You probably know if you're late for a tee time then you're in trouble. But what about being early? Our Rules of Golf expert has some news for you

‘Pro tip… don’t be late for your tee time.’ Thirty years into his career and there was a new first for Jimmy Walker.

The 2016 PGA Championship winner missed his 7.39am starting time for the second round of the Valspar Championship and found himself hit with a two-shot penalty.

Thankfully, for Jimmy, he made the cut but Rule 5.3 – Starting and Ending Round – has the potential to cause carnage for the unsuspecting handicapper if they’re not wise on a medal day.

So let’s have a closer look at the rule and see if we can stop you falling foul…

Rules of golf explained: Our expert says

It won’t surprise you that sanctions are coming if you are late for a tee time. But you can also be penalised for being early too. I’m betting there won’t be too many of you out there that haven’t popped out a couple of minutes ahead of schedule on a comp day if the coast has been clear.

Rule 5.3a – When to Start Round – states, however, that a player has to begin at his or her starting time (and not before).

How many of you have stood on the tee, looked at the clock, looked at the group in front, thought ‘it’s fine’, and fired off – even if you had a couple of minutes to spare?

As far as the Rules are concerned, you’re in trouble. ‘The player must be ready to play at the starting time and starting point set by the Committee,’ it says.

The penalty for not being on time is disqualification.

But hang on, you say, Jimmy didn’t get a DQ so what’s going on? There are three exceptions:

If you arrive at the starting point, and are ready to play, no more than five minutes late then the general penalty (two shots, or loss of hole in match play) is applied to the first hole.

Conversely, if you start no more than five minutes early then the general penalty also applies to the first hole.

The third is if the committee decide that “exceptional circumstances prevented the player from starting on time”. In this case, there is no breach of the Rule and no penalty.

What counts as exceptional? Well, it’s not a traffic jam for a start, a flat tyre, or dodgy GPS.

An interpretation describes examples as providing medical assistance at an accident or giving a statement as a witness, when they would otherwise have met their required starting time, or having to evacuate your hotel when a fire alarm goes off. Pretty rare, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So next time you’re trying to steal a couple of minutes from the start time, just hold your horses. You don’t want to pick up a penalty as you’ve hit your first shot.

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.

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