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A Simpler Game | 20 Questions for the USGA

SOMETIMES GOLF isn’t as simple as we’d like it to be. Part of the United States Golf Association’s role is to sort things out for us, explain why the game’s regulations exist and how they work. Herewith a selection of questions—on rules, handicapping, and

By: Tom Cunneff

This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of LINKS.

1. Before beginning their round, Dave and Mike agree to repair all spike marks on the greens. If this is a competition, is there a penalty? Yes. Dave and Mike are both disqualified for agreeing to waive the Rules.

2. Scott putts out on the putting