Monday, August 30, 2010

Ask Linda #234-Ball embedded in side of hole

Hi Linda,

Another one from Australia.

We have had very wet conditions on our course and today one of our players hit her ball from off the green into the hole where it became embedded in the wall of the hole. The ball was not fully below the surface of the green and was not touching the flag.

We were playing Stableford and she considered she had holed out, therefore lifting her ball.

The women in her group were not sure whether she had proceeded correctly.

We know that the ball was not holed, but how should the player have proceeded?

Kind Regards,


Dear Lulu,

In order to be considered “holed,” the ball must be below the level of the lip of the hole [Definition of “Holed”]. If a ball is embedded in the side of a hole, and part of the ball is above the hole, it cannot be considered holed.

The player may play the ball as it lies, although that would not be my recommendation, since you can’t be certain you will be able to dislodge an embedded ball with a short swing.

The safer procedure would be as follows:

The player may lift (and clean) the ball, since it is technically on the putting green [Rule 16-1b]. She may then repair the ball mark, since you are always permitted to repair damage to the green caused by the impact of a ball [Rule 16-1c]. Her next step would be to place the ball on the lip of the hole and putt it into the hole [Decision 16/3].

If the ball had embedded in the side of the hole and the whole ball were below the level of the lip, then it would have been considered to be holed [Decision 16/2].

The other issue here is whether the player would be disqualified. In a Stableford competition, if a player records a score that is lower than she actually took, she would be disqualified unless the score did not affect the result of the hole. In other words, if the fixed score at the hole in question were 5, and the player recorded an 8 (which would have been a 9 had she proceeded correctly), there is no penalty, since no points are earned for scoring 3 over the fixed score. However, if she recorded a 5 (which would have been a 6 had she proceeded correctly), she would be disqualified [Rule 32-2a, referencing rule 6-6d].


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ask Linda #233-Unplayable confusion

Dear Linda,

Yesterday, at a tournament, a fellow player hit her ball into some very deep, matted down grass. I helped her find it and she immediately picked it up, said she couldn't hit it from there, and said she'd take a penalty. Another player said (and I agree with her) she couldn't pick it up and bring it back to the tee. She could take an unplayable lie, but it had to be dropped within 2 club-lengths and add a one-stroke penalty. She had already picked up the ball, not marking the spot! She hemmed around a bit and put it back in the area where it had been and hit it. What the heck should the consequences have been?


Dear Lulu,

A player is entitled to declare her ball unplayable, lift it, and return to the tee to try again [Rule 28a]. It sounds like that is what the player wanted to do. Had she stuck to her guns, she would have been proceeding correctly. She would count the original stroke and add a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable ball. Her next stroke from the tee would be her third shot.

Instead, she got herself into some trouble by not trusting her knowledge of the rules. When she lifted her ball and then replaced it, she incurred a one-stroke penalty for lifting a ball in play under Rule 18-2a. If she did not add that penalty stroke to her score, she would be disqualified for recording a score lower than she had actually taken [Rule 6-6d].

At the end of the round, before signing the scorecard, the player should have consulted a member of the Committee. She would have been properly advised to add a stroke to her score for the hole and everything would have been hunky dory (that’s American slang for “just fine”).

If the player had replaced the ball and then decided to declare it unplayable and drop within two club-lengths, she would incur two penalty strokes–one for lifting a ball in play, and one for taking relief for an unplayable ball.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ask Linda #232-Drop areas and lateral hazards

Hi Linda,

Thanks very much for the service you provide.
Your response to question#195 for a previous ball that lands in a yellow-staked water hazard and is deemed unplayable is as follows:

“The only relief options for a ball hit into a water hazard are to return to where you hit your original ball and hit another, or drop a ball behind the hazard on the line-of-sight to the hole [Rule 26-1a, b]. Both relief options require that you add a one-stroke penalty to your score. A player is never allowed a free lift over a hazard.”

My first question is: Is it permissible to use a designated drop area that is closer to the hole from where the ball entered the hazard or does the player have to proceed with the usual options?

Second, is the "drop area" required or optional? For example, if a ball entered the hazard much closer to the green, could the player proceed from that point - but still behind the hazard - rather than go to the designated drop area? Is "required" vs "optional" subject to local rule discretion?

