We consulted with GSGA Rules Official, David Burke, on common rules errors that occur in competition. He referenced three golf rules that he has to explain on a regular basis.
Correctly identifying the Nearest Point of Complete Relief
This is probably the single most misunderstood golf rule in the book.
The Nearest Point of Complete Relief is the reference point for taking free relief from an Abnormal Course Condition which includes Temporary Water, Animal Holes, Immovable Obstructions (such as a cart path), Dangerous Animal Conditions (e.g., Fire Ants or Alligator), No Play Zones or a Wrong Green.
The Nearest Point of Complete Relief is the point nearest to where the ball lies, not nearer the hole and where the condition does not interfere.
What some players don’t understand is that the Nearest Point of Complete Relief might be in a bush, inside a tree trunk or in a very bad lie. The mistake players make is lifting the ball before assessing the situation.
Many times, I’m called into a ruling and the player has the ball in his or her hand and when they find out their relief is in a bad spot they want to replace the ball. However, if the player replaces the ball in this situation, they will incur a penalty of one stroke for moving a ball in play.
So, the lesson here is not to lift a ball until you are sure how you will proceed.
Properly Identifying Temporary Water
A player thinks his or her ball might be in Temporary Water and they stand next to the ball and start doing “The Dance”. They move their feet up and down waiting to see if any water comes up from the ground.
Relief from Temporary Water is not allowed simply because the ground is merely wet, soft, muddy or water is only momentarily visible. To get relief, water must be visible before or after the player takes his or her regular stance (not pressing down more than usual).
Incidentally, dew and frost are not included in the definition of Temporary Water but snow and natural ice are considered temporary water or a loose impediment at the players option.
No Free Relief If Clearly Unreasonable To Play the Ball
Most players have no idea this is a Rule but there are circumstances when a player does not get free relief from an Abnormal Course Condition.
The player is not entitled to free relief when playing the ball as it lies is clearly unreasonable because of something other than an Abnormal Course Condition. For example, a player is standing on a cart path but is unable to make a stroke because the ball is in a bush or between two large tree roots.
Another example is a player’s ball is near a cart path and the player takes an unusually wide stance so a foot touches the path.
A good rules official will ask the player to show how they would play the stroke if the condition was not there. This is where the player must convince the rules official and/or fellow competitors the stroke he or she would have made is a normal stroke.
We try to have a good understanding of the rules of golf and if we don't we learn pretty quickly when a two stroke penalty is added. And even when you know the rules, in the stress of tournament play one can act too quickly without thinking, like the time our then 7 year old playing the US Kids Holiday Classic at PGA National marked his ball that was on the fringe of the green.
Here are a few "off the radar" rules that we have recently come across in competition that may be helpful to know.
If your ball is off the green and a pitch mark is off the green and in the path of the ball. What can you do about it?
You can repair a pitch mark on the green but not on the fringe even if it is in your line of putting. This would be regarded as improving your line of play and thus a general penalty (2 strokes) according to Rule 8.1.
A chip on to the green (as opposed to putting) may well be your best option in this situation.
Can your playing partner ask you to mark your ball if you are both off the green?
Yes, if according to Rule 22-1, it interferes with their stoke, path or landing spot.
Continuing with the above scenario, you've marked your ball and picked it up at your playing partner's request. Can you give it a quick clean?
In this scenario Rule 14-1 precludes you for cleaning the ball. To do so would result in a one shot penalty. To ensure you don't inadvertently clean your ball or give the appearance that you might have, do as many Pros do and just move it out of the line of play (once the spot is marked) and leave it on the grass.
Is there any scenario where you can clean your ball during play while not on the green?
There are two scenarios where you are permitted by Rule 14-1 to clean your ball during play off the green. Firstly you can clean it, but only to the extent necessary for identification purposes, when you are not sure the ball is yours. Second, you can clean your ball embedded in its own pitch mark, before you take relief from the embedded lie. Embedded ball relief is available through the general area (so, not penalty areas or bunkers).
What if your golf ball is embedded in a bunker?
Embedded ball relief does not extend to penalty areas, including bunkers. Rule 14-2 allows you to scrape away the sand for the purposes of identifying the ball, however, you will need to recreate the original lie (allowing for a small amount of the ball to be exposed).
You 'top' your provisional shot off the tee box. Do you leave it there and go try and find your original shot?
You can play your provisional ball up to the point where your original shot is likely to be. Rule 18 covers Provisional Shots and once you play your provisional shot at or after the area where your original shot is likely to be, the provisional ball becomes the ball in play and the original is treated as a lost ball.
A clear and concise knowledge of the rules of golf takes a lot of stress away from tournament play allowing mind and body to commit to the goal in the moment, without second guessing and lingering on a potential rule infringement five holes back.
Juniors who learn the rules at a young age will have more confidence when calling on the services of rules officials like David Burke in competition. Knowledge is power and confidence is key. In golf and life.
Additional Reading and Quiz: The Junior Golfer's Golf Rules Quiz and Summary.
This golf rules quick reference guide is a good addition to a junior's bag or for a parent caddie and is for sale on Amazon: