rules of golf

The Rules of Golf you’re still getting wrong

Steve Carroll’s fingers have been rubbed raw with rules enquiries at his club over the last couple of weeks. Here are some of the scenarios he faced, and what to do about them

I’d had a fairly easy few months since being elevated to the position of ‘rules secretary’ at Sandburn Hall – a reward given principally because I’d once read the book.

But last week was our club championship and, just recently, I may as well have been walking round the course like Slugger White.

It’s nice to see that everyone takes our marquee event so seriously – I have never seen the practice range so busy (and, just so you know, hitting 25 balls 20 minutes before you tee off isn’t going to magically cure your slice) – but it’s also a bit alarming how little we all still know about the regulations we’re supposed to follow in every competition round we play.

So in the sense that a problem shared is a problem halved, let’s take a look at a few of the scenarios that came my way over the last couple of weeks, how we can all deal with them in the Rules of Golf and move on without descending into acrimony…

1. You’re only responsible for your gross score, your handicap, and making sure the scorecard is certified

rules of golf

Yes, it would be lovely if you’d write in your name, the date and added it all up nicely but you’re not going to get disqualified if you fail to put in those details.

Rule 3.3b, which deals with scoring in stroke play, reveals a player is responsible for inputting their handicap, signing and certifying the scorecard, and making sure their marker has too, while ensuring the gross score entered for each hole is correct.

I wonder how many people have been erroneously disqualified by well-meaning committees after not entering the In, Out, Total and Nett scores, and so on. We nearly had two on the first day of the club champs alone.

They are not a player’s responsibility, they are down to the committee – although it saves a lot of time if you do perform this little bit of housekeeping.

These tasks don’t change, either, regardless of whatever format you might be playing. So, for example, the committee is responsible for calculating any points a player gets in a Stableford.

2. Yes, you CAN ground your club in a penalty area

This was one of the big changes that arrived at the start of this year in the new Rules of Golf and, for some of us at least, the old ways are a habit that’s been hard to break.

Just like dropping from knee height, a change like this was bound to take some getting used to.

I’ve heard of at least one blazing row where a player left the course after being incorrectly challenged when a practice swing brought up a bit of liquid in a stream.

But the fact is, after years of hovering over your ball precariously, you can now ground your club, you can take a practice swing, you can do whatever you would if you were making a stroke in the general area.

Rule 17.1b is the key. It states: “The player may either:

“Play the ball as it lies without penalty, under the same Rules that apply to a ball in the general area (which means there are no specific Rules limiting how a ball may be played from a penalty area), or;

“Play a ball from outside the penalty area by taking penalty relief under Rule 17.1d or 17.2.”

3. You can take back-on-the-line relief from red stakes

Rules of Golf

Let’s stay with Rule 17 for a moment. I’ve had many an argument with members about this, who swear blind to me that you can’t take back-on-the-line relief under red stakes in a penalty area.

The Rules of Golf changes this year, which have seen the R&A and USGA try and encourage clubs to mark their penalty areas as red rather than yellow, has only clouded the mind even further.

Let’s be clear. You have always been able to take back-on-the-line relief either for red or yellow stakes.

Red stakes give you an additional option to take lateral relief from the “estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area”, according to Rule 17.1d.

“The relief area is two club-lengths from the reference point, is not nearer to the hole than the reference point and may be in any area of the course, except the same penalty area.”

So what changed? Previously, you could also have dropped at “a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole”.

Which I think is posh talk for saying ‘on the other side’.

Now, that equidistant option has been removed, although it can still be a local rule.

Hope that FINALLY clears this up.

4. Stroke and distance still applies in qualifying competitions. I repeat, stroke and distance still applies

rules of golf

Wow, the powers that be cocked this one up. Seven months into the Rules of Golf changes and I’m still fending off people perplexed as to why that ‘alternative to stroke and distance rule’ they’d read so much about – principally on this website, oops – isn’t in force during the club champs.

A couple of things.

Firstly, it’s a local rule which means committees need to decide whether to adopt it. That’s why you can’t find it in the Rule Book.

Secondly, CONGU, who administer all of our handicaps, were a bit late to the party (in the sense that everyone was already talking about this subject) in revealing they wouldn’t allow this local rule in qualifying competitions or supplementary scores.

That meant it was a no-go for medals, Stablefords, or any score, basically, that would count towards your handicap.

If the ruling bodies were so concerned about stroke and distance  slowing up the game up at club level – principally players who hadn’t taken a provisional walking back to the tee –  then they should have included this within the 24 Rules of Golf to begin with.

Now we’ve got this situation where many golfers, who don’t spend hours with their heads buried in the Player’s Guide, think there’s a rule that isn’t actually a rule at all, which allows them to drop a ball on the edge of a fairway after they’ve fired one out of bounds or lost it.

Clubs don’t know what to do, because bringing in a local rule and then having to suspend it during most competitions is basically a host of disqualifications waiting to happen, and, consequently, plenty are still confused.

Make it a rule, or get rid of it, but this halfway house we’ve currently got isn’t helping anyone.

If you have any questions about the Rules of Golf, check out our dedicated page or feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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