Is your sand wedge idling on a nearby green? Surely you can go back and claim it? What if it happens in a competition? Our Rules of Golf expert lays down the laws

The man dishing out the hire clubs at Bethpage had handed them over with a stern message – make sure they all come back in one piece.

He was wearing a veterans cap and his entire demeanour suggested he was not a person with which to mess.

So what did I do? That’s right, I got halfway up the 16th fairway and realised I’d left a sand wedge perched on the previous green.

It was just a social round, of course, so – on the grounds of not want to incur the displeasure of a guy who’d possibly handed out punishment in his life – I sprinted back and retrieved the wayward club.

But what if it had been in a competition? Could I have similarly abandoned my playing partners in such a haphazard fashion? Let’s look at what the rules say about unreasonable delay of play…

What is unreasonable delay of play?

You are not allowed to unreasonably delay play – either when you’re playing a hole or when you’re between holes – and the penalties for doing so are pretty hefty. A breach of Rule 5.6a comes with a one stroke sanction for the first occasion, the general penalty (two strokes or loss of hole in match play) if you’re caught out again and it’s three strikes out for a trio of offences. It’s disqualification.

What counts as unreasonable? A clarification to Rule 5.6a says it’s “delays caused by a player’s actions that are within the player’s control and affect other players or delay the competition”.

You consider all the circumstances. Are you waiting for players in your group, or in a group ahead? Could you have done anything about the delay?

The clarification lists some examples of what would likely be treated as unreasonable and the answer to our question lies within.

So, if it is causing more than a brief delay in play, “returning to the teeing area from the putting green to retrieve a lost club” would likely be considered unreasonable and would see you adding a penalty.

What’s the lesson? Try and take more care and look after your stuff!

What’s the craziest example of unreasonable delay of play you’ve ever seen? Let me know with a tweet.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

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