Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ask Linda #93-Is the ball in the hazard or lost?

I recently had a situation where I did not know what to do. Maybe you can explain. I was playing in a tournament where the format was best net score and best gross score. On a par 5, I hit my second shot into a tree; underneath the tree there was a water hazard. No one saw where the ball went except that it hit the tree. After searching and not finding the ball I dropped a ball behind the water hazard where it last crossed. I hit my 4th shot towards the green. After we crossed the water hazard I proceeded to hit my next shot. After I hit, my original ball was found not in the water hazard. I continued playing my second ball. After I came in I realized that since no one saw the ball go into the water hazard that I probably should have played it as a lost ball. The other guys said I could hit the found ball. I do not think that was the right thing to do but I was sort of confused myself by then. What would have been the proper procedure?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
The rule of thumb when you hit your ball towards a water hazard is that it must be “known or virtually certain” that the ball is in the hazard in order to proceed under any of the relief options for a ball in a hazard. Without such knowledge or certainty, you must play it as a lost ball, which means proceeding under “stroke and distance” (adding a penalty stroke to your score and hitting your next ball from where you hit your previous shot).

Since no one saw where your ball ricocheted, you were not permitted to assume it was in the hazard. You were entitled to search for a maximum of five minutes, after which you were required to play another ball under stroke and distance (Rule 27-1c).

When you dropped another ball behind the water hazard and played it, you violated two rules:

1. You were subject to a two-stroke penalty for breaching Rule 20-7c (Playing from Wrong Place)
2. You incurred a stroke and distance penalty under Rule 27-1 (Lost Ball)

This is only the start of your troubles. I’m guessing that the Committee would have ruled that you committed what is known as a “serious breach,” since the place where you dropped and played another ball was much closer to the hole than where you would have hit from had you properly hit another ball from where you hit your previous shot. Because you gained a significant advantage by playing from a spot closer to the hole, the Committee would have disqualified you from the competition.

There is a way around this disqualification (Rule 20-7c). If you realize that you may have committed a serious breach before you tee off on the next hole, you may go back and play a second ball under Rule 3-3 (Doubt as to Procedure). You must tell your fellow competitors which ball you would like to count if the rules permit, and you must explain everything to the Committee before you sign and return your score card. The Committee will sort out the mess and tell you which ball to count.

Given the facts as you stated them in your letter, you should have been disqualified from the tournament. Your guess that you should have played it as a lost ball was correct, but it came too late to fix the problem.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ask Linda #92-Why can't I post a 5-club round?

Hi Linda,
If a person scores a great round in a competition that requires using only five
clubs, why can't that score be posted for handicapping? I know that the USGA says no, but what is the rationale? I can see that high scores would elevate a person's handicap, but to penalize a person who had the best score of her life; it doesn't seem right. Am I missing something here?

Dear Lulu,
It is clear from your question that you understand that you are not permitted to post a score when one of the conditions of the competition is that the maximum number of clubs that may be used is less than 14.

Most players would find themselves at a disadvantage playing with only five clubs, and would be likely to score higher than what is normally a typical score for them. Clearly you had a very successful day carrying five clubs. I hope that you lapped the field with your great score and were generously rewarded!

Here is the rationale for not being permitted to post in this situation:

• Rule 4-4a limits golfers to a maximum of 14 clubs. A player has the option to carry less than 14 clubs; if he does so, the choice is his.

• When a player is informed he may carry a maximum of five clubs (as was the case in your tournament), he is playing under a condition that breaks a rule of golf; under the rules, he would be permitted to carry as many as 14.

• A player is not permitted to post a score when he does not play under the Rules of Golf.

You may have inadvertently made an important personal discovery. Perhaps the limited club selection freed your mind from worrying which would be the best club to use for each shot, thereby encouraging you to be creative in the shots you hit with the few clubs at your disposal. Alternately, you may have just been lucky. Why don’t you experiment with carrying fewer than 14 clubs and see if this has a positive effect on your game? I have not been able to find a rule that prohibits experimentation!


