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November 2018

Updates - Rules 2019

The earlier articles on this page illustrate some of the situations that referees will come across whatever the skill level of the players involved, and shows the need for golfers to at least learn the basics of the Rules. In 2019, we are starting again with a completely new set of Rules, new numbers, new words, new principles – but the game will remain largely the same as it has been since it began.  But change happens. The rule numbers and decisions quoted are no longer relevant but the way the rules have been applied still apply in most of cases. However, two of the articles below would have different answers or remedies if they were to happen again in 2019.

The first of these concerns the lady who searched a couple of minutes for her ball, went back to the tee, hit a second ball, but then continued with her first ball after it had been found while she went back. Under the old rules she would auotmatically be disqualified if the error was not corrected before teeing off on the next hole. The new Rules now allow a player to go back to play a provisional ball, providing that the search period has not expired when the ball is played. If the original ball is found within the search period – that is now 3 minutes – not 5 minutes – the player must continue with the original ball. Interpretation (whay used to be called Decisions) 18.3a/2. 

The second article concerns Billy Hurley who in 2016 tried to save himself problems when taking relief for an unplayable ball by using a short club to measure the relief area. He had hoped that if the ball rolled more than two clubs lengths – using the same club - after dropping, he would get to place the ball. Two things would change under the new rules. Firstly, the new Rules now defines a club-length as “The length of the longest club …..that the player has during the round, other than a putter” , so for Billy the area of relief would still be equivalent to the size of the longest club, even if a shorter club is used to measure. Secondly, the ball can only roll up to the limits of the relief area – in other words, when a ball is dropped, irrespective of the reason for the drop, Rule 14.3 now states that the ball must stay in the 1 or 2 club length area permitted by whichever rule the player is subject to at the time.

August 2018 

I've spent the week at Pannal golf club acting as a rules official for the annual Northern Under 16 Open Amateur Championship.  I've been associated with the event since it started in 2001, and have seen any number of memorable perrformances, and have a store of equally memorable incidents that give referees something to do. This week was no exception.  Rule numbers and decisions are given where approriate for information, but I do not normally quote rule numbers to players unless they ask.

I was summoned to a group of players standing in the middle of the 6th fairway – a hole with a blind tee-shot, but with a ball-spotter to help the players locate any mis-directed balls.  My first question. “Who has a problem?”

“I think I’ve played a wrong ball” said Brandon.

“You think – or do you know – that you’ve played a wrong ball?”

“I have played a wrong ball”

“Do you know where your own ball is?”


“OK. You will have a 2-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball, and you now need to find your original ball and play that. (Rule 15-3b) How long did you search for your ball before you played this one?” 

 “I didn’t search for it. The spotter saw it land and found it for me.”   (Black mark for spotter for not asking the player to identify the ball)

“So, you just played it without checking it was yours?”


“As you haven’t spent any time looking for your ball, you now have five minutes to find it. (Dec 27/2) Did you play a provisional ball from the tee?”

“Yes” he said, showing me the ball in his hand.

“Oh”, I said, “that may give us another problem. Go and look for your first ball.” 

Off he went to look for the ball, but after a couple of minutes decided that it didn’t want to be found.  “That’s OK,” I said,” It’s your choice if you don’t want to find the original ball, but that makes your provisional ball the ball in play, and as you’ve picked it up, you will have a one stroke penalty for that, and you must now put it back where it came to rest. If you know the exact spot you must replace it, but if not, you must estimate where it was and drop the ball instead.”  (Rule 20-3c)

He went across the fairway, dropped the ball, and played a super shot to the heart of the green.  “Are you aware of your score for the hole?” I asked.

“Yes, I think I've played four now.”

“No,” I said. “You have your original tee shot, a two stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball, stroke and distance for playing a provisional ball, a one stroke penalty for lifting a ball in play, and then the shot you‘ve just played to the green. You have now played 7.”   (Decison 27-2b/9)

Off he went.  I moved off as well and thought that would be the end of the saga – but I was later told that he then played a wrong ball on the next hole as well.  Perhaps he will start to put personal marks on his balls so that he can recognise them without difficulty. 

The next day we had another instance of a player playing a wrong ball because it didn’t have any identifying marks on it. This was reported on the 10th hole. Although he hadn’t put a mark on the ball, the player knew it wasn’t his ball because it had a different number, but then said he’d been playing that ball since the 3rd or 4th hole.  After playing a wrong ball, the error must be corrected before playing from the next tee, and as he hadn’t done that he was disqualified.

