The player closest to the pin should mark his ball and proceed immediately to the flagstick, which he will attend, if necessary, or remove. Be conscious of your shadow on the green--you should not cast a shadow on anyone’s line of putt or over the hole when attending the flagstick. The first player to hole out should immediately pick up the flagstick and replace it after the last player holes out.

5. Leave the putting green quickly after holing out, and record scores on the next tee.

6. When a player is in his pre-shot routine, all other players should be still and quiet. No one should be standing (or sitting in a parked cart) behind the ball (to the right of a right-handed player) or behind the hole (on an extension of the line of putt).

7. Don’t wait until it’s your turn to putt to check the line and break from behind the hole. Most of your observations can be done while walking onto the green and waiting for others to putt.

8. Speed up your pre-shot routine. ONE PRACTICE SWING is sufficient, especially if you are out of position!

9. If the group behind you is playing much faster, wave them through. Do the same if it looks like it will take more than a minute or two to find your ball. You are allowed five minutes to find a ball, but that doesn’t mean the players behind you must stand around and wait while you are doing so. Note: You MUST abandon the search for a lost ball after five minutes; BY RULE, it is deemed lost at that point.

10. If a player is searching for a lost ball, hit your own ball first and then help him in his search. (Note: There is no penalty for playing out of order in stroke play. In match play, there is no penalty; however, your opponent may recall your stroke if you hit out of turn, so be sure to request permission to do so.

11. If there is a possibility your ball is lost or out of bounds, hit a provisional ball.

12. In a better ball tournament, pick up your ball when it will not count and record your most likely score preceded by an X.

13. On any holes where you have a blind shot, send one person ahead to spot the shots.

14. If you lose more than one clear hole on the players in front, you should invite the following group to play through. Conversely, faster players may ask to play through.

15. If you are riding in a cart, hop in the cart with your club in hand after you make your shot for the ride to your cart mate’s shot. Clean your club, replace your headcover, and select your next club while your cart mate is hitting his shot.

16. There is no penalty in stroke play for playing out of turn. Play “ready golf” until you reach the green. Below are examples of situations in stroke play where you should definitely play out of turn:
a. You are ahead of another player, but you are in the woods and will be punching out onto the fairway.
b. You are ahead of another player, but you are planning to lay up and the other player is waiting to hit a longer shot.
c. The players in front of you are out of your range.
d. Your ball is just off the near side of the green, and another player has a long walk to his ball off the far side of the green.
e. Another player is searching for a potentially lost ball.

17. Don’t be shy about encouraging members of your group to speed up play, and don’t be offended if they ask you to do so. Such encouragement may be more helpful if you offer specific suggestions, such as;
“Hey, Joe, that one is probably in someone’s backyard. Why don’t you hit a provisional?”
“Yo, guys, why don’t you start putting while I head for the far bunker?”
“Hey, partner, I’m in with 4 and you lay 5. Why don’t you pick up?”
“Um, Sally, why don’t you leave me here with a few clubs and go right to your ball? I’ll catch up with you after I hit, or you can spin back and pick me up after you hit.”
“Hey, girls, if you’re going to lay up, why don’t you go ahead and hit? I’m going to try to carry the hazard and reach the green, so I have to wait for it to clear.”
“Say, fellas, I can’t see the group in front of us. Let’s all try to do whatever we can to catch up.”
If you lighten the criticism –make it sound more like a suggestion– people will be more inclined to cooperate, and everyone will have a better day.

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Abbreviated Stroke Play Rules

Dear readers,

I have created a four-page summary of the rules for stroke play. You might find this a handy reference guide to keep in your golf bag. Unfortunately, I am unable to format it to fit the blog.

If you would like to receive a copy, please send an e-mail request to and write “Stroke Play Rules” on the subject line. You will receive the document both as a Word and as a pdf attachment.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Rules #4-Relief Options, Part III: Water Hazards

This is the third and final installment of Relief Options. In the first section (published March 7) I explained the situations in which you are entitled to take free relief and how to find the nearest point of relief for the drop. The second section (published March 16) discussed the relief options for an unplayable ball. Today I will talk about how to find relief from a water hazard.

If your ball lies in a water hazard, you have several choices on how to proceed. You may try to hit it out of the hazard – water hazards are not always filled with water, and you might have a decent lie within the hazard. If you choose to attempt to hit it out of the hazard, please remember that you may not test the condition of the hazard, touch the ground or water with your hand or a club, or touch or move any loose impediments lying in the hazard (Rule 13-4). You may place your clubs in the hazard (no penalty), and the rules are also very considerate in allowing you to trip and fall in a hazard (also no penalty, but they won’t go so far as to foot your laundry bill!).

