Monday, September 16, 2013

Ask Linda #721-Illegal Local Rules

Dear Linda,

I apologise for this lengthy explanation. Please feel free to paraphrase or edit as you see fit. I always try to comply with even the most dubious/illegal local rules but…

My question is:

Can "Illegal" Local Rules be Ignored?

I entered a competition at an "away" course the other day and one of the local rules concerned a dropping zone for a water hazard that had to be cleared in order to land on the green. The local rule stated that for any ball that failed to clear the hazard the only option is that the ball MUST be dropped in the drop zone. 

This drop zone is positioned at the back of the green - to take the water out of play - but left a difficult shot over a mound with little landing space before the pin. In my view the easier shot was to play 3 off the tee - this was a short hole to a large green. I could hit this green 9 times out of 10.

I am sure that this drop zone does not comply with the R&A Guidance on Running a Competition with regards to the establishment of such a drop zone and I am also certain that such a local rule is also illegal! For instance it does not allow me take stroke and distance relief.

If players know that a local rule is "illegal" do they still have the options available to them laid down in the rules of golf? In this case I played two balls (in accordance with Rule 3-3) and stated that I wished to use the stroke and distance option to count as my score for the hole. Although I informed "The Committee" after completion of the round, they had no decision to make as the score for each ball was the same (5).

Fortunately my "home" course does not have any illegal or dubious local rules.  In addition we are quite knowledgeable with regards to the rules of golf and it is therefore easy to recognise dubious local rules (i.e. those that are not approved by the USGA or R&A under Appendix 1 to the Rules of Golf).

However if we played in a competition and did not follow the illegal/dubious local rules of golf but strictly followed the rules and reliefs given in the Rules of Golf do we run the risk of being disqualified from the competition? 

I have looked at the various Decisions under Rule 34 but it is not clear what happens when a Committee makes an incorrect Local Rule and whether that ruling may be ignored/corrected when playing a round. It is all very well playing two balls, but what happens if everyone abides by an illegal local rule such as providing free relief from divot holes? Even though this local rule is not authorised, I would be at a disadvantage in the competition if I did not take advantage of it! 

The obvious answer is to mention any illegal or dubious local rules to the competition committee when I check the local rules before teeing off - but they also approved the local rules so I am in a difficult position - and very often there is insufficient time to clarify this before teeing off.

It is the local rules that state I "MUST" do something that I know is illegal (i.e. would not be authorised/approved by the USGA/R&A) that I have most difficulty with. Apart from exercising my right to play with two balls (Rule 3-3) what are my options? 

Lou from the United Kingdom

Dear Lou,

Let’s take a look first at your experience with the Dropping Zone. The Committee established a Dropping Zone on the green side of the hazard, which is not permissible. Furthermore, it made it mandatory for players to use the illegal Zone, depriving players of their rights under the Rules of Golf. I am not happy. You made the right decision in playing two balls under Rule 3-3. It’s a shame you scored the same with both balls – it would have been interesting to see how the Committee would rule if you had a lower score with the ball you re-played correctly under the Rules from the tee.

There is no Local Rule available for Committees to adopt to allow players to remove balls from divots on the fairway when they are playing the ball down otherwise. Committees are not permitted to make up Local Rules that are not in accordance with the Local Rules in Appendix I. (There are exceptions for unusual circumstances, but divots are not unusual on a golf course.) A Committee that feels it’s necessary to provide relief from divot holes may adopt the Local Rule for “preferred lies,” although preferred lies is not recommended for that reason alone.

If a Committee establishes Local Rules for a tournament that are not in accordance with the Rules of Golf, players are not competing under the Rules of Golf. Scores from such tournaments are not acceptable for posting.

As you mentioned, you would be at a disadvantage if other players are dropping out of divots and you do not. I would suggest that you follow the rules of the tournament and insist that your score not be posted into your handicap record. If you have sufficient time prior to the tournament to voice your objections to the illegal Local Rules (we’re talking about days here, not hours), by all means do so. Otherwise, a polite conversation after your round might help to enlighten the Committee regarding future tournaments.

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