Monday, January 24, 2011

Ask Linda #275-Relief from dangerous geese

Hello Linda,
By chance (looking for a ruling regarding a dangerous situation) I came across your rules blog. Very interesting.
Your reply # 120 dealt with a similar question posed to me. Who am I? I live in France, have Dutch nationality and have been appointed regional referee by the French Federation (after some years of practice and two exams).
Every now and then players (usually Dutch) ask some specific rules questions and I try to respond as best as I can. Could you help me out with the question posed to me and the response I gave (that particular person did not agree with my answer)?

My ball is in a fairway bunker. However, if I approach the bunker, I’m attacked by some aggressive geese (a couple). Despite various attempts I do not manage to hit my ball out of the bunker without the danger of being attacked by the geese.
How do I solve this problem?

I answered that in the Decisions book a similar situation is presented in Decision 1-4/10, where reference is made to Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable). Furthermore, I made reference to Decision 28/1, the necessity to identify your ball before using option b or c, which allow a player to drop behind or within two club-lengths of the ball.
Here is Decision 1-4/10, which gives two extra options without penalty:

Decision 1-4/10 Dangerous Situation; Rattlesnake or Bees Interfere With Play
Question: A player’s ball comes to rest in a situation dangerous to the player, e.g., near a live rattlesnake or a bees’ nest. In equity (Rule 1-4), does the player have any options in addition to playing the ball as it lies or, if applicable, proceeding under Rule 26 or 28?

Answer: Yes. It is unreasonable to expect the player to play from such a dangerous situation and unfair to require the player to incur a penalty under Rule 26 (Water Hazards) or Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable).
If the ball lay through the green, the player may, without penalty, drop a ball within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest spot not nearer the hole that is not dangerous and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.
If the ball lay in a hazard, the player should drop a ball, if possible, in the same hazard and, if not, in a similar nearby hazard, but in either case not nearer the hole. If it is not possible for the player to drop the ball in a hazard, he may drop it, under penalty of one stroke, outside the hazard, keeping the point where the original ball lay between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.

Coming back to the question, as we do not exactly know the details of the situation, I believe that there are several options:
1st option:
This person went into the bunker and was able to identify his ball. He can drop in the bunker without penalty or in a similar hazard nearby without going closer to the hole, of course (which normally is not possible under Rule 28).
2nd option
This person went into the bunker and was able to identify his ball but because the birds were still in the bunker he could not drop in the same bunker. Neither is there a similar bunker nearby. His option then is to drop outside the bunker with 1 penalty stroke, keeping the ball on the line-of-sight to the hole (normally not possible under Rule 28).
3rd option
This person cannot identify his ball, so there is no other option than to go back to the spot from where the previous stroke was made under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 20-5).
End of my reply

Now, this person replied to me the following:

“I do not agree that it is absolutely necessary to identify the ball. You only need to be sure (known or virtually certain) that the ball has landed in the ‘danger-zone.’ You can compare this with the water hazard ball (I have never seen someone entering a water hazard to identify his ball) or ‘ball at rest moved by an outside agency’ (I have never seen anybody flying after a bird to make sure that it was that bird that took the ball).
If it is not sure that the ball is in the danger-zone, the only option left for the player is to go back to the spot where the ball was originally hit from (with a penalty stroke). If that certainty can only be obtained by identifying the ball then it seems a ‘non-issue’ anyway, because if you can identify the ball then you can also play the ball.
In case (later) that the ball in the danger-zone was not the player’s ball, then he had no right to play a substituted ball and gets 2 penalty strokes (Match Play: loss of hole).
I am interested to hear your adviser’s opinion (should your adviser wish to debate the subject further I advise her to contact Grant Moir – Director Rules of Golf, Royal St Andrews).”

I’m sorry to bother you with such a long story, but I do appreciate your views especially as I'm not too happy with the last part of his reply (in red).

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Kind regards,

Dear Lulu,

I am honored and delighted to be consulted on a ruling by a Dutch referee working for the French Federation. I, in turn, consulted a USGA official. I suspect you will be surprised by his response.

I cannot speak for the Royal &; Ancient, but the USGA does not consider geese to be dangerous, as they are neither poisonous nor life-threatening. Accordingly, if the player chooses not to play his ball he must declare it unplayable, take his one-stroke penalty, and use one of the relief options in Rule 28.

That is the answer to your question, plain and simple.

However, since I don’t like to miss an opportunity to educate my readers, let’s take another look at your question and change the geese into rattlesnakes. If it is virtually certain that the ball has settled in a bunker and is sharing the bunker with a rattlesnake, then the player has three options:

1. drop a ball in the same bunker, not nearer the hole (probably not the best idea unless it is a very large bunker);
2. drop a ball in a nearby similar bunker, not nearer the hole; or
3. drop a ball outside the bunker on the line-of-sight to the hole, adding a one-stroke penalty to his score.

With regard to identifying the ball, if it is virtually certain that the player’s ball is in the bunker, every attempt should be made to identify it. The player and his fellow competitors should walk carefully around the perimeter of the bunker to see if it is possible to identify it. If the ball cannot be identified, then the benefit of doubt, in this case, is given to the player. He is entitled to proceed under one of the options listed above. If it is not virtually certain that the ball went into the bunker, then the player’s ball is lost and he must proceed under stroke and distance [Rule 27-1].

Lulu, the player who wrote back to you was correct in his assumption that he would not be required to identify the ball if such identification posed a danger to life and limb (assuming it was virtually certain that the ball was in the bunker). However, the point is moot, since geese are not poisonous or life-threatening birds, and are therefore not considered dangerous under the USGA Rules of Golf.

My recommendation would be to declare the ball unplayable and steer clear of the angry geese. I would not wish to disturb a nest or harm an animal to save myself a penalty in a game of golf.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.