Friday, July 29, 2011

Ask Linda #330-Interior OB stakes

Good morning Linda,

I have a question about out of bounds within the boundary of the golf course.  One of the courses I play at used to have OB stakes between holes 16 and 17 which were OB only for #16.  The course was recently sold and the new owner removed the stakes.  When I asked about it I was told "OB within the boundaries of the golf course are illegal so I removed them."  Is this true or can courses designate OB in any manner they wish?
Thank you,
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Interior out-of-bounds stakes are neither illegal nor unusual. There are a number of reasons why a course might install interior OB stakes, such as around an unfenced driving range, or as a safety measure to prevent golfers from cutting a dogleg by playing through another fairway.

It is also permissible to have OB stakes between two holes that are OB for the one hole but not for the other. In this case the Committee would have to write a Local Rule declaring the stakes to be immovable obstructions when golfers are playing the hole where they are not defining out of bounds.

You may want to refer the new owner to the following Decisions regarding interior out-of-bounds stakes: 33-2a/12, 33-2a/14, and 24/5.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ask Linda# 329-Who is responsible for the score?

Linda, my question is:  Who is responsible for making sure all 4 people in the 4-some report a correct score?  I played in a tournament where 1 person out of 4 reported what I believed to be an incorrect score to the person who was writing down her score (we exchanged scorecards).  I wasn't 100% sure that it was incorrect, so I said nothing.  The 2nd time she did it, I challenged her and she quickly said that I was correct.  The other 2 women in the 4-some seemed to think that they were not responsible for any other person's score.  Thanks, Lulu.

Dear Lulu,

The bottom line is that the player must sign a card with her correct score. If the score is higher than her correct total, that number will stand; if it is lower, she will be disqualified [Rule 6-6d].

If you are not the player’s marker, then you are not officially responsible for her score. However, good sportsmanship would dictate that you speak up if you know or suspect that a player has totaled her score for the hole incorrectly. The same advice would hold true if you noticed that a player neglected to include penalty strokes for a violation she was unaware she committed. The other player may not be thrilled that you noticed, but she should be grateful that you saved her from a likely disqualification.

The player’s official marker –the one with whom she exchanged scorecards– should check the score with the player at the completion of every hole. Most disputes can be resolved on the spot, especially with two extra witnesses on hand. If the marker and the player cannot agree on the score, the marker is not obligated to sign a scorecard she believes is incorrect. Disputes will have to be settled by the Committee, which will most likely interview the other two players in the group. The marker will be asked to authenticate those scores she considers correct.

If a marker knowingly attests a wrong scorecard, she should be disqualified along with the player. Let’s say a player incurs a penalty of which she is unaware, and the marker is aware of the penalty but does not inform the player. Consequently, the player’s score for the hole will not include the penalty strokes. The player will be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, and the marker should be disqualified under Rule 33-7 for a serious breach of etiquette.

Players should always assist each other with the Rules, which include totaling the score for each hole correctly. Since players rarely have the luxury of playing under the supervision of a referee, and players are required to abide by the Rules, players knowledgeable about the Rules should always be willing to step up and help.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ask Linda #328-Most Improved Golfer

Linda, in the past year or so we have questions come up as to a sub’s eligibility for ‘Most Improved Golfer’.  What is the ruling on this? Is it fair for someone golfing 4-5 games a season versus a regular member golfing 15 or more games?  Thanks for explaining the ruling on sub eligibility for ‘Most Improved Golfer’.

Dear Lulu,
There is no USGA ruling regarding who is eligible for a Most Improved Golfer award. That decision rests with the governing board of your organization. It would be best to establish eligibility rules for such awards at the onset of the season.

There is, however, a USGA-recommended procedure for determining who is the Most Improved Golfer, which is described in Appendix H of The USGA Handicap System:

1. Add 12 to each player’s Handicap Index at the start of the season. Call this number “A.”
2. Add 12 to each player’s Handicap Index at the end of the season.  Call this number “B.”
3. Divide A by B, calculating out to three decimal places. This is the player’s “improvement factor.”

Do this calculation for all players who improved. The player with the highest improvement factor will be your most improved golfer.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ask Linda #323b–Different penalties explained

Dear readers,

You may recall (Ask Linda #323a) the reader who wanted to know why there was a penalty in match play for moving your opponent’s ball, but no penalty in stroke play for moving your fellow competitor’s ball. A very knowledgeable reader came up with the answer, which is printed below.

