Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ask Linda #147-Posting incomplete rounds

Hi Linda,
Recently, one of our members decided to quit in the middle of a game on Tuesday. She took a 10+ on the 6th hole, then said she was finished. I think she was having a bad day at golf rather than not feeling well.
We would like to give our members future notification about the rule and ruling. Should she be given 10+'s for the remaining holes?
Thank you,

Dear Lulu,

In order to post a nine-hole score, a golfer must play at least seven holes. In order to post an 18-hole score, a golfer must play at least 13 holes. The golfer you are asking about played only six holes; she is not permitted to post that score.

The procedure for posting scores for unfinished rounds is as follows:
1. If you play 13 or more holes, post an 18-hole score.
2. If you play at least seven holes and no more than 12, post a 9-hole score.
3. For those holes not played, record par plus the number of handicap strokes you are entitled to based on your Course Handicap®. Here is an example to help you understand this procedure:

Daisy’s Course Handicap is 26. She leaves the golf course after completing 15 holes, so she will post an 18-hole score. Hole #16 is a par 4 and is the #5 handicap hole; #17 is a par 3 and the #12 handicap hole; #18 is a par 5 and the #4 handicap hole. Daisy’s handicap entitles her to par plus one stroke on handicap holes #9-18, and par plus two strokes on handicap holes #1-8. Accordingly, she should record her score on the holes not played as follows:

#16: 6 (par plus 2)
#17: 4 (par plus 1)
#18: 7 (par plus 2)

If you are uncertain what is meant by “handicap hole,” take a look at a scorecard. You should notice a line called “Handicap,” with numbers that are odd on one nine and even on the other. A player with a 12 Course Handicap would receive a stroke on handicap holes #1-12 in a net tournament. If Daisy were playing in a net tournament with full handicap, her 26 handicap would give her two strokes on the handicap holes listed #1-8, and one stroke on handicap holes #9-18.

If your organization plans to assume the responsibility of posting scores for players who do not complete their round, then you should notify them that you will be posting nine-hole scores if they complete at least seven holes and no more than 12, and 18-hole scores if they complete at least 13 holes. You will record par plus the handicap strokes they are entitled to for each of the holes not played.

Everyone has a bad round now and then. You can remind players that unusually high scores will not affect their handicaps, since handicap calculations are based on the best ten scores of the last 20 rounds played. Those high scores will just fritter away into the wind every two or four weeks, depending on how often handicaps are revised by your handicap service.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ask Linda #146-Cleaning ball on green

Hi Linda,

Your advice [Ask Linda #124] generated goodwill in a 4 ball best ball match I played yesterday. One of our opponents had to move his marker in order for my partner to putt. By the time it got back to him to putt (to halve the hole) he forgot to move it back to the original point. Even though he had lined the putt up and was ready to putt, I interrupted him to ask whether he had moved his ball back to the original mark. He was most grateful that I interrupted him as he would have hated to lose the hole on such a simple technicality.

Back in the clubhouse, in the same friendly spirit he later gave me a friendly warning that I might be breaching the rules when I clean my ball on the green. If it is only a small mark on the ball I will often wipe the ball on the green to remove the mark (large marks get wiped on a rag in my pocket). He pointed that some opponents in the next match might call a penalty on me for this as technically it could be seen as testing the condition of the green. Should I be changing my ball cleaning habits to always use the rag?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

You are permitted to clean your ball by rubbing it on the putting green, as long as you are not doing it to test the surface [Decision 16-1d/5]. I do this from time to time in casual play to remove a small speck of mud from my ball.

However, if you are playing in a tournament I would recommend that you use your rag to clean your ball to avoid any misunderstandings about why you were rubbing it on the green.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ask Linda #145-Repairing ball marks

Hi Linda,
Are you permitted to repair a ball mark if your ball is not on the green? For example if you hit a shot onto the green and your ball rolls into the rough or fringe, can you fix your ball mark before you chip back onto the green?
Thank you,
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

You are entitled to repair a ball mark that is on the green, regardless of whether your ball lies on the green [Rule 16-1c]. The ball mark does not have to be yours – all ball marks on the green are fair game for fixing at all times.

However, if the ball mark is not on the green, you may not fix it prior to hitting your shot. That would be a violation of Rule 13-2, which requires that you play the ball as it lies and prohibits smoothing out any bumps on the ground.