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ask Linda #91-changing course length

Dear Linda,
My home club is in Asia. On Wednesdays, which is Ladies’ Tournament Day, the Ladies’ Committee instructs the maintenance staff to move the Red tees behind the Black tees. The yardage from the Red tees is 5,674 yards; from the Black tees it is 6,560 yards. Is this allowed?

During the rest of the week, the Red Tees are in front of the Black Tees!!!! Will this not affect Yardage and Slope Rating?? Isn't this unfair for the mid- and high-handicappers, especially when there is a water hazard in front of one tee which is difficult to carry for the high handicappers? Can one move a Red tee behind a Black tee, which helps only about 4 percent of Lady Golfers?

The Red tee markers are put back to their original position the next morning.

By the way, love the personal nature of your replies, which are clear and precise.

Dear Lulu,
Before I address your questions, I need to explain to my readers that there are two official authorities on the rules of golf. The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the ruling authority for the U.S. and Mexico; The R&A (Royal & Ancient) is the authority for the rest of the world. The two groups cooperate in producing and revising both The Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf.

While the golf rules are the same for everyone, courses are not rated in the same way in the rest of the world as they are in the United States and Mexico. I don’t want to get too complicated here, so suffice it to say that the U.S. uses a combination of a Course Rating® that indicates what a scratch golfer is expected to score (e.g., 71.2) and a Slope Rating® that measures how difficult a course will be for a bogey golfer compared to a scratch golfer (the ratings range from 55 to 155). The rest of the world uses a system based on a single rating for a scratch golfer.

Lulu, I can speak with regard to some of your points, but not all. Moving the Red tees behind the Black tees on your Ladies’ Day, which sets the distance at over 6,560 yards, is making your course exceptionally and unusually long for women golfers. For comparison, the USGA set the yardage for the women playing in the USGA Amateur Public Links Championship this year at 6,158 yards.

The Committee is entitled to establish the yardage for the competition. Personally,
I find it difficult to imagine the ladies at your club having a pleasant experience playing a course that is over 6,560 yards long. I would suggest that you meet with the Committee and perhaps the club pro and discuss what yardage would be most appropriate for your group. I agree with you that it is an unfair length for the mid- and high-handicappers.

The question that I cannot answer for you is how the longer yardage will affect your Slope Rating. Since you are playing in Asia, you will have to contact the R&A to get the correct information. Your pro might be able to help you with this question.

I could answer your rating question if you were playing in the United States, since there is a chart available to adjust the Course and Slope Ratings when you are playing from an unrated set of tees. Let’s pretend your golf course is located in the U.S., the only set of tees rated for women is the Red tees, and you are a woman playing from the Black tees. Here is how you would adjust the ratings:

1. Find the difference in yardage between the Red tees and the Black tees. At your course, the difference would be 886 yards.
2. Look at the chart entitled “Women’s Ratings Adjustments from Unrated Tees” (The USGA Handicap System, Section 5-2/g).
3. Find the line that includes 886 in its range (873-890).
4. The chart will tell you to add 4.9 to the Course Rating and 10 to the Slope Rating.
5. If the rating from the Red tees for women (and here I’m just making up the numbers, since your course is not located in the U.S.) were 70.6/121, the rating for women playing from the Black tees would be 75.5/131. (Such a high rating, incidentally, would indicate an extremely difficult course for women.)

Here is the link to find the charts to adjust the ratings for both men and women when you play from a set of tees that has not been rated for your gender:

Lulu, I hope you will be able to find out from your club pro or The R&A how to adjust the rating when you play from the Black tees. This information will serve you well when you play other courses from a set of tees that has not been rated for women. I also hope that you will have a meaningful and productive discussion with the Committee, and that together you will establish a reasonable length for the tournaments held at your club on Wednesdays for the ladies.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ask Linda #90-damaged hole

Dear Linda,
In a better ball tournament, I was the first player to putt. After I finished putting, I noticed some damage to the hole, so I fixed it. There was some argument about whether I could do this. Can you please tell me if I was allowed to do that?

