Field TestNovember 17, 2010

Which Rules Do You Play By?

We spied on an average foursome, and you'll be amazed by what we found

How well do golfers know the rules, and to what degree do they play by them? To find out, we asked veteran rules expert Warren Simmons to follow a foursome of regular golfers during a round to note when and how the Rules of Golf came into play. What follows is a hole-by-hole account of the many ways our unwitting golfers got creative with the rules. We've also included the rules violated. We admit it: It's gotcha journalism at its sneakiest. But the results will surely surprise you.

Our guinea pigs were a representative foursome of public golfers: four males, ranging from their early 30s to late 60s, with handicaps from 12 to 23. All have played golf for much of their adult lives.

Matt and Mike (all names have been changed) were playing a match for a bottle of Crown Royal. Steve and Sam were playing for fun and bragging rights (stroke play). The group played 18 holes in four hours and fifteen minutes. They wondered why I was around; I told them I was taking notes on course-maintenance problems.

In all, 15 of golf's 34 Rules were violated, some many times. The most common infractions involved advice, improper marking and replacing on the green, practice during play of a hole and failure to hole out.

If Matt and Mike had been playing stroke play (making all of their loss-of-hole penalties two strokes), and if Steve and Sam had corrected their disqualification penalties (changing them back to only two strokes) the group's tally would have come to about 100 penalty strokes. As it was, Steve and Sam were disqualified five times apiece and Matt and Mike incurred 15 loss-of-hole penalties over the 18 holes. (Indeed, the bottle of booze may well have been won by the wrong guy.)

These guys are not cheaters. They were just out having a good time playing a game that is akin to golf, but as the old Hertz commercial put it, "Not exactly ..."

HOLE 1:To start things off, Matt heeled his tee shot nearly OB, asked for and got a mulligan. (As the British would say, "That's not a mulligan; that's 3.") But let's waive this one on tradition. From this point on we're sticklers.

Violation: Rule 27

Steve hit his tee shot into the right rough. When he got to it, he reached down and without announcing, marking or allowing observation, lifted it, identified it as his, and replaced it.

Violation: Rule 12-2

Sam, short of the green in two, hit a bad chip shot. He dropped an extra ball and chipped it, then chipped another. He picked up the extra chips, then marked his ball, cleaned it, replaced it, flipped the coin away, then touched and rotated the ball.

Violation: Rules 7-2,18-2a

HOLE 2: When Mike reached the green, he marked his ball to the side, then "replaced" it on the other side. This was his first of many breaches of the marking, lifting and replacing procedure.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 3:On the tee, Mike asked Matt to "Remind me to follow through down the line of my swing." Matt immediately obliged with the statement "Follow through down the line of your swing." This was the first of many violations for asking or giving advice.

Violation: Rule 8-1

Mike hit his tee shot far to the right, toward a lateral water hazard. He found it in the hazard, picked it up and made a proper drop, within two club-lengths of the point where it had crossed the hazard margin.

Near the green, Sam was just off theputting surface in the rough, closer to the hole than two balls on the green. He went ahead and chipped out of turn. While there is no penalty in stroke play for this common occurrence, if Matt or Mike had done this in their match, the opponent could have required that the stroke be canceled, then replayed in the proper order (Rule 10).

Mike marked his ball to the side, then replaced it in front of the coin.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

Sam knocked Steve's "gimme" back to him. He then missed his own short putt and picked up. These were the first of many failures to hole out, which in stroke play is disqualification. (In Matt's and Mike's match, concessions are allowed.)

Violation: Rule 3-2

HOLE 4:Just about everyone asked for or gave advice on this hole. Before his second shot, Matt asked Mike, "What am I, about 210, cutting off the angle?" Mike said, "That's about right." At the green, Sam asked Matt (who had just putted on a similar line), "Did that break left?" Matt responded, "Yes, it started to break left."

Violation: Rule 8-1

Matt hit his second shot into the water hazard. He tossed a ball down, underhanded, behind the hazard and "hockeyed" it into a nice lie, from which he played.

Violation: Rules 26-1, 20-2, 13-1, 18-2a

Steve missed a putt that Sam had conceded him, raked it back and tried it again, making it. This was one of the few times when failure to hole out was corrected before playing from the next tee. Still, Steve holed out from the wrong place.

Violation: Rules 18-2a, 20-7c

HOLE 5:Sam topped his tee shot on this par 3. When he got to his ball, he asked Steve, "How far do you think I am, about 100 yards?" Steve answered, "About 110."