Note that you are always entitled to the lie that you have when your ball comes to rest. For example, let’s consider that your ball is lying on the fringe, and you are planning to putt it. Another player hits his ball after you, and his ball makes a ball mark in the fringe, right in front of your ball. You are permitted to repair that ball mark, because it was not there when your ball came to rest.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ask Linda #144-Maximum Handicap Index

Hey Linda,
Can you give an explanation for why the USGA sets a maximum index/handicap to be used in tournaments/competitions? We have a very small Ladies’ Golf Association with a lot of beginner/high handicap golfers. They constantly want to know why they only get a maximum of 43 course handicap (40 index) in our competitions. We have used the 95% rule in our member-guest and received very negative feedback.
Thank you,

Dear Lulu,

This was an unusual question, Lulu, and one that I have never pondered. I had to consult the USGA handicap department to find an answer for you. Here is what I learned:

The USGA has a Handicap Research Team. That team was responsible for setting the maximum Handicap Index® limits of 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women.

The reason for setting a limit is that players whose Handicap Index is higher than those limits have very unpredictable scores. Because of that, they are quite capable of shooting a net score that is so low that a player whose Handicap Index is below the maximum number (36.4 or 40.4) has little chance to beat them.

Setting a maximum Handicap Index is one of the many ways in which the USGA handicap system attempts to level the playing field for everyone.

That being said, players are permitted to have a local handicap that exceeds these limits [The USGA Handicap System, Section 3-4]. That handicap would have to be identified with an “L” on their handicap card (e.g., 42.6L). Your ladies could compete with their full, local handicap in league play at your club. If they compete against ladies from other clubs, however, the USGA recommendation is to reduce the handicaps to the maximum Handicap Index.

When you conduct a member-guest tournament, you have invited players from other clubs. In the interest of fair play to everyone, no player should receive more than the maximum Handicap Index. Assuming you are conducting a four-ball (also known as “better ball”) tournament, then the 95% of Course Handicap allowance that you have established is the correct USGA-recommended allowance for this format for women (men would receive 90% of their Course Handicap).


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ask Linda #143-Where to place rakes

Hi Linda,
I have a question you may have already answered.
Is there a rule concerning placement of the rake in or outside a bunker?

Dear Lulu,

While the USGA recommends that rakes be placed outside bunkers, there is no rule regarding their placement. The decision is left up to the golf course. If there are no instructions (written on the scorecard, spoken by the starter, printed on the rake handles), then take your cue from your kindergarten training – leave things as you find them.

That being said, you might want to exercise a bit of care in where you place the rake. If they are to be placed outside, then place them on the far side (the side away from the fairway or green); if they are to be placed inside, avoid placing them near the side of the bunker, where they might keep a ball from rolling to the flat part of the bunker and give a following golfer a more difficult shot than he deserved.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ask Linda #142-To post or not to post

Dear Linda,
I have been having some arguments with my buddies over which scores to post and which you cannot post. Rather than bore you (and embarrass ourselves) with our disagreements, would you please review what types of scores we are required to post, and which scores we may not post?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Everything you ever wanted to know about posting scores can be found in “Section 5-Scores” in The USGA Handicap System manual, which can be accessed online via the following link:

For your convenience, I will summarize the parts of Section 5 that explain which scores are acceptable to post and which are not.

Post these scores
1. If you play 13 or more holes, post an 18-hole score. For the holes that are not played, count par plus any handicap strokes you would be entitled to on those holes. For example, if your course handicap is 12, you would record a bogey for any hole not played that is listed on the score card “handicap” line as 12 or lower. If you don’t play the par 5 18th hole that is described on the score card as the #8 handicap hole (eighth hardest hole), your score for that hole would be a bogey 6. If you don’t play the par 4 17th hole that is the #14 handicap hole, you would record a par 4.

2. If you play between 7 and 12 holes, post a 9-hole score.

3. Post all scores from every course that has a USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating®, both home and away, during the active season [see Ask Linda #15-post winter scores]. Don’t forget to record the course and slope rating for the course you played when you post away scores.

4. Scores made in match play must be posted, even though you pick up when a putt or a hole is conceded. Record your most likely score in those situations. For example, if you are left with a 30-foot putt, add two strokes to your score; if you are within reach of the green, add three strokes to your score (one pitch and two putts). If you play less than 18 holes but more than 13, see #1 above.

5. Scores in stroke play competitions must be posted, even though you may have picked up on several holes because your partner had a better score.

6. Record all scores when you are playing under the Rules of Golf.

7. If you have been disqualified from a tournament, but you have an acceptable score, you must post it. An example would be a player who has been disqualified for not signing a score card.

Do not post these scores
1. You play less than 7 holes.