It will help you to understand his explanation if you take a moment to read the definition of Outside Agency in your rulebook. Also, his reference to Tuft’s Principles is to a book entitled The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf, written by Richard S. Tufts and originally published in 1960.

My thanks to Phil for sharing his insight and understanding. Here is his explanation:


An obvious reason for not penalizing a player for "stepping on" (herein = unintentionally moving) a fellow competitor's ball (stroke play) is that a fellow competitor is an outside agency. An opponent (match play) is not an outside agency. So to be consistent with Rule 18-1 [which states that there is no penalty if a ball is moved by an outside agency], a fellow competitor should not be penalized for stepping on another player's ball. (It also should be pointed out, however, that there is no penalty if an opponent [in match play] moves the player's ball during a search (18-3a).)

Rationale for defining fellow competitors as outside agencies, while opponents are not, is a whole other discussion as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps such a discussion will make its way into some future revision of Tuft's Principles. ;-) Chapter 8 and 13 of Tufts do already contain related discussions as regards differences between match and stroke play, some of which you describe in your response to "Lulu."

It therefore seems to me that there are quite "logical" reasons, viz. the need for consistency within the rules, for the differences in the consequences of "stepping on a ball" in stroke play as opposed to match play and I'm a bit surprised by the "speechless" USGA [rules?] official's response.

I really enjoy your blog. As a low level volunteer Rules Official for my state golf association, it is very useful to have your emails arrive regularly; they keep me actively engaged. You do an excellent job of responding to your readers' questions, and this includes my own. Please keep it up.

Athens, GA

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask Linda #327-Relief options for greenside hazard

Linda, I hope you can help me with what the proper drop options are in this situation. Imagine this hole similar to the 12th at Augusta National but the water fronting the green is marked red for lateral and is situated only on the front right side. Golfer hits his approach shot over the green and ends up in the back green side bunker.
He then skulls his next shot from the bunker and hits it into the water in front of the green. The water hazard is marked red for lateral. What are his drop options?
This is what I thought was correct:
1. Replay the shot from the bunker.
2. Drop 2 club lengths from point of entry no nearer to the hole.
3. Drop on the other side of the water hazard equidistant to the hole.
Another golfer in the group insisted that the 2 club drop was not an option because any drop will be closer to the hole because the point of entry is between the green and the water hazard.
Is he correct?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

It is usually possible to drop a ball on the green side of a lateral hazard without violating the prohibition against dropping closer to the hole by dropping close to the margin of the hazard. If that is not possible, then the player must use one of the other relief options that you listed: replay from the bunker or drop on the opposite side of the hazard at a point equidistant from the hole [Decision 26-1/18].

The Committee has another option when a lateral hazard adjacent to a green is so configured that there are sections of the hazard where it is not possible to find an area to drop that would not be closer to the hole. They can mark those specific areas and provide one or more dropping zones for a ball that enters the hazard in those designated sections. The option to use the dropping zone would be written as a Local Rule [Decision 33-2a/9].

The reasoning of the other golfer in your group is incorrect. A ball entering a lateral hazard adjacent to a green will often enter the hazard at a point between the green and the hazard. The determining factor in whether the player may drop on the green side of the hazard is whether a point can be found within two club-lengths of the hazard margin that is no closer to the hole. There is no requirement that you measure the two club-lengths perpendicular to the hazard. If you measure away from the hole and relatively parallel to the hazard margin, there is a good possibility you will find an area in which to drop a ball that conforms to the Rules.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask Linda #326a

Ask Linda #326a–Nearest relief from cart path is unplayable

Linda, regarding #326-OB fence relief on cart path, if after placing the ball on the cart path, the nearest point of relief once again brought interference from the out of bounds fence back into play, does the player have any other option?

Thank you,

Dear Lulu,

There is a very interesting and informative Decision that you should read that discusses what to do if the nearest point of relief from a cart path is in casual water, and the nearest relief from the casual water is back on the cart path [Decision 1-4/8]. The bottom line in this Decision is that after dropping in the casual water and then dropping back on the cart path, he would be entitled to take his next drop at a spot that avoids interference from both problems. This Decision does not answer your question, as relief from both the cart path and the casual water is free, but it is a related problem and a good read.

The situation you describe is different, in that relief from the out-of-bounds fence is not free and you have more than one relief option. You are taking relief under Rule 28 for an unplayable ball. In this case, dropping within two club-lengths was not the only option. A player may choose, instead, to return to where he hit his previous shot.

If you have been reading my blog, you may have seen my warning: always assess all your relief options before lifting your ball. That advice is appropriate here.

