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With the 2010-2011 USGA Rulebook being 155 pages
long, it’s no wonder that misconceptions about the
Rules are commonplace. Throw in the fact that everyday
golfers often violate the Rules, either through ignorance or
convenience, and you have a game played by many that
doesn’t resemble the game we see on TV every weekend.
It’s a fair wager that the vast majority of golfers, at
least in the United States, have never cracked open a
Rules book to any great degree. As a result, “rules” that
aren’t Rules get passed on by word-of-mouth, and the
process repeats with each generation of new golfers.
Below are some of the more common misconceptions
and violations that we see with the general golfing public.
Elite players aren’t immune, either. Tour players often
get into trouble for the most basic violations, as well.
“You can’t hold onto the flagstick while
tapping in a putt.”
When golfers who hold this
belief are challenged as to what Rule is being violated,
they most often respond by saying an artificial aid is
being used. This might be the case if a golfer who
has indulged in too many beers is using the flagstick
to steady himself. Otherwise, Decision 17-1/5 makes
it clear that such action is permitted, provided the
flagstick is removed so the ball doesn’t strike it.
“You can’t put the rake in the bunker before
hitting your sand shot.”
There is nothing wrong
with putting the rake in the bunker before you hit the
shot, provided that nothing is done to test the sand.
In fact, it’s even okay to put your other clubs in the
bunker (or water hazard) before you hit the shot.
“You cannot have the flagstick tended if your
ball is off the green.”
Rule 17-1 states that “Before
making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the
player may have the flagstick attended, removed,
or held up to indicate the position of the hole.”
“Continuous putting is okay in match play.”
Your ball might be 10 feet from the hole, and your
opponent from 40 feet away lags his putt to 4 feet. He
then says, “I’ll finish.” In stroke play, such a procedure
is permitted, but in match play, the person whose ball
is farthest from the hole is always entitled to play next.
Should your opponent in this case go ahead and putt,
you have the right to immediately declare he replay the
shot, but he must do so only after you play yours.
“You can’t mark your ball on the green with a
tee. That constitutes testing the surface.”
logic stood, then it would also be illegal to fix a ball mark
before putting. Rule 16-1d considers testing the surface
as “rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface.”
Thus, marking the ball with a tee does not meet this test.
“You have to wait until your ball stops rattling
around in the hole before you pick it up.”
Surprisingly, we have come across several instances where
players have been penalized for this. This misconception
stems from the part of the definition of “ball holed” which
states the ball must be at rest within the circumference
of the hole. This is simply to state that, in those rare
instances where the ball might immediately bounce back
out of the hole, the ball is not holed. Otherwise, it’s
perfectly fine to pick up the rattling ball out of the hole.
“If a right-hander gets immovable obstruction
relief by having to play the shot left-handed,
he must play the shot left-handed after getting
Once a player has obtained relief, if he can now
play the shot right-handed, he’s perfectly entitled to do so.
As to the question of whether playing the shot left-handed
from the original position was necessary in the first place,
that is a judgment call. If it is clear that playing the shot
left-handed is unnecessary, then taking relief is prohibited.
Dropping a ball near to where the ball went out
This happens all the time, mainly because
the player failed to hit a provisional ball, and to go
back to the spot where the last shot was struck would
take too much time and anger the players behind.
Rolling the ball over in the fairway to improve
This is a version of “winter rules,” and while most
golfers may play the ball as it lies, a sizeable minority
will improve their lie routinely, even on finely-manicured
Failing to hole out.
Otherwise known as a “gimme.”
Okay in match play, but technically prohibited in stroke
Carrying more than 14 clubs.
Some players can
never have enough.
Dropping in the wrong spot after hitting into
a water hazard.
Although a stroke-and-distance
penalty or keeping the point where the ball last crossed
the margin of the hazard between the hole and the
dropping point are the only two options for a regular
water hazard, you will often see players dropping several
yards away from the correct line. This is probably due
more to ignorance than a deliberate flouting of the
rules, although we don’t doubt the latter does occur.
Taking a mulligan off the first tee.
such golfers: Unless you paid $10 for a couple of mulligans in a charity scramble, play the first ball.
Failure to rake bunkers, replace/sand divots,
or fix ball marks.
Yes, technically no violation of the
Rules of Golf, but a definite violation of the etiquette
of the game. Such golfers may be in need of the most
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