2. You play during the inactive season [see Ask Linda #15-post winter scores].

3. You don’t play your own ball (e.g., scramble, alternate shot, Scotch Chapman).

4. You don’t play according to the Rules of Golf (e.g., you play two balls). Note that if you are playing preferred lies, you are playing by the Rules and you must post that score.

5. You play an 18-hole course that is less than 3,000 yards, or a 9-hole course that is less than 1,500 yards.

6. You play in a tournament where the number of clubs permitted is less than 14, or the type of club is limited (e.g., irons only).

7. You play on a course that does not have a USGA Course Rating or Slope Rating.

8. You play with a non-conforming club (e.g., a driver longer than 48”), a non-conforming ball (e.g., weighs more than 1.62 ounces), or a non-conforming tee (e.g., longer than 4”).

9. You use an artificial device or unusual equipment to help you make a stroke (e.g., placing a bottle of water on the green to gauge the slope; using a cell phone to call someone for advice).

10. You use a distance measuring device (DMD) when the Committee has not adopted the Local Rule that would allow such use. The Rules of Golf do not permit the use of DMD’s except by Local Rule. Note that the Local Rule permitting the use of DMD’s limits their use to measuring distance only. If your device is capable of measuring anything else (e.g., wind or gradient) and you use any of those features, you are disqualified and you may not post your score for that round.

Lou Lou, please remember to apply Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)® to your score before you post. If your Course Handicap® (CH) is 9 or less, the maximum score you are permitted to record for any given hole is double bogey; if your CH is 10-19, your max is 7; 20-29, max is 8; 30-39, max is 9; 40 or more, max is 10.

The USGA has provided golfers with a handicap system that allows golfers of varying abilities to have an even competition. All golfers have to do to insure that this system works properly is to post every acceptable score immediately after the round or as soon thereafter as possible.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ask Linda #141-Unmarked water hazards

There's one particular hole, a par 5, on our golf course that is a dog leg to the right (90-degree angle). To the right there is a creek (marked with red stakes) that runs alongside the fairway and ends in a pond at the dog leg. From the back tees to the end of the fairway (or to the dog leg) is around 330 yards. From there you need to cross the pond to get into the green. My question is, should the pond be marked with yellow stakes only, or should it be marked with red and yellow? For some reason there are no stakes alongside the pond. Need your clarification on this one.
Thanks and regards,
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

The creek that runs alongside the fairway is properly marked with red stakes, which indicate a lateral water hazard. The pond that you must cross to get to the green is a water hazard, and should be marked with yellow stakes. There is a point where the creek meets the pond and changes from a lateral water hazard to a water hazard. There should be one red stake and one yellow stake planted side-by-side at that point, so that golfers may know where the lateral hazard ends and the regular water hazard begins.

When you encounter an unmarked hazard, you have two problems to resolve. First, you must decide what type of hazard it is so that you will know what relief options you have. Generally, if it is not possible to drop a ball behind the hazard, then it is lateral (red stakes); if you must cross it to reach the green, it is a water hazard (yellow stakes).

Second, you must decide where the stakes would be placed if the hazard were properly marked. Stakes are generally placed where the ground starts breaking down to form the depression that would hold the water.

Deciding what type of hazard you’re dealing with and visualizing where the stakes would properly be placed is not too critical in match play, where it is only you and your opponent who have to agree on the proper procedure. However, it’s another matter entirely in a stroke play tournament, where such decisions must be uniform for every competitor. If your course is not properly marked, you might want to discuss the issue with a course official and encourage him to stake the hazards so that all competitions can be fairly conducted.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ask Linda #140-Fair play for outings

Hi Linda,
We are holding a golf outing that will that will have prizes which include the low gross score and the longest drive on a specified hole. The gold tee is about 70 yards forward on the specified hole and the course rating differential is 4 strokes. We consider players that opt to play from the forward tees as ineligible in these 2 categories. Some forward tee players disagree. What do you think is the best way to handle this?
Here is some additional information:
We do not intend to offer a separate prize for long drive-gold tee. There are also net prizes as well as 4 closest to the pins in which the forward tee player has a huge advantage.
The only criteria required to play forward is age (over 65). We will have 40 entries with 32 playing from the middle tees and 8 from the forward tees.
As always, I appreciate your opinion.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,
Even though you are calling this an “outing,” rather than a “tournament,” I believe you should still try to maintain the integrity of the competition.