A player who lifts his ball under Rule 28 and drops within two club-lengths is assessed a one-stroke penalty for the privilege. After dropping his ball twice on the cart path and then placing it because it rolled closer to the hole each time, he now has to decide whether to hit the ball from the cart path (a viable option) or drop near the fence where his ball will once again be unplayable. If he drops again into an unplayable position, he will incur another penalty stroke when he takes relief.

From my perspective, this player should have checked his options before dropping his ball on the cart path and made the smarter choice to return to where he hit his previous shot. Since he did not, and he must now choose between hitting a ball lying on the cart path or incurring a second penalty shot when his ball is once again unplayable next to the fence, his best option might be to hit the ball on the cart path.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

New Feature

Dear readers,

I have added a search feature to the blog. It is located below my picture. What this means is that you can “visit” the blog (, type a word or phrase into the search box, and click on “Search.”  You will see links to every question that I have answered dealing with that specific topic.

Also, I have received a request from Barry Rhodes to introduce my readers to his blog about the Rules of Golf. Barry, from Dublin, Ireland, explains a different Rule every week to over 6,000 readers. Check it out – his columns are clearly and thoughtfully written, and will help you understand the Rules (


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ask Linda #326-OB fence relief on cart path

Linda, I hope you can settle a situation that occurred on the course the other day.
Golfer declares the ball unplayable because it is laying close to the OB fence line. The option he takes is relief 2 club lengths from the fence. The problem is that the only area within 2 clubs not nearer to the hole is on the cart path. If he drops twice on the path and being downhill it rolls forward towards the hole. He then places the ball on the path. Can he then get 1 club relief from the cart path?
Thank You,
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Yes. The player proceeded correctly. There is no free relief from an out-of-bounds fence. Dropping within two club-lengths under penalty of one stroke is one of the relief options for an unplayable ball [Rule 28c]. If the two club-lengths puts him on the cart path, then that is where he must drop the ball. Since the ball rolled closer to the hole on both drops, he must place it on the spot where it hit the path on the second drop [Rule 20-2c(vii)]. If the player decides to take relief from the cart path, he must find the nearest point no closer to the hole where he will get full relief. He will then drop the ball within one club-length of that spot [Rule 24-2b].

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ask Linda #325-Convert 9-hole handicap to 18

Hi Linda - I have a 9-hole handicap. I am golfing in an outing and they want an 18-hole handicap number. How do I convert the 9-hole handicap to one for 18 holes? Thanks!

Dear Lulu,

If you have an official USGA nine-hole Handicap Index, then you may double it for an 18-hole handicap [USGA Handicap System, Rule 10-5]. For example, if your 9-hole Handicap Index is 16.4, that will convert to 32.8 for an 18-hole competition.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ask Linda #324-Ball sticks to putter

Dear Linda,
I have an unusual circumstance for you; we have asked a number of local pros here regarding this occurrence and have been getting conflicting answers.  I thought it best to approach my rules “guru” for an answer!
I live in Ireland, and we play golf all year round here.  A golfer at a local club was playing during this winter, in the midst of a hailstorm.  His ball was on the green, some yards from the pin.  He putted, and the ball ended up a few inches from the cup.  He went to tap the ball into the cup, and did so, but when looking in the cup to retrieve the ball, found that it was not in the cup at all.  The ball had actually frozen on to the face of his putter, and was attached to the putter.  In this circumstance, what happens?   Does he replace and re-put for penalty, or without penalty?  Can he hold his putter over the cup and wait for the ice to melt and ball fall into the cup?  We have never had this occurrence before, and didn't know what rule would govern such a circumstance.

Thanks for your input!!
Best regards,

Dear Lulu,
When a situation is not specifically covered by the Rules, a decision must be made “in accordance with equity,” which means that it should be fair and reasonable [Rule 1-4]. There is no Decision addressing your specific situation. However, there is a similar Decision regarding a ball sticking to a club, and I believe that the ruling would apply in your case.

In Decision 1-4/2, a ball adheres to the club when a player makes a stroke from wet sand or soil. The ruling is that the ball should be dropped, without penalty, as near as possible to where the club was when the ball stuck to it.

From my perspective, sticking is sticking. It makes no difference whether the gluing agent is wet sand, mud, or hail stones. Since this occurred on a putting green, the player should replace the ball on the green and try again. Do not count the stroke made when the ball adhered to the face of the putter.

I would advise the player to dry both the putter and the ball before re-putting. A sensible Committee should pull players off the course during a hailstorm. 

