We've seen some pretty high profile cases of controversial pin positions, but what do the rules say? Here's our expert to make sure you don't get it wrong at your club

It was the sort of hill cyclists should have been climbing. I knew there would be trouble the moment I saw the pin.

The green was already known to be notorious, with a considerable slope from back to front, and there was the flag – perched right in the middle of that gradient. All it needed was a windmill. I stopped counting after the fourth putt. Or was it the fifth?

When hole locations go wrong, it never seems to be half measures and so I sympathise with the competitors in a girls’ state championship in Iowa last week.

It was torment for them and, if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check it out. The hole location on the par-4 18th at River Valley, in Adel, produced an average score of quadruple bogey.

It’s gone wrong at the highest levels too. Remember the final round of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004? A parched putting green, and a front right flag, proved so difficult tournament officials had to water the green between groups.

Thankfully, these are isolated incidents. Unless there’s a bit of greenkeeper’s revenge going on, and we’re all usually in the loop for that one, you’re unlikely to face these kinds of conditions very often.

There’s a reason for that. Within the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf is a section in the Committee Procedures about setting up a golf course and, in particular, where to put hole locations. Let’s see what it says…

Rules of Golf explained: How should my club set up hole locations?

It’s common sense to know that both scoring and pace of play can be affected by pin positions. The committee procedures hand out some really useful advice about how to go about setting locations. They advise the following:

– Consider the ability of the players

– Green speeds are a significant factor

– Avoid placing the hole on a slope where the ball won’t come to rest

– Consider allowing enough green surface “between the hole and the front and sides of the putting green to accommodate the approach on that particular hole”. Translation: If the field have all got a long approach shot, we don’t recommend you pop the pin right behind a large bunker

– Balance hole locations for the hole course with left, right, centre, front and back positions

All seems pretty straight forward, yes? If you’ve got a field full of high handicappers, why would you make the hole locations too difficult?

If you’re greens are running quick, won’t some pins just be too hard? Particularly interesting, in my opinion, is advice about slopes.

The committee procedures recommend that, when allowed by the contours, holes “should be placed where there is an area of two or three feet around the hole that is relatively level so that putts struck at the proper speed will stop around the hole”. You might want to show that to a few clubs come Captain’s Day!

What if, though, despite your best endeavours, it still goes pear shaped? It does happen and it can be nobody’s fault.

There are measures that a competition committee can take and some of them are on the drastic side.

It also depends whether it’s a match play or stroke play competition. It’s the former, do what you like, it’s only the players in a specific group that are being affected and they all have the same conditions.

In a stroke play event, you’ve got the rest of the field to think about as well. So, if it’s clear that the severity of a position just won’t allow the ball to stop near the hole, what can you do?

It’s recommended that a committee consider how bad it is, how many players have already gone through the pain, where the hole sits in the overall round, and what is fairest to all.

Committees can:

– Carry on as normal. After all, it’s the same for everyone

– Leave the hole where it is but water it, or take some other kind of action, between groups

– Declare the round null and void, make everyone restart and reposition the pin

– Suspend play, change the hole location, and have everyone who’s already played it come round again and take it on

– Disregard all scores on the hole and play an additional one – “whether on the competition course or elsewhere”

If the last two options seem a little on the radical side, the Committee Procedures note they should only be taken in “extreme circumstances” as they alter the round for players.

Have you ever experienced something like this? Did a hole location get out of control and what was done to sort it out? Drop me a line and let me know all about it.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help and I’ll feature the best in this column. I’ve obviously been quite popular in recent weeks as I’ve got a huge backlog of enquiries and I’ll try to come back to you in due course.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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