The award for low gross score should go to a player who competes from the regular tees. Any player eligible to compete from the gold tees should be offered the option to compete from the regular tees if he wants to contend for the low gross prize. Players competing from the gold tees are playing a course that is rated four strokes easier. It is not a fair gross competition when all the competitors are not playing the same distance

With regard to the longest drive contest, I would suggest that you place it on a hole where the gold and regular tees are on the same tee box and the distance between them is no more than ten yards. You certainly cannot allow the seniors to compete in a long drive contest where they have a 70-yard advantage – that would be undeniably unfair. If it is not possible to move the contest to a more appropriate hole, and you cannot shorten the 70-yard difference on the hole you selected to ten yards, then your seniors should not be allowed to compete in this contest. Such a decision, of course, will not make them happy. Since an outing should be a fun experience for all the participants, do your best to find a more suitable hole and allow everyone to compete.

With regard to your closest-to-the-pin contests, you might want to try to set up those holes so that the advantage from the gold tees is not so dramatic (perhaps by shortening the distance from the regular tees). If most of those contests end up being won by the seniors, and the younger men feel that they were at a decided disadvantage given their much longer distance, you may end up listening to an excessive amount of justifiable griping. Your participants will be much happier if they feel the competition was fair.

Where you will have no problem conducting a fair competition is on the net side. This is the beauty of course and slope ratings. Each competitor will get his Course Handicap from the Slope Rating. With a Course Rating from the gold tees that is four strokes easier, you will then either subtract four strokes from the Course Handicap of each of the seniors or add four to the Course Handicap of each of the younger men. Since the majority of your field is playing from the longer tees, I would recommend that you subtract the four strokes from the men playing the gold tees. Assuming that your players have been properly recording their scores, their Handicap Indexes should accurately reflect their current skill level and the winners of the net competition will be those men who play best on the day of your outing in relation to their potential ability.

I have a great deal of respect for people who put a premium on fairness. I am happy to include you in this group, Lou. I hope all the players have a terrific day, and that they don’t forget to thank you for your efforts.


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Don’t do this

Dear readers,
I recently read a column in a local golf newspaper that offered incorrect information regarding posting scores. In effect, the column was telling its readers to cheat on their handicaps in order to win more stroke play tournaments. I was so appalled to read this that I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor which I sincerely hope will be printed in the next issue of that newspaper. I thought that you, my readers, might be interested in reading this letter, so I have reprinted it below, deleting any references to the name of the newspaper and substituting for the real name of the writer.

Dear Editor,

My jaw dropped when I read the advice of Mr. “Don’t-Play-This-Guy-For-Money.” He suggests that golfers post only stroke play scores, and refrain from posting match play scores. The USGA requires that players post all acceptable scores, and match play scores certainly come under the heading of “acceptable.”

Section 5-1c in The USGA Handicap System manual states very clearly that “scores in both match play and stroke play must be posted for handicap purposes. This includes scores made in match play…competitions in which players have not completed one or more holes or in which players are requested to pick up when out of contention on a hole.” Players who do not post match play scores are in violation of USGA rules regarding posting scores.

I am flabbergasted that Mr. “Don’t-Play-This-Guy-For-Money” begins the article complaining about sandbaggers (which I prefer to label “cheaters”), and then gives the sandbaggers a new way to pad their handicaps, namely by not posting match play scores. Golfers do not get to choose which scores to post – they must post all acceptable scores.

Mr. “Don’t-Play-This-Guy-For-Money” suggests that players’ scores are unnaturally low in match play because they are picking up. What he fails to note is that when players record scores on holes where they pick up, they should be recording their “most likely” score. Simply because a putt is conceded does not always mean that the recorded score adds only one stroke to your total for the hole. Players should be adding two strokes to their score when putts are conceded from any length that they do not normally hole out with one stroke. Recording an accurate, “most likely” score is the advice that should be offered to golfers, rather than the advice of Mr. “Don’t-Play-This-Guy-For-Money” to ignore the requirements of the USGA.

For a complete discussion of what scores to post, readers should be directed to read Section 5 of The USGA Handicap System manual, which is available online through the site. Readers looking for a more user-friendly version of what scores to post might want to check out an explanation that is scheduled to post on my blog on August 11: “Ask Linda #142-To post or not to post.” My blog discusses golf rules in a question-and-answer format called “Ask Linda: Golf Rules You Can Understand,” and may be found on the Internet at

The USGA has provided golfers with a handicap system that allows golfers of varying abilities to have an even competition. The only thing golfers have to do to insure that this system works properly is to post every acceptable score immediately after the round or as soon thereafter as possible. Match play scores come under the heading of “acceptable,” and no one should be advising players not to post them.