Finally, suppose a red-staked hazard surrounds the green to the left, the front, and to the right with only a 3 to 8 foot margin of rough or fringe. Also suppose the hazard on the right is only a "finger" and is only 10 yards wide. Since it is a lateral hazard, could the player drop on the other side of the finger (i.e. over the finger and in the rough, the fringe or on the green) as long as that spot is equidistant (is it permissible for it to be further?) to the hole and within 2 club lengths of the hazard? Or is this a situation where the hazard should be a regular (yellow staked) rather than a lateral hazard?

Thanks again for your service and the clarity of your responses.

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Question #1:

A Committee may not arbitrarily place a drop area (referred to as a “dropping zone” in the USGA rule book) closer to the hole. However, sometimes the configuration of a lateral hazard is such that there are areas where it is not possible to find a spot to drop your ball within two club-lengths that is not closer to the hole. When that situation exists, the Committee should mark those specific areas, establish one or more drop areas, and write a Local Rule allowing players to use the drop area if their ball enters the hazard in the marked area. If more than one drop area is provided, players should be instructed to use the nearest one [Decision 33-2a/9]. This problem is most commonly encountered when a lateral hazard is at the side of a putting green.

So, if there is a legitimate reason for a drop area to be established closer to the hole, you may use it. Otherwise, you may not.

Question #2:

A Committee may declare a dropping zone to be optional or required. It is recommended by the USGA that they be optional [Appendix I, Part B, 8]. It is better to provide a dropping zone as an additional relief option than to substitute one option for another. If a player’s ball, as you mentioned, entered the hazard in an area closer to the green than the dropping zone, and it is possible to drop a ball correctly under one of the relief options provided in the water hazard rule, it would be unfair to require a player to use a dropping zone that is further from the hole.

Question #3:

Players seeking relief from a lateral hazard have all the relief options for a water hazard available to them in addition to the option to drop within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard no closer to the hole. As such, there is no reason why a player cannot cross the lateral hazard and drop on the other side anywhere on a line that begins at the hole, passes through where the ball crossed into the hazard and extends back to infinity [Rule 26-1b]. If a player chooses the two club-length relief option for a lateral hazard, and would like to use this option to cross the hazard to play his next shot, then the reference point on the opposite bank from which he will drop within two club-lengths must be the same distance from the hole as the spot on the near side where his ball crossed the margin of the hazard [Rule 26-1c].


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ask Linda #231-Relief from cart path next to OB wall?


We have a stone wall behind the green which serves as an out-of-bounds fence on that hole.

There is a cart path running alongside the wall.

A person's ball was within inches of the wall, leaving him no opportunity to do much more than hit it sideways which would not put the ball any closer to the hole. But, to hit the ball, the person's feet would be on the cart path.

Does the person get a free lift because of the path or does he lose that opportunity because he had virtually no shot?

Thank you, Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

A player is not entitled to free relief if an out-of-bounds wall interferes with his stance or swing. That is because objects such as walls, fences, etc., that define out of bounds are not obstructions [Definition of Obstructions].

The Exception to Rule 24-2b states unequivocally that a player is not entitled to relief from an immovable obstruction such as a cart path if “it is clearly unreasonable for him to make a stroke because of interference by anything other than an immovable obstruction….”

In the situation you describe, the stone boundary wall, not the cart path, is interfering with the player’s normal swing towards the hole. The ball is clearly unplayable due to its proximity to the wall. Think of it this way: If the cart path were not there, would the player have a possible shot to the green? With the wall inches from his backswing? The answer here is “no.” It is the wall that is interfering with his swing, and since there is no free relief from an out-of-bounds wall, the player would have to proceed under the relief options for an unplayable ball if he decides that he cannot hit the ball [Rule 28]. He is not entitled to free relief from the cart path (immovable obstruction), since it is the wall (defining out of bounds–no free relief) that is the true culprit.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ask Linda #230-Relief problems


Here a couple of rules violations that I noticed during our local club championship. I will not say which club to protect the guilty.

First, when determining if a cart path was in the golfer’s stance the one caddie suggested that a golfer can “say” he would be hitting a punch shot from that spot which would then place the golfer’s foot onto the cart path. However, clearly from that position the golfer would have to be hitting a high shot in order to get over bunkers that are next to the green. Is this allowed?

