NCG’s Golfing Glossary: What is an outside agency?

If you don't manage to ruin your round yourself, there are plenty of things out there willing to do it for you.

There’s a dark corner of the golfing world that’s steeped in secrecy, where men wear matching suits and ties, use weird and wonderful equipment and speak in a language indecipherable to the golfing rookie.


But here at National Club Golfer, we’re the publication for the everyday player and so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to give you a step-by-step introduction to the wonderful world of the golfing lexicon.


Phrase: Outside agency

Pronunciation: /out-sahyd ey-juh n-see/


What I think it means:


Golf wasn’t the only thing rapidly gaining in popularity during 20th Century America. Cold War hysteria after the Second World War, supported by a distrust in their own Government (some of which proved well-founded), led to the rise in conspiracy theories and talk of secret agencies that wandered unseen around their homes and neighbourhoods.


Some turned out to be real, others were purely myth, and some just had a damn catchy soundtrack.



‘Now repeat after me… Great birdie Mr Smith’

It’s unsurprising, therefore, that there was a certain amount of overspill and talk began of stern-looking and intimidating members of an organization who, during your casual knock around a new course with your friends, would arrive on the scene following an infringement of local rules or etiquette (usually inadvertent), and deliver a) a scathing rebuke, b) instruct you as to the correct protocal or c) whisk you away to suffer cruel and unusual torture in a hidden bunker (see: dormie house).


These are what became known as outside agencies.


Sure, they look welcoming. But inside…


Dictionary definition:


’Any object or person who is not a player or caddie in a particular match, or the ball or equipment of those players. Outside agencies include: referees, markers, observers, forecaddies or spectators. Neither wind nor water is an outside agency.’




I couldn’t tell you when the phrase was first used in a golfing sense, but there’s a Dutch hardcore techno duo that goes by the name ’Outside Agency’. So it’s probably that.


Use it in a sentence:


“That squirrel stole my ball! Look you can see it in its mouth! That’s an outside agency, so I’m having another go. Pesky critter.”

What this actually means:


Oh gosh, the conspiracy theorists were right – outside agencies really are everywhere.


An outside agency is literally anything apart from any player, equipment, ball or caddie of either side during a game.


Squirrels, feathers, clubs left behind by other players, cars, cats and dogs falling from the sky, all these and more.


It’s a Red squirrel… must be a Soviet spy!

If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.


If the ball is moving, and it strikes an outside agency – such as a club left by another player – then it’s considered bad luck and you can’t take your shot again.


The exception to this rule is if you are on the green. If your ball is rolling towards the hole and an outside agency interferes with it – say a leaf falling from a tree – then you can retake your stroke.


The R&A rules also go on to say that it must be known or virtually certain that an outside agency has moved the ball. In the absence of such knowledge, the player must play the ball as it lies.



Last week we discovered the meaning of the phrase ’Nassau’. You can read all about it be clicking here.




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