“He is allowed to do it because I’ve seen done it on TV!”

That was the response from a spectator having asked me why I’d made a player stop what he was doing.

Let me explain. I was roaming in my buggy, and came across a boy measuring a club length, marking the extent of the marked area with tee pegs (the advice is to do this, but it’s not actually required by a rule of golf) – and then dropping his ball in the area.  I stopped the buggy.

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“I’m taking relief from a sprinkler head.”

“OK, but why are you dropping the ball on the green?”

“Because I’m allowed a club length relief, and that is within the club length.”

“It may be within a club length, but you are not allowed to take relief onto a green.” 

We went through the process of correctly identifying the nearest point of relief, then having been told that he can drop it close to the edge of the fringe, he proceeded to do just that. However, he didn’t take advantage of the relief, mis-hit the next shot and took 2 further putts to hole out. There is no penalty for making an illegal drop as long as the error is corrected before making the next stroke. (Rule 20-6)

As he moved away to the next tee, a spectator approached me and asked what the problem was.

“He was taking relief from a sprinkler head which is OK, but he can’t drop it on the green.”

Then came the response that started this item. The “Educated by TV commentator” spectator insisted that as he’d seen it done on TV it must be allowed.

“You are mistaken,” I said, “The Rules do not allow you to drop a ball on the green when taking relief from an obstruction.” 

“But I’ve seen it done. The commentator said he was taking advantage of the Rules.”

“He may have been taking advantage of the rules, but he wasn’t dropping on the green. You are allowed to drop on the edge of the fringe, as long as it’s within one club length of and no nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief.”

“He was definitely dropping on the green. Perhaps they do things differently in America.”

“No, they have the same rules. You may think you saw him dropping on the green, but he wasn’t.”

“I’m absolutely sure that he was!”

I could see that he wasn’t going to take my answer. I took out the Rule Book and turned to rule 24-2. Pointed to section b(i) and asked him to read it.

“Through the green,” he murmured. “…..must be dropped within one club length…..must not be in a hazard or on a putting green…….must first strike  the course on a spot ……. not on a putting green”

“Oh,” he said handing me the book back, “Perhaps it was on the fringe”. He walked away without saying another word.

I could have shown him Rule 20-2c(iii) which says that after dropping a ball it must be re-dropped if it rolls on to a putting green, but that may have confused him even more.

P.S. There ARE three different relief situations where you are allowed to drop a ball on the green - I have a bottle of wine for the first person who can tell me what they are. Send your answer by email to the address above.

March 2018

The new Rules coming into force on 1st January 2019 have now been released. There is an emphasis on changes to improve pace of play – and two in particular are worth highlighting.

First, a new form of strokeplay named “Maximum Score”. A club can nominate a maximum score for each hole, which could be a fixed score, or set at a level such as nett double bogey. When this is applied to a medal round, a player will no longer need to hole out on every hole. Instead, once he reaches a predetermined maximum score, (or loses his ball!) he can pick up and move on to the next hole. The scoring is effectively what happens now with “stableford adjustment” for handicap purposes, but will give a medal score.

The second requires the club to introduce a new “Stroke and Distance” local rule which allows a player to avoid going back to the tee after his ball is lost or out of bounds. If the player has not played a provisional ball, then once he has estimated the position of the lost ball, or the point where it went out of bounds, an equidistant point at the edge of the fairway is located. The player can then drop a ball within two club lengths of that point on to the fairway, or at any point between the fairway and the position where the ball crossed out of bounds or was lost. In exchange for not having to go back, the player will incur an additional penalty stroke to replace the distance gained, in addition to the one stroke penalty for the ball lost or out of bounds.

Both of these changes if adopted by clubs will also mean that a player will no longer need to hand in a “No Return” if he is unwilling to go back to play another ball.

I will pass on more information on the new rules throughout the year.

If your club would like a Rules presentation between September and December, please get in touch.

June 19th 2017

As a rules official for England Golf, many days are passed sitting in a buggy with not a lot to do, although you do get to see a lot of very good golfers – and occasionally – as yesterday at York Golf Club – some ordinary club golfers. The event was a regional qualifier for the England Golf Club Team Championship – for teams of two men and two women from the same club with a team aggregate handicap limit between 24 and 96. This allows for some very interesting handicap combinations – and – as you may imagine – golf of varying quality. The competition is Stableford with any two of the four players to count.