Second, when taking a drop from a hazard the drop was onto a cart path. The golfer then took two club-lengths from the cart path. I think this was not correct. Would this disqualify him from competition or what is the penalty?

Thanks for your help with the rules!

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Your first question is a tough one, as it hinges on the honesty of the golfer. Since most golf is played without the supervision of a referee, it is every golfer’s responsibility to abide by the rules.

In determining whether a player is entitled to relief for his stance from an immovable obstruction such as a paved cart path, the player should take his normal stance for the shot he is planning to try with the club he expects to use. The player is not permitted to take an abnormal stance in an effort to gain relief to which he is not entitled. The Exception to Rule 24-2b states that a player is not permitted to take relief if “interference by an immovable obstruction would occur only through use of an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play.” The penalty for a breach of Rule 24 is two strokes in stroke play (loss of hole in match play). Here are two Decisions you might want to read: 24-2b/1 (explains which club to use in determining the nearest point of relief); 24-2b/18 (explains that a player may not simulate an abnormal stroke to find relief if it is not justified).

Your narrative would seem to indicate that the player’s caddie was encouraging him to cheat. If this player were my fellow competitor, I would ask what type of shot he planned to try to get over the bunkers, and what was his normal stance for that shot. These two questions should be sufficient to encourage honest play. If he insists that his normal stroke would be a punch shot, and that his normal stance for that shot would place his feet on the cart path, then you might try to get a ruling from an official or bring up the matter with the Committee before you sign his scorecard. You probably have a legitimate complaint if (1) the caddie clearly suggested that the player circumvent the rules, and (2) the player dropped the ball and proceeded to hit a high shot to clear the bunker.

If the player waits for a ruling from the Committee before he signs his scorecard, and it rules that he was not entitled to take relief, two strokes would be added to his score for the hole and he could then sign a correct scorecard. If the player signs his scorecard without adding the two-stroke penalty, and the Committee subsequently rules he was not entitled to the drop, then the player would be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Clearly, you should be up front with the player regarding your intention to discuss this issue with the Committee, and he should await a ruling before signing his card.

Now let’s take a look at your second question. In taking relief from a cart path, a player is entitled to complete relief for his stance and swing plus one club-length. In determining the relief for his stance and swing, he must use the club that he would ordinarily use to hit the shot if the cart path weren’t there. He may then use any club in his bag (including a driver or a long putter) to measure the one club-length of relief.

The player in your narrative measured two club-lengths from the cart path. Technically, this is incorrect. However, if it turns out that the player dropped the ball in an area that would satisfy the requirements of the rule, then it is a good drop. So, if he measured the two club-lengths with his driver, and then dropped the ball nearer to where the first club-length was measured, then he probably dropped in a permissible spot. But if he dropped all the way at the end of the second club-length, he would most likely have dropped in a wrong spot and would be penalized two strokes for playing from a wrong place [Decision 24-2b/2]. The player would be disqualified from the tournament only if he did not add the two strokes to his score prior to signing his scorecard.

Advice to everyone:

1. When you are playing in a tournament, and you find yourself in a situation where you have to lift your ball and drop or place it elsewhere, I would recommend that you explain and discuss your proposed procedure with at least one of your fellow competitors. If there is disagreement on how to proceed, then the cautious player will play two balls under Rule 3-3 (Doubt as to Procedure) and let the Committee sort out which ball to count at the end of the round.

2. When you witness a fellow competitor following what you believe to be an incorrect procedure, share your opinion with him. This will give him the option to correct his mistake if he realizes he is wrong, or play two balls if he is uncertain. By speaking up, you may save him from a two-stroke penalty and possible disqualification.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ask Linda #229-Retrieving forgotten club

Hi Linda,

We had a competition at our golf club, and on the 6th hole, one of the women I was playing with realized that she had left a club behind on the 4th hole. We moved to the side, to call people through if needed, and the woman went back to the 4th to retrieve her club.

Afterwards, another competitor told us that this was illegal; that during a competition you cannot go back to retrieve a club left behind. Is this correct? We asked this woman, what if it had been a competitor’s putter? Would you therefore be unable to putt and have to drop out of the competition? The woman responded that you do not have to use a putter on the green, but could use another club. I have never heard of this, and hope you can set us straight!

Thanks very much.