Dear Lulu,
You are always entitled to repair any damage to the green caused by the impact of a ball. So if you repaired a ball mark at the edge of the hole you did not violate any rule.

It’s a horse of a different color if the damage is something other than a ball mark. In that case, here are your guidelines:

1. If the proper dimensions of the hole have not been changed, you should continue play without repairing the hole. In this case, if you repair the hole you are guilty of touching the line of putt, which results in a penalty of loss of hole (match play) or two strokes (stroke play). Since you fixed the hole after you finished putting, but before your partner putted, your partner is the one who would incur the penalty.

2. If the dimensions of the hole have been changed (e.g., the once-round hole now looks like one of those irregular shapes you studied under the microscope in chemistry class), then you have two options. If an official is present, you should ask to have the hole repaired. If no official is available, you are permitted to repair the damage without penalty.

My source for the above rulings is Decision 16-1a/6.

A variation on this topic is explained in Decision 1-2/3.5; since we are discussing fixing damage to the hole, it would be appropriate to take a look at this Decision right now.

In Decision 1-2/3.5, a player holes out, notices that the edge of the hole is ragged, and smoothes it out. In this situation, the player may or may not be subject to penalty:

1. If he smoothed it out as a courtesy to the following players, which is the most likely explanation, then there is no penalty. (However, read #3 below.)
2. If he smoothed it out to intentionally influence the movement of another player’s ball (you may have to be a mind reader to prove that one!) then there is a two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play) under Rule 1-2 (Exerting Influence on Ball).
3. In a four-ball (more commonly referred to as “better ball”) format, if a player has finished putting and smoothes the hole before his partner putts, then his partner will be penalized.

Best advice to keep you out of trouble: If the damage is severe, and no help is available, repair the hole; if the damage is a ball mark, repair it; if you want to smooth any rough edges around the hole, do so after everyone in your group finishes putting.

Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ask Linda #89-three-clubs only tournament

Dear Linda,
Are you allowed to post your score if you play in a three-club tournament?

Dear Lulu,
While you are never required to carry 14 clubs, which is the maximum number allowed, you may not post a score when the maximum number of clubs permitted is less than 14. It is also true that you may not post scores if you are limited, for example, to using only irons. This information can be found in The USGA Handicap System, Section 5-1/f, which is available online at Here is the link:

Here are some other situations where you are not permitted to post a score:

1. If you play less than 7 holes;
2. If you play during the inactive season (e.g., New Jersey is inactive from November through March, but if you are vacationing in Florida and play golf during those months, you must post those scores):
3. When you are not playing under the golf rules (e.g., scramble, Scotch Chapman, playing two balls throughout the round, etc.);
4. If the course is shorter than 3,000 yards (1,500 for 9 holes);
5. If the course you are playing has no USGA Course Rating or Slope Rating.

Lest we forget, you must post all of the following scores:

1. If you play at least 13 holes, you must post an 18-hole score. (Note: If you play between 7 and 12 holes, post a 9-hole score.)
2. Every round you play on a course with a USGA rating, both home and away, during the active season, must be posted.
3. You must post scores in both match play and stroke play. This includes match play or team competitions in which you may not have completed one or more holes or if you are asked to pick up when you are out of the hole. In such cases, you should record an X followed by your most likely score.
4. If you are disqualified from a competition (e.g., for failure to sign a scorecard), you still have an acceptable score for handicap purposes and should post it.

All scores should be posted on the day you play. Don’t forget to adjust your score total for Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) before you post. Here’s a quick ESC review:

“ESC” refers to Equitable Stroke Control. If you have an unusually bad hole, you must lower that score before you total your score and post it. If your Course Handicap is 9 or less, the maximum number you are allowed to post for any hole is double bogey; from 10 to 19, your maximum is 7; from 20 to 29, your maximum is 8; from 30 to 39, your maximum is 9; and for 40 or more, your maximum is 10.

Post all of your acceptable scores, and remember that your Handicap Index is not a reflection of your worth – it is only an indication of what you might be capable of scoring on your best day when you are playing the game of golf.


Copyright © 2008 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.