So, with not a lot happening, I was cruising around when I noticed three players searching for a ball in the trees over the ditch on the left of the 18th fairway. The fourth player, standing on the fairway side of the ditch, removed a ball from his bag, and dropped it. Out of curiosity I put my foot down and sped (not literally as very few buggies actually speed) towards the group. I was halfway there, and the three players were still searching, when the fourth player took a club, and played the dropped ball towards the green.

My first question on arrival – “Did you find the ball in the ditch?”


“Did you find the ball in the ditch? I saw you play a second ball which I assume is because your ball is in the ditch.”

“Well, we all saw the ball cross the margin of the hazard, and we think it’s somewhere over there” he said, pointing to the group searching in the trees.

“But that’s not in the hazard” I said. “The hazard margin is where that red post is the other side of the ditch. If you think your ball is over there it has to be regarded as a lost ball and you need to go back to the tee and play another ball, You can't take relief from the hazard.”

“Can’t I continue with the ball I’ve just dropped?”

“No, because it’s been played from a wrong place and as well as the penalty stroke for the lost ball, you’ll also get another two stroke penalty for that”

“Oh well. I’m not going back, so I won’t count my score on this hole”

The searching group by this time had given up and returned to their bags, and then came an announcement from one of the ladies. “Jim,” (name changed to protect the innocent), “your ball’s over here” she said, pointing to a ball in the middle of the fairway. “It must have hit a tree and bounced out here”

“Sorry,” I said, “You can’t play that ball as it is lost”. He looked puzzled. “But it’s not lost – it’s here”

“Well, as soon as you played that second ball, it became the ball in play, and your original ball was automatically lost. If you play it now, you’ll be playing a wrong ball”

“But you’ve told me that the ball I dropped was played illegally, and I can’t carry on with it, but you’ve also told me I can’t play my original ball either because it’s lost”


He went off shaking his head, but his team still finished in the top 7 to win a place at Woodhall Spa for the finals.  I’m sure the referees there will have an enjoyable time.

That episode illustrates perfectly the “Known or virtually certain” rule when taking relief. There are three Decisions that cover the situation.

The first, 26-1/3 is for a ball played after taking relief under the water hazard rule, and the original ball is later found outside the hazard. This says that as soon as the second ball was dropped AND played it became the ball in play, and this is exactly the situation we were in. It also says that without the knowledge or certainty that the ball was in the hazard, then he could not take relief from the water hazard and was required to put a ball into play under Rule 27-1 – Lost Ball -  by going back. He gets an additional two stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place – but if he did not correct the error, he would be disqualified.  As this was a stableford competition, he would be disqualified only for that hole.

Decision 26-1/3.5 and Decision 26-1/3.7 both also cover the situation where the original ball is found but BEFORE the dropped ball is played. Normally, except when going back to the tee and re-teeing, a ball is in play as soon as it is dropped. The first of these two decisions is where there is Knowledge or Virtual Certainty that the ball is in a hazard. Because he is virtually certain, a player is entitled to put another ball into play after taking relief with a penalty of one stroke under Rule 26. Even if the original ball is later found outside the hazard, play must continue with the substituted ball, but no additional penalty is incurred. If the original ball is found in the hazard, and this affects the position where relief has to be taken, then the player must re-drop in the correct place without penalty, but he is not allowed to play the original ball, even if it is in a playable position in the hazard.

The second of these two decisions is where there is no knowledge or virtual certainty.  In this situation however, because there is no knowledge or certainty, the player is not allowed to take relief under the water hazard rule. He is not allowed to proceed under a non-applicable rule by dropping another ball under the hazard rule, and he must correct the error. As long as the five minutes allowed for search has not expired, he can continue without penalty, with his original ball. This would have applied to our player, had he not made a stroke at the dropped ball.

In our situation, apart from the fact that he didn’t know where the margin of the hazard was, the fact that players were looking for the ball for some minutes confirms that there was no virtual certainty as to where the ball was and the only option, unless the ball is found, is to treat it as a lost ball and go back to the tee.

I’m now preparing myself for four days of the English Women’s Amateur Championship at Lindrick in July, after which I’ll no doubt have more interesting tales to tell.