Best regards,

Your Irish fan, Lulu

Dear Lulu,

Returning to retrieve a golf club is not an “illegal” activity, but the player may be subject to penalty under Rule 6-7 for “undue delay.”

Your group’s considerate decision to allow the player to return to retrieve her club and permit the following group to play through is a reasonable way to handle the problem in casual play or weekly league play. I would even go so far as to say it would be acceptable in a club competition among good friends. Things can get a little sticky, however, in a serious competition. A player is subject to a two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play) if her trip to retrieve her club delays play [Decision 6-7/1].

If the player were riding in a golf cart, I doubt very much a return drive to pick up a club would cause any meaningful delay, and I see no problem with her doing so. If she were walking, then I for one would not want to stand around and wait for her to walk the entire length of a golf hole and back, and this should not be permitted in a tournament.

Why not hail a marshal or a ranger to retrieve the club? If neither is in the vicinity, why not place a call to the pro shop to ask if someone can help out?

The penalty for “undue delay” is rarely enforced in any but the most serious of competitions. However, pace of play should always be a primary consideration on the golf course in all forms of play.

Let’s consider your concern about a player having to continue a round without a putter. I can think of three situations where this might happen:

1. A player forgets her club on a previous hole, and it is inconvenient for her to retrieve it (pace of play regulations or a player is on foot).

2. A player’s putter is damaged through normal use (perhaps the head falls off the shaft). Provided it does not unduly delay play, this player would be permitted to have the club repaired or replace it.

3. A player breaks her putter in anger. This player would not be permitted to replace or repair the club.

I have seen players use anything from a driver to a wedge to handle the putting chores when they find themselves sans putter. There is no rule that requires a player to use a putter on a green.

Note that a player is never permitted to borrow a putter (or any club, for that matter) from another player playing on the course.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ask Linda #228.5-Match play questions

Hi Linda–

I have three match play questions:

1. A person marks the ball on the green and forgets to pick up her ball. Is it a penalty if the other player hits her ball?

2. A player is on the green and puts her putter behind the ball to align the writing with the hole. Is this allowed or is this a penalty for not marking the ball before moving it?

3. The team match is starting play on the third hole. At the end of the 18 holes the match is tied. Do they continue on the 3rd hole till a tie is broken or do they start at hole one?


Dear Lulu,

1. Even if both balls lie on the putting green prior to the stroke, there is no penalty in match play for hitting another ball on the putting green. The player who putted will play her ball as it lies; the ball that was moved must be replaced [Rule 19-5a].

(In stroke play, the player who putted the ball would incur a two-stroke penalty. The player who neglected to lift her ball is not penalized. It is the responsibility of the person putting to notice that there is a ball in her way and ask to have it marked and lifted.)

2. The answer depends on what you mean by placing the putter behind the ball. If the player places the toe of the putter at the side of or behind the ball to mark it’s position, and then proceeds to adjust the alignment of the ball, that is an acceptable (albeit not recommended) way to mark a ball. If she places the flat side of the putter behind the ball, then this would not be acceptable, as no particular spot is being marked.

A ball may also be marked with a tee or even a loose impediment (again, neither is a recommended procedure). You may not, however, mark a ball by referring to a blemish on the putting green; you must physically mark the ball [Decision 20-1/16].

3. Play is continuous. If you start on the third hole, and your match is tied after play of the second hole (the eighteenth hole of play), then you would continue on to the third hole and keep on playing the holes in order until someone wins a hole.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ask Linda #228-Nearest point of relief

Thanks for your reply Linda [Ask Linda #226-Bridge handrail interferes]. That is what I did and it is good to know that I did the right thing. As a matter of interest what would happen if the same situation were to happen and you could not drop the ball within a club-length (not nearer the hole), for example the bridge is quite wide and you are green side of it?

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Generally I prefer not to address hypothetical situations. However, in posing this question you have brought up a topic that puzzles many golfers. I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to try to clarify this situation for everyone.

When you are trying to find the nearest point of relief (NPR) from an immovable obstruction (such as the bridge in your question), an abnormal ground condition (such as casual water), or a wrong putting green, you are required to seek the place nearest to where your ball lies that is not nearer the hole and would give you complete relief from the condition. “Nearest point” is not to be confused with “near,” and is not limited to a specific number of club-lengths.