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ask Linda #323a-Why different penalties?

Hi Linda, Regarding Ask Linda #323–Stepping on a ball -- I am just curious, do you know of a logical reason why there would NOT be a penalty in stroke play, yet in Match play there would be a penalty?  I realize you are playing against the person in your 2-some or 4-some in match play, so you might try to affect their play.  But in stroke play, you're really playing against the whole field, including that person whose ball you may step on.  Some of the differences in match play and stroke play rules don't seem to be logical.  Wonder if you could at least clear up this one?


Dear Lulu,

While there is a reasonable explanation for most of the rules differences between match and stroke play, this one has got me stumped.

Most of the rules differences between match play and stroke play can be attributed to the fact that in match play the competition is limited to you and your opponent, while in stroke play you are competing against a significant number of fellow competitors. In match play everything you do has an immediate impact on the only player with whom you are in competition. Match play rules reflect that more intimate setting. Stroke play rules have to look at the broader picture, since there is a larger field to consider.

I can understand the logic behind the penalty in match play. If you move your opponent’s ball in a match, you have directly affected the play of your only competition. Moving your opponent’s ball, whether or not intentional, could influence the result of the hole. The Rules need to discourage such behavior. Therefore, a penalty for moving your opponent’s ball is warranted.

The logic behind not penalizing moving another player’s ball in stroke play is more difficult to fathom. I posed your question to two usually reliable authorities: a good friend and excellent golfer who is a former teaching pro, and a USGA rules official. The friend said: “I can explain why there’s a penalty for moving another player’s ball in match play but not in stroke play.” And then he thought a moment, gave me a funny look, and said: “I have no idea. Can’t help you on this one.”  The USGA official was similarly speechless. He put me on hold while he researched the matter, and could not come up with an answer.

The Rules of Golf are not always as logical as they should be (some golfers might claim there is little or no logic to many of the rules). This was a challenging question, Lou, and if further investigation turns up a better answer (or any answer) I will be back in touch.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meaning of “Known or Virtually Certain”

Dear readers,

In order to take relief for a ball in a water hazard, the Rules require that it must be “known or virtually certain” that your original ball is in the hazard. Judging from recent questions I have received, there seems to be confusion about the meaning of that terminology. There is a Decision that does a good job of clarifying that phrase. I believe you might find this explanation helpful, so I am reprinting it below:

26-1/1 Meaning of "Known or Virtually Certain"
If a ball has been struck towards a water hazard and has not been found, the term "known or virtually certain" indicates the level of confidence that the ball is in the water hazard that is required for the player to proceed under Rule 26-1 [Water Hazards]. A player may not assume that his ball is in a water hazard simply because there is a possibility that the ball may be in the hazard. If it is not known that the ball is in the water hazard, in order for the player to proceed under Rule 26-1 there must be almost no doubt that the ball is in the hazard. Otherwise, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost outside the hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27-1 [Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball].
All available evidence must be taken into account in determining whether knowledge or virtual certainty exists, including any testimony and the physical conditions in the area around the water hazard. For example, if a water hazard is surrounded by a fairway on which a ball could hardly be lost, there exists a greater certainty that the ball is in the hazard than there would be if there were deep rough in the area. Observing a ball splash in a water hazard would not necessarily provide knowledge or virtual certainty as to the location of the ball as sometimes such a ball may skip out of a hazard.
The same principle would apply for a ball that may have been moved by an outside agency (Rule 18-1) or a ball that has not been found and may be in an obstruction (Rule 24-3) or an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1c).
Source: United States Golf Association® and R&A Rules Limited, Decisions on The Rules of Golf. You may access the Decisions on the USGA website:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ask Linda #323–Stepping on a ball

Linda, I was playing golf on the weekend. One of my pals asked what happens if you are in a tournament & you accidentally step on someone's ball while walking.

Dear Lulu,

In a stroke play tournament there is no penalty. If the ball is moved, it must be replaced [Rule 18-4].

In a match play competition, there is no penalty for stepping on another player’s ball if it happens while searching for it. If the ball is stepped on and moved at any other time, the player who stepped on the ball will incur a one-stroke penalty [Rule 18-3a, b]. In all cases, the ball must be replaced.