If you decide to take relief from the water hazard, here are your choices, all of which require that you add one penalty stroke to your score:
1. Play a ball from the spot where you hit your previous shot (this is known as “stroke and distance”).
2. Drop a ball behind the hazard on the line-of-sight to the hole (draw a line from the hole through the spot where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, and drop anywhere along that line).
3. If your ball happens to lie in a lateral water hazard (red stakes), you have the additional option of dropping within two club-lengths no closer to the hole than either the spot where your ball crossed the margin of the hazard, or at a spot equidistant from the hole on the other side of the hazard.

Please remember that choice #3 (the two club-length option) is only available for LATERAL water hazards. Would you like to know why the rules provide this additional option for lateral hazards? It’s because the rules would like a player to have two relief choices. When a ball is in a regular water hazard (yellow stakes), both “stroke and distance” and “line-of-sight” are always available options. In a lateral hazard, “line-of-sight” is seldom an available option; the addition of the two club-length option gives a player a viable second choice.

You may have noticed the new wording in the water hazard rule (Rule 26) this year that states that in order to proceed under the water hazard rule, it must be “known or virtually certain” that a ball that is not found is actually in the water hazard. So how can you be virtually certain that your ball is in the hazard? Here are some guidelines:

A. You may assume that the following balls are IN the water hazard:
1. A ball that you hit a mile high that splashes in the middle of a lake
2. You hit the ball straight towards the hazard, and the area surrounding the hazard is all fairway
3. A spectator or a player from another group tells you he saw your ball land in the hazard

B. You may NOT assume that the following balls are in the water hazard. If you do not find your ball in these situations, you must treat it as a lost ball and proceed under Rule 27:
1. A low screamer that skips in the water (it may have skipped out)
2. Deep rough (tall grasses, fescue, unfriendly vegetation) surrounds the hazard (meaning the ball could conceivably be lost someplace other than in the hazard)
3. There is disagreement as to whether your ball went into the hazard among the players in your group (“You say yes, I say no,” to borrow a line from the Beatles)

There must be a high degree of certainty that the ball is in the hazard in order to proceed under the water hazard rule. Otherwise, you must treat it as a lost ball (proceed under stroke and distance).

1. If your ball touches both the margin of a water hazard and a bunker, the ball is ruled to be in the water hazard.
2. If your ball comes to rest in a ditch (river, pond lake, etc.) that has not been marked as a water hazard (it is sometimes the case that a golf course has a lack of manpower or resources to properly mark the hazards), you are responsible to recognize it as a water hazard and treat it as such.
3. In taking relief from a water hazard, you may drop in a bunker or another hazard (you must be playing one tough course if these are your best options!).
4. Let’s say you believe your ball is in a water hazard, drop another ball behind the hazard, and play it. (This should raise a warning flag that bad news is coming, since “belief” is not “knowledge” or “virtual certainty.”) Afterwards, within five minutes, you or someone in your group finds your original ball outside the hazard. Well, since you played a ball under the line-of-sight option of the water hazard rule without knowledge or virtual certainty that the ball was in the hazard, you played from a wrong place. In match play you lose the hole; in stroke play it will cost you three penalty strokes: the stroke-and-distance penalty that you would have incurred if you had proceeded correctly (you didn’t “know” your ball was in the hazard, and you didn’t find it, so you should have treated it as a lost ball); plus the two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place (Rule 20-7). You might also be disqualified from a stroke play event if you gained a significant advantage by playing from a wrong place and not correcting the error before teeing off on the next hole (Rule 20-7c).
5. In number 4 above, if the player drops a ball but DOES NOT play it (another player finds it just in time), he must abandon the dropped ball and play his original ball (no penalty) under Rule 20-6, affectionately known as the “Eraser Rule.” Rule 20-6 states that “a ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and the player must then proceed correctly.”
6. Suppose you hit a ball over a water hazard, over the green, and into a bunker behind the green. Your shot out of the bunker then flies over the green and lands in the hazard. What are your options?
a. You may hit a ball from where you hit your previous shot (stroke and distance), which means you would have to drop it in the bunker.
b. You may proceed under the line-of-sight option, which means you will be dropping behind the hazard and will have to cross it again.
7. What if your ball crosses a hazard and then rolls back in? Well, where is the ball? It’s in the hazard, isn’t it? So you must proceed under one of the relief options under the water hazard rule. If you choose the line-of-sight option, remember that your reference point is where the ball LAST crossed the margin of the hazard. In this case, it last crossed at a point on the far side of the hazard. Look at the hole, draw a line through that point, continue that line straight across the hazard and drop somewhere along an extension of that line.

REMEMBER: If your ball is in a water hazard (yellow stakes), and you are taking relief, your next shot will have to be hit over the water. The only time you may not have to hit over the water when taking relief is if your ball is in a lateral hazard (red stakes).

If you would like to read about MORE unusual and interesting situations, check out the Decisions for Rule 26 at the USGA website:

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.