Violation: Rule 8-1

At the green, Matt marked his ball on Steve's line by placing the toe of his putter beside the ball and placing a coin by the heel of the putter. When he went to replace the ball, he set the heel of the putter beside the coin, moved the coin to the toe of the putter, then placed the ball in front of the coin (the ball was now about a half-inch closer to the hole than its original position).

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 6:Just before Sam played his second shot, Mike told him to "Hit it 150 yards, straight at that bunker. That will leave you with a good angle to pitch to the hole."

Violation: Rule 8-1

Steve hit a line drive from the greenside bunker well over the green, up against a cartpath. Rather than lift and drop, he raked the ball away from the path about two feet toward the green, then played it.

Violation: Rules 24-2, 20-2, 18-2a, 20-7c

At the green, Mike messed up the mark, lift, clean and replace rule once again.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

Sam, trying to knock away his two-foot "gimme," inadvertently bounced the ball into the hole on the second hop!

HOLE 7:At the green, Mike placed a coin directly behind his ball, and without lifting or cleaning it, moved the ball to the side of the coin, from where he putted.

Sam putted to about two inches from the hole and then knocked it away.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b, 3-2

HOLE 8:At the green, without marking its position, Sam rotated his ball to align the logo along his line. He missed, then picked up the 12-inch gimme. Mike, who hadn't been watching, asked, "Which way did that break?" Sam responded: "I don't know. I wasn't looking." Mike replaced his ball to the side of his coin (he had marked it behind the ball) and missed his putt.

Violation: Rules 18-2a, 3-2, 8-1, 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 9:Steve teed off from in front of the tee markers. He should have corrected the error by re-starting the hole from within the teeing ground, and adding two strokes to his score. Failure to do so is disqualification. In a match, there is no penalty. (The opponent can only require that the shot should be canceled and replayed from within the teeing ground.)

Violation: Rule 11-4b

Matt sliced his tee shot to the right, almost into a bunker on the first hole. Standing in the bunker, he had an awkward lie with the ball above his feet. He properly removed a twig from behind the ball, and also properly did not remove a pile of sand that was beneath the twig. He played a great shot to just short of the green.

Mike, to the right and short of the green in the rough, invoked what he called "the Club Preservation Rule." His ball was lying on some small, flat stones and he didn't want to ding up his wedge. So he moved the ball with the clubhead (instead of lifting and dropping it, under Rule 28, Ball Unplayable) and played from two feet away.

Violation: Rules 13-1, 18-2a

On the green, Steve missed a long putt, then stood on an extension of his line of putt behind the ball to attempt a backhand stroke, which he missed. He reached across the hole and hit the ball, back toward the hole while it was still in motion, and missed again. He never did hole out.

Violation: Rules 16-1e, 14-5, 3-2

Before he had holed out, Mike conceded Matt's 18-incher and putted Matt's ball into the hole (for which there is no penalty).

HOLE 10:Steve failed the entire ball-identification procedure again. Mike marked beside and replaced in front again. And Sam knocked around a six-inch putt, hitting it two or three times before holing it.

Violation: Rules 12-2, 16-1b, 20-7b, 14-5

HOLE 11:Mike hit a bad chip to the green and tried it again for practice. Sam scraped away Steve's 12-inch gimme.

Violation: Rules 7-2, 3-2

HOLE 12:Steve hit his second shot to the right of the green, just off the cartpath. The ball had a big lump of mud on it. He had a decent lie but was entitled to obstruction relief because he had to stand on the path to play the ball. He commented about the mud, but played from the original lie. He hit the ball short, into the greenside bunker. From there he bladed it over the green, and took two more to get back onto the green. He marked the ball's position, lifted it, and attempted to clean it. But it was so dirty, he gave up and pulled a clean ball from his pocket to putt out. He missed the putt and finally holed the substituted ball for a 10. (If he had taken relief from the cartpath, and in the process cleaned his ball, he might have hit the next shot onto the green.) Sam picked up a gimme.

Violation: Rules 15-2, 3-2

HOLE 13:Without saying "provisional," Sam played a second ball from the tee after dubbing his first tee shot. He then continued playing the original ball (which was now a wrong ball) and picked up the second (which was now the ball in play).

Violation: Rules 27, 15-3b

Steve holed out from a bunker for a "hard par." Mike marked beside his ball and replaced it in front of his coin.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 14:Matt commented, "I have no idea how this putt breaks." Mike offered, "I think it goes hard right." Matt holed it for a birdie.

Violation: Rule 8-1

HOLE 15:From the fairway, Matt asked Mike, "How far am I?" Mike replied "168." At the green, Mike did his thing: marked to the side, replaced in front.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 16: On the green, Sam lifted his ball without marking it, then put his putterhead down on the green near where the ball had been. After cleaning the ball, he did his best to replace it, putting it back near the putterhead.

Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-1

Mike marked his ball to the side and actually replaced it back on the spot from which he had lifted it!

HOLE 17:Matt borrowed Mike's demo driver and teed off with it.

Violation: Rule 4-4

Mike hit his tee shot high and left, and played a second ball down the fairway. Mike continued play with the original, then picked up the second. He hit a poor pitch to the green, and tried it over with another ball. He marked his original ball on the green by sliding the coin up under the ball, then replaced the ball by setting it a half-inch in front of the coin.

Violation: Rules 27, 15-3a, 7-2, 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 18:Matt again borrowed Mike's driver and hit his tee shot.

Near the green, Mike again hit a poor pitch, dropped another ball and tried it over. Before he putted the original ball, he asked me, "Does that ridge affect the roll of the ball?" Since I was just an observer and hadn't helped him all day, I answered, "Yes, it does." He then hit the first putt 20 feet past the hole. (I guess I should have added that it was downhill. ... )

Violation: Rules 4-4, 7-2, 8-1

From there Mike lagged his second putt to about eight inches, then finished off the round by holing the ball using his putter as a cue stick.

Violation: Rule 14-1


(in order of appearance)

27: The player must inform his opponent in match play ... that he intends to play a provisional ball. ... If he fails to do so and plays another ball, that ball is not a provisional ball and becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1); the original ball is lost.

12-2: Except in a hazard, if a player has reason to believe a ball is his, he may lift the ball without penalty to identify it. Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift the ball and identify it provided he gives the opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacing. The ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification when lifted under Rule 12-2. If the player fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure, or if he lifts his ball for identification in a hazard, he incurs a penalty of one stroke.

7-2:A player must not make a practice stroke during play of a hole.

18-2a:When a player's ball is in play, if the player, his partner, or either of their caddies lifts or moves it, touches it purposely (except with a club in the act of addressing it) or causes it to move except as permitted by a Rule ... the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

16-1b:A ball on the putting green may be lifted and, if desired, cleaned. The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted and the ball must be replaced ...

20-7b: If a player plays a stroke from the wrong place, he loses the hole.

8-1:During a stipulated round, a player must not (a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or (b) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.

3-2: If a competitor fails to hole out at any hole and does not correct his mistake before he plays a stroke from the next teeing ground, or in the case of the last hole of the round, before he leaves the putting green, he is disqualified.

26-1:If a ball is in or is lost in a water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke (a) Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or (b) Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.

20-2:A ball to be dropped under the Rules must be dropped by the player himself. He must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm's length and drop it. If a ball is dropped by any other person or in any other manner and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

13-1: The ball must be played as it lies, except as otherwise provided in the Rules.

20-7c: If a competitor makes a stroke from a wrong place, he incurs a penalty of two strokes under the applicable Rule. He must play out the hole with the ball played from the wrong place, without correcting his error, provided he has not committed a serious breach.

24-2:Interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player's stance or area of his intended swing. ... Except when the ball is in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, a player may take relief from interference by an immovable obstruction as follows: ... If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it without penalty within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief ... not in a hazard and not on a putting green.

11-4b:If a competitor, when starting a hole, plays a ball from outside the teeing ground, he incurs a penalty of two strokes and must then play a ball from within the teeing ground. If the competitor plays a stroke from the next teeing ground without first correcting his mistake ... he is disqualified.

16-1e:The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.

14-5: A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.

15-2:. ... If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted to do so under the Rules, that substituted ball is not a wrong ball; it becomes the ball in play. If the mistake is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6 and the player makes a stroke at a wrongly substituted ball, he incurs the penalty prescribed by the applicable Rule and in stroke play, must play out the hole with the substituted ball.

15-3b:If a competitor makes a stroke or strokes at a wrong ball that is not in a hazard, he incurs a penalty of two strokes. ... The competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground, he is disqualified.

20-1: The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted under a Rule that requires it to be replaced. If it is not marked, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced.

4-4:The player must start a stipulated round with not more than 14 clubs. He is limited to the clubs thus selected for that round except that, if he started with fewer than 14 clubs, he may add any number provided his total number does not exceed 14. The addition of a club or clubs must not unduly delay play (Rule 6-7), and the player must not add or borrow any club selected for play by any other person playing on the course.

15-3a: If a player makes a stroke at a wrong ball that is not in a hazard, he loses the hole.

14-1:The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.

Warren Simmons is a retired Air Force colonel and former coach of the Air Force Academy golf team. He has officiated at the Masters and at many USGA Championships. He spent 15 years as Executive Director of the Colorado Golf Association before retiring in 2000.