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Five rules of golf that my friends and I got wrong on our recent buddies trip

June 11, 2014

According to a veteran sportswriter I know, there are three lethally boring topics in golf: junior golf, the rules of golf, and I forget the third. But I think the rules are interesting, in part because they constitute a legal system that attempts to provide a specific remedy for every conceivable situation, leaving essentially no role for "discretion." And, although I usually believe I know the rules better than the average casual player (which isn't saying much), I often encounter surprises.

On our recent golf trip to Scotland and Ireland, my friends and I got many rules wrong, undoubtedly, but five of our errors, in particular, stand out -- and four of them were made by players with single-digit handicaps. First, one of mine:

A player may play a stroke with any part of the clubhead, provided the ball is fairly struck at (Rule 14-1) and the club conforms with Rule 4-1.

On one green, my partner's ball was farthest from the hole, but I putted first -- and made the putt, annoying one of our opponents, who was farther from the hole than I was. He felt that I had illegally pressured him by playing out of turn. But he was wrong. Because my partner was farthest from the hole, either he or I could putt first. Rule 30-3b says:

"Balls belonging to the same side may be played in the order the side considers best."



(Because this was match play, if I really had played out of turn an opponent could have required me to replay my shot at the right time. In stroke play, the farthest player is also supposed to play first, but there's no penalty if someone screws up. For a good explanation of the differences between match play and stroke play, go here.)

Q. A player makes a practice swing and accidentally moves their ball in play with their club. Have they made a stroke?

A. No. They had no intention of moving the ball - see Definition of "Stroke." However, they incur a penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a *for moving their ball in play, and the ball must be replaced.

If a player incurs the loss of hole penalty under Rule 15-3a for making a stroke at a wrong ball, they are disqualified for that hole**, but their partner incurs no penalty even if the wrong ball belongs to them. If the wrong ball belongs to another player, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.

I could go on.