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Golf club on a green

Are you allowed to go back to get a club left on another hole?

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 veteran’s 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…

golf slow 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!

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think about these unreasonable delay of play rules? What’s the craziest example you have seen? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

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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