August 18th 2016

This update covers four incidents that have happened within Union events over that past couple of weeks

In a Junior IDU foursomes match a player hit his tee-shot into trouble, and they thought it prudent to play a provisional ball. As his bag was not near the tee, the parther used the the first player's club to hit the provisional ball. Rule 4-4a covers the use of clubs during the round, and apart from limiting the player to 14 clubs, also restricts the player to the clubs selected for the round, and may not "borrow any club selected for play by any other player". The penalty for breach of the rule in Stroke play is two strokes, but the matchplay penalty is not as you may expect "loss of hole". The penalty for this in matchplay is an adjustment to the match score by 1 hole for each hole at which the breach occurs. So the score for the hole stands - but then one hole is deducted.  If it happened at the first hole, and the the pair won the hole, then the match score becomes level, If they halved the hole, they would become 1 down, and if they lost the hole they would become 2 down. (See Decision 4-4a/9)

The second incident also occured in a match and concerns a player who hit his ball into a dry water hazard where it came to rest on a molehill. Is he entitled to relief?  Rule 25-1b states that relief from an abnormal ground condition (which includes molehills) is available EXCEPT when the ball is in a water hazard or lateral water hazard, so in this instance, no relief is allowed. If the mole hill was in a bunker, then relief would be allowed, but the player would have to drop in the bunker.  in the Definitions a "water hazard" is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course. All ground and water within the margin of a water hazard are part of the water hazard. Any part of the course that meets the requirements of a water hazard, is a water hazard - whether or not it is marked as such. 

What do you do when you believe you may be entitled to relief but are not sure? This happened to a player in the York Open when his ball came to rest in a hollow made by a burrowing animal - but it was next to a tree that interfered with his stance. He was unsure, but the Rules do make provision under Rule 3-3 for the player to continue without delay by playing a second ball. The player must declare to hs marker that he wishes to play a second ball under rule 3-3, and also declare which score he wants to count for the hole when a decision is made later. In this particular incident, the player's marker took a photo of the situation so it was easy to see that the player would have been able to make a stroke at the ball in its position without taking an abnorrmal stance, swing or direction of play, so relief would have been allowed. He played the original ball, and then dropped a ball after taking relief from the situation, and as the relief procedure was allowed the score with the second ball was counted. Had the relief not been permitted, then the score with the original ball would have counted, but no penalty would have been incurred as a result of playing the second ball. However, having played a second ball under Rule 3-3, failure to report the facts to the committee, even if the score is the same for both balls, will result in disqualification.  Note that the right to play a second ball is NOT available in matchplay.

Finally, a lady e-mailed to clarify a situation regarding the playing of a provisional ball. She had hit her ball towards trees, but thought it would be easy to find. However after searching for a couple of minutes, went back to the tee and hit second ball. at this point, her original ball was found, so the second ball was picked up and she completed the hole with the original ball. Afterwards, it was suggested that she should have continued with the second ball, and that is what the Rules confirm. Rule 27-2 tells us that "to save time" a player may play a provisonal ball if his first ball may be lost or out of bounds, but, the player must make clear his intention to play a provisonal ball (by using those words!), and the ball must be played "before he or his parther goes forward to search for the original ball" . Even though the five minutes allowed for a search has not elapsed, once the player has gone back and put another ball into play (more on that below), the original ball automatically becomes "lost", and any stroke made at that ball is a stroke at a wrong ball, and subject to a 2-stroke penalty. If going back to where you last played is on the tee, the ball can be re-teed anywhere in the teeing area. The ball is put into play as soon as a stroke is made at the ball (whether or not you hit it!).  If you have to go back to play from anywhere other than the tee, you must drop a ball as nearly as possible to the spot where you last played, and, assuming that you have made a leagal drop, the ball is in play as soon as it has come to rest i.e. before you have made a stroke at the ball!  The lady was disqualifed from competition because the error was not corrected before teeing off on the next hole, but, this is one of the instances where even though the p[layer is disqualified, the score is still acceptable for handicap purposes. After adding the penalty strokes to the hole at which the breach occurred, the score should be converted to stableford points under UHS clause 19, and applied to the player's handicap record as normal;

Enjoy your golf, and please let me know of any interesting or doubtful situations that you come across. I promise to keep all players anonymous!

 July 22nd 2016 i.