Linda Miller

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ask Linda #139-Provisional problems

Hi Linda,
I really enjoy your rules in plain English. The rule book can be so confusing. Here's my question. I was playing in a tournament with 3 other ladies. We all hit our drives. "Jane" hit hers left but well within bounds and no one thought we would have a problem finding it. After 5 minutes (possibly a bit more) of searching we could not find it and “Jane” went back to the tee box to hit a provisional ball while we continued searching. After hitting the provisional which went further than the original drive (if that's important) she found her original ball, played it and abandoned the provisional.
In the rule book it says "Jane" had to hit a provisional BEFORE we went to look for it. So, does that mean that "Jane" had to abandon her original ball and continue with the provisional? It looks like rule 27-2c says that if the original ball is not lost, the player must continue with the original.
Thanks for your help,

Dear Lulu,

What an excellent question! This is indeed a confusing situation, and I will try to clear it up as best I can. You have actually touched on several topics, so I will separate them and deal with them individually.

Provisional ball
In order for a ball to be considered “provisional,” it must be hit before the player goes forward to search for her ball. In the situation you describe, since Jane did not hit a provisional ball before the search party went out, she was not entitled to hit a provisional. As soon as she returned to the tee and hit another ball, that ball became the ball in play, and was her third shot on the hole (original tee shot + one-stroke penalty for lost ball + second tee shot = 3, Rule 27-1a).

This procedure of returning to where you hit your original ball and hitting another ball under penalty of one stroke is known as “stroke and distance.”

Lost ball
A player is not entitled to search for her ball forever. There is a five-minute limit on the search. If the ball is not found within that time period, it is “lost” under the rules (even if is later “found” in real life), and the player must proceed under “stroke and distance.” (If you’ve forgotten what that means, go back and study my explanation above under “Provisional ball.”)

Lulu, you explained that everyone searched for five minutes, or perhaps a bit more. It seems clear to me that Jane’s ball was not found within five minutes: five-minute search + walk back to the tee + hit another ball, then find the original = more than five minutes. Jane’s ball was lost (Rule 27-1c; Definition of Lost Ball).

Provisional ball explained further
It is not relevant that the second ball hit from the tee went further than the original, since Jane’s original ball was “lost” and she did not hit a provisional under the rules.

However, there is an issue with regard to how far the provisional ball is hit that I would like to clarify for everyone. Let’s tinker with your scenario and see what happens if Jane plays a provisional ball correctly:

1. Jane hits her tee shot. She has a vague suspicion she might not find it, so she says: “I think I’d better hit a provisional ball, just in case.” Jane waits for everyone else to tee off, and then hits her provisional.
2. Jane believes she hit her original ball a good deal further than her provisional, so when she reaches her provisional she hits it a second time. (Note that if Jane thought she had hit her provisional about the same distance or further than her original ball, she would have to search for her original before hitting the provisional a second time. If she did not search first, her provisional would become the ball in play and the original ball would be deemed lost, even if she found it.)
3. Jane’s provisional has now been hit twice, and is well past where her original ball is likely to be. (We’re good so far, because you will remember that in our imaginary scenario Jane’s provisional was not hit as far as her original.) Jane reaches the area where she believes she hit her original, and the search begins. Now is when you start the timer. Jane has five minutes to find her original. If she finds it within that time frame, she must abandon the provisional and play the original. This is very important. The purpose of hitting a provisional ball is to have a ball available to continue with if you cannot find the original or you find it out of bounds – the reason is to save you the long walk back and save everyone else having to wait for you to do this. If you find the original ball in bounds within five minutes, you must proceed with that original ball (Rule 27-2c). If you do not find the original within five minutes, you must proceed with the provisional. (Note that if the original turns out to be in a lie that you decide is unplayable, then you will proceed under the options for an unplayable ball; you may not pick up the original and continue on with the provisional, even though you may really really want to.)

I know this is a lot to absorb in one sitting, Lulu, so here’s a summary that includes the rule references: Jane’s ball is lost because it took more than five minutes to find it (27-1c). Jane may not return to the tee to hit a provisional; she would have had to hit another ball from the tee before marching off to look for the original for it to be considered a provisional (27-2a). Even though Jane’s ball was not “lost” in the real world (the ball was eventually found), it was “lost” in the golf world (where you have a five-minute time limit to search), and she was required to return to the tee to hit another ball and add a one-stroke penalty to her score (27-1c). This second ball that she hits from the tee is not a provisional ball; it is now her ball in play (27-1a). When her original ball is later found, it is still technically “lost,” and she should pocket it (or feed it to the fish). If her original ball had been found within five minutes, she would have been required to play it; in that case, if she had correctly played a provisional (which we now know she did not), she would have had to abandon it and continue with the original (27-2c).


Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.