If the lie of the ball is altered, then the player must place the ball in a similar lie that is within one club-length and no closer to the hole.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ask Linda #322-Second ball not declared provisional

Linda, am I right in thinking that you have the option of declaring a ball unplayable/lost and taking a penalty drop or stroke-and-distance penalty?
In fact, don't you have to state before playing a provisional that the 2nd ball is a provisional? In which case, wouldn't it be sufficient merely to OMIT to declare the 2nd ball as a provisional for it to be the ball in play, regardless of whether the first ball is found?
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

Unplayable ball: You may declare a ball unplayable anywhere on the golf course (except in a water hazard) and proceed under any of the relief options in Rule 28.

Lost ball: You may not “declare” a ball “lost.” However, once you put a second ball into play without stating that it is a provisional, then your original ball is officially lost by definition, regardless of whether you later find it. That second ball is in play. Count both shots and add one penalty stroke to your score.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ask Linda #321-Wrong ball procedure

Linda, I understand there is a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball but I'm not clear on how it is applied.
If I complete a hole and realize I did not finish with the same ball I used on the tee, do I simply add two strokes to my score? Or must I try to find my original ball? If I find the original ball, do I add two strokes before I hit it? In other words, if I thought I was hitting my second shot, does it now become my fourth shot? If I do not find the original ball, and I'm not clear when I lost it, where do I play my next shot?
Sorry to be so long winded and confusing.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

I answered a similar question in June of 2010. In that situation, a player hit a wrong ball on the fifth hole and did not discover the mistake until after she teed off on the sixth hole. I will give you a brief answer to your question. I also suggest that you read Ask Linda #217-Wrong ball penalty, which was published on June 30, 2010.

You must add a two-stroke penalty to your score for the hole, and you must go back and play your original ball. If you do not find your original ball, you must follow the procedure for a lost ball. This means you must return to where you hit the ball you lost, drop another, and add a one-stroke penalty to your score (you have now incurred three penalty strokes on this hole). If you tee off on the next hole without correcting your mistake, you are disqualified.

Here is how you to count your score if you hit the wrong ball on your second shot and you then find your original ball:
1. The tee shot is stroke #1.
2. Do not count the stroke you made when you hit the wrong ball.
3. Add two strokes for playing the wrong ball.
4. When you find and hit your original ball, that will be your fourth shot.
If you do not find your original ball, then your tee shot will be your fifth shot.

The answer as to what to do if you don’t know when you started playing the wrong ball is a little trickier. You are obligated to figure it out. Review your shots carefully with your fellow golfers.

In match play, you simply lose the hole. Makes you wish all play were match play, doesn’t it?

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ask Linda #320-Repairing damage after ball at rest

Linda, your last two sentences of your answer to #296 stated:

“If the damage occurs after your ball has come to rest, you may repair it. A player is always entitled to the lie that his shot gave him.”

I am interpreting this to mean that if the cup is damaged by removing it or if spike marks are created “after” the ball has come to rest, they may be repaired – even if that action was caused by the player whose lie or line is being impacted.  Please confirm.
Lou Lou

Dear Lou Lou,

If another player damages your line of putt after your ball has come to rest, you are entitled to repair the damage.

If you worsen your lie or line of play, you are not permitted to restore it to its original condition. If you fix any damage on your line that you have created, you have breached Rule 13-2 and will incur a two-stroke penalty (loss of hole in match play).

If you are attending the flagstick for another player, and the hole is damaged when you remove the flagstick, a Committee member should look at the hole and make a ruling. If no Committee member is nearby, then the best advice I can give you is to play two balls under Rule 3-3 and let the Committee decide which ball to count. Basically, if the hole is so badly damaged that it no longer conforms to the Definition of “Hole” (it must be round and have a 4 ¼” diameter), you are permitted to have the hole repaired before you putt. Any other damage should be repaired after everyone has finished putting.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are asked to attend the flagstick, make sure you can remove it easily before the player putts. If it’s stuck, you will have a chance to jiggle and loosen it before disaster strikes.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ask Linda #319-Ball won’t stay put on green

Hi Linda,

“Lou” hit his ball onto a green. The green is sloped and had been recently sanded.  He marked the ball, lifted and cleaned it, then waited for others to putt and replaced it.  The ball then rolled towards the hole, he placed it again…again it rolled.  What is Lou to do? (This actually occurred last weekend, eventually the ball stayed in place.)

Dear Lulu,

I answered a similar question in July of 2009 (Ask Linda #133-Ball won’t stay put). The same rule is still in effect. You get two tries to replace your ball in front of your marker. If it rolls after the second try (as Lou’s did), then you must place it on the nearest spot not closer to the hole where it will stay put [Rule 20-3d]. This move is free of charge – no penalty.

Copyright © 2009 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.