The rules of golf do not always provide a clear answer. Sometimes, a ruling is required through a discussion of the playing group. If a consensus on the interpretation cannot be found, then an alternative resolution process engages to ensure that the field is protected. Of course, these rules discussion rarely happens in a friendly because the stakes are generally not that high. In a competition, however, the proper interpretation is needed. Therefore, a process of finding an equitable solution is needed. This process needs to be simple, easy to enforce, and relatively quick. It just so happens I have a process that you might find useful if you are planning to play in any golf competition.
At any time during the round, a player may as for relief, a rules interpretation, or a rules clarification. This is nothing new as I have experienced this situation many times during competition. A majority of the questions hover around the number of strokes that a player incurs for hitting the ball out of bounds or in a penalty area. The answer to these situations is very straight forward and generally do not illicit a great deal of discussion. Some times where to drop from a penalty area occurs, but even these situations are resolved quickly. It is when a player hits their ball in a unique location or asks for relief is when the my process kicks in to quickly draw a conclusion.
I will use relief as a model and then give you an example of what I mean. The following is how I approach a rules discussion:
- The player needs to explain why they are asking for relief. The fact that they in a bad spot is not good enough. They need to provide a general idea of why they believe they are asking for relief. If they cannot, then play on.
- If we agree that their might be a possibility for relief, we discuss what rule it might be given under. If we are in agreement that relief is warranted, then we move to step 3.
- In this step, the possible options and locations for relief are discussed. Sometimes, these options are worse than the players current situation and decides to withdraw their request.
- The player asking for relief drops their ball and play continues.
Pretty simple, right? Well, my above process is predicated on the assumption that the players involved in the discussion have some idea about the rules. Each golfer should read the rules at least once if they are planning to compete. It only makes sense because understanding the rules can save you strokes during the competition.
My example is rooted in an article I wrote in 2013. Titled “Gopher It”, I outline the above process where a players ball was lost in a gopher hole and how we concluded that they were entitled to free relief. In this article, we discussed a player playing a provisional ball because at that moment we were not sure what the rules conclusion would garner. If no definitive decision is reached, a player should play their provision ball and play a ball on how they interpret the rules. Then after the round is concluded and before they sign their score card, the talk to the rules official for the event (usually the local professional) for a final ruling. Once given, that is the score entered on the scorecard.
Knowing the rules of golf is important. If you do not know them well, ask for relief. A discussion would likely incur and that is a good thing. Once a definitive decision is reach, then play on. If not, play a provision ball and the original ball to end the hole; then seek an official ruling after the round. Following my process protects the player, group and field in a competition.
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!