Billy Hurley found himself in a bit of bother on the par 3 15th Hole in the first round at Glen Abbey in the Canadian Open. His tee shot finished left of the green and rolled down a slope into undergrowth and an unplayable lie. He measured two club lengths from the ball with both his driver and a wedge. Then he called a Rules Official and asked "can I use any club to measure the 2 club lengths the ball is allowed to roll after dropping. The correct answer (according to Decision 20/1) is that the same club must be used for all measuring in a given situation. So having measured the club lengths relief with his driver, he should then use the same club to measure the distance it had rolled. The Rules Offical gave wrong advice - and allowed Billy to drop withing the 2 driver length relief area - but then measure the roll distance with his wedge. Billy was hoping that the ball - being dropped on a slope - would roll more than the two (wedge) club lengths allowed so that he could then place it where it first hit the ground.  In the event he failed. His first drop rolled and came to rest in a playable position within 2 driver lengths. However, as he had elected to measure with the wedge and it was outside two wedge lengths, he had to pick up the ball and re-drop. This time, the ball stayed within the two club lengths allowed - but it had rolled in a different direction back into an almost unplayable position in the area from which he was trying to escape.  As he was taking a penalty drop from an unplayable lie, there is no such thing as "complete relief", and once the ball was at rest it was back in play. No re-drop is allowed simply because it has gone back nearly to itts original position. He therefore had to play it, or take another penalty drop. He made a stroke at the ball, but missed completely. He then hacked at it in a different direction- made contact - the ball came out - hit a rake and bounced into a bunker. He played out of the bunker on to the green and 2 putts later wrote "7" on his card.  

He was obviously aware  before he dropped the ball that the slope would take his ball near trouble , and for the same penalty he could have gone back to the tee and played from there - probably not finishing up in toruble again.  On this occasion, following the advice of the Rules Official.  Even after dropping the ball the second time, he could have elected to take another penalty, and go back to the tee. The options under the Rule say that he can go back to where he last played - so even though the dropped ball was in play, he could still go back to the tee because he had not played a stroke at the ball.

July 20th 2016

The Seniors Championship at Forest of Galtres raised an interesting query on the Rules. A player had hit his ball over the pond on the par 3 6th Hole, but wasn't sure whether his ball had cleared the water, so he played a Provisional ball. When he got to the area where his ball may have been, he and his playing partners searched for a while, but didn't find the ball, so assumed that it was in the water. At this point, realising that the pond was marked as a Lateral Water Hazard, they estimated the point at which it last crossed the margin, and he dropped a ball within two clubs lengths of that point and completed the hole - scoring one point. At that point one of his playing partners queried what had happened, and believed that the player had not followed the correct procedure. He therefore sought clarification from me before signing his card.

When the circumstances were explaind to me, the first thing I told him was that a player cannot play a provisional ball if he believes his ball is in a water hazard. The player explained that he wasn't sure where the ball was so playing the provisional ball was allowed. But what he then did was wrong. He searched for the ball outside the hazard, and as it wasn't found, assumed that it must have been in the hazard. However, the Rule now requires the player to "know or be virtually certain" that the ball is in the hazard. Just becuase he didn't find the ball outside the hazard doesn't mean that the ball is in the hazard, and there was no evidence to that effect, and they had also spent time searching outside the hazard. In order to proceed under the Water Hazard rule, he would therefore have to find or identify the ball in the hazard - but he didn't do so, and the ball was therefore "lost", and the provisional ball became the ball in play. As he then abandoned that ball, and dropped and played another ball, he had incorrectly substituted a ball, and played from a wrong place. Fortunately for him, this was a Stableford event, so his score for that hole was disregarded, but in a medal he would have been disqualified.

November 2015

I have recently received an e-mail with a couple of questions that may be of general interest.

Q: Can I use a Cross Out XXXX ball in competition?

A: Unless the committee has invoked the condition requiring a ball to be on the list of conforming balls, then a cross out ball can be used unless there are reasons to believe it does not conform to the Rules. See Decision 5-1/4. Cross outs are mainly normally manufactured balls with cosmetic blemishes - though most people would find it difficult to see what was wrong with the ball. A Re-furbished ball or lake ball falls into the same category - the balls remain conforming even though the original finsih may have been overpainted. Balls used at professional and eleite amateur events are also usually conforming even though they may be marked "PRACTICE", but most balls used at club practice facilities are  NOT conforming and cannot be used in competition.

Q: Our "Winter Rules" allows us to mark, lift clean and place within 6 inches. If my ball is on an apron within 6 inches of the green, can I place my ball on the green as long as it is not nearer the hole?

A: No. There is nothing in the rules that allows you to take relief by placing on a green. The "Winter Rules" allows placing within a certain distance, and refers to "closely mown areas through the green". The definition in the Rules of "Through the green"  is the whole area of the course except a) The teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played, and b) any hazards, so you can place the ball on any closely mown area - except the green. When taking relief from casual water or GUR on a green, you are allowed to place the ball off the green if that is the nearest point, but the reverse is not allowed.

Paul Jordan-Worrall

November 2015

Chamber Bay Ruling PDF