Let’s look at the example you provide of a ball that is lying outside a hazard but is so close to a handrail on the bridge crossing the hazard that the player cannot take a swing without interference. This ball is lying on the green side of the hazard, and is so positioned that there is no relief nearby that does not bring the ball closer to the hole. In seeking relief, this player may find that the NPR no closer to the hole is back on the tee side of the hazard. This player would have to cross back over the hazard to drop his ball at the NPR.

Please remember that free relief is an option, not a requirement. A player in this predicament might very well decide that an abbreviated swing is preferable to having to renegotiate the hazard.

Here is a piece of advice you should tuck into your hatband. Before you lift a ball for which you will be seeking relief (whether free or otherwise), assess your relief options and decide whether they will be an improvement over the predicament you are in. Sometimes a ball may be lying on the side of a cart path, for example, and the nearest relief is in a virtually unplayable lie (fescue, brambles, you name it). It is not the worst fate to have to hit off a cart path, and may very well be preferable to the alternative. Once you lift your ball to take relief, you cannot replace it without incurring a one-stroke penalty for moving your ball.

Players are sometimes confused regarding how to determine the NPR and how many club-lengths they are entitled to. When relief is “free,” here is the procedure:

1. Using the club with which you would hit your next stroke if there were no interference, find the nearest spot where you can take a stance and swing your club. Take your stance, and put a tee in the ground where your clubhead lies.

2. Using any club in your bag (most people would select a driver), lay it on the ground and place one end next to the tee. Place a tee at the other end of the club. When you drop the ball, it must first touch the ground between or behind the two tees. If the ball rolls closer to the hole, you must repeat the drop. If the ball rolls more than two club-lengths from where it hits the ground, you must re-drop. (Note that it can roll outside the area of your two tee markers and still be a good drop, as long as it’s no closer to the hole and doesn’t roll more than two club-lengths.)

This free relief procedure is commonly known as “stance plus one club-length.” Please read Decision 25-1b/2, which offers diagrams illustrating how to find the NPR. These pictures will make it much easier for you to understand the procedure than my attempt to describe it in words. In case you have forgotten how to access the USGA Decisions online, go to the USGA website (, open up the drop-down menu by putting your cursor on Rules and click on Rules and Decisions, scroll down the left side and click on the rule in question (in this case, Rule 25), and then scroll through the Decisions on the right side until you reach 25-1b/2.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ask Linda #227-Touching sand, ball outside bunker

Afternoon Linda,

I've recently discovered your "Ask Linda" blog and have become a fan. I'm still picking my way through 2008 but have already found some very useful information and a couple of answers to some situations our golf group has encountered.

I do have a question concerning post #59 - Bunker Rules from May 5, 2008. In the post you indicated "1. If you have to stand in a bunker to hit a ball that lies outside the bunker, you are allowed to touch the sand on your backswing." My question is: can a player ground his club in the bunker if his ball lies outside the bunker or would that still incur a penalty? Our group was having an informal discussion about this and we're split - two say no grounding and two say if you can touch the sand on the backswing you should be able to ground the club.

Thank you for your time and great posts!

Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Welcome aboard, Lou!

There is a Decision that addresses your exact question [13-4/1]. If your ball is outside the bunker, you are free to stand in the bunker and ground your club in the sand. However, please remember that you are only permitted to ground your club “lightly” [Rule 13-2], and don’t forget to tidy up the bunker after your shot.

Rules against touching the sand are only in effect if your ball lies in the bunker.


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ask Linda #226-Bridge handrail interferes

Hi Linda,

I just read your ruling on a ball in a water hazard with a bridge over the hazard preventing the player from making a swing at the ball (Thursday, April 30, 2009, Ask Linda #110-relief from bridge over hazard). I have a similar question, but in my circumstances the ball was lying on the fairway a couple of feet from the water hazard. The bridge had a scaffold-type handrail and the ball had gone through it and come to rest just past it. The bridge however was preventing me from taking a swing at the ball. As my ball was not technically in the hazard would I be entitled to free relief?

Thanks, Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Yes. If your ball is not in the hazard, and an immovable obstruction such as a handrail on a bridge interferes with your stance or the area of your swing, you are entitled to free relief. Lift your ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief that is no closer to the hole [Rule 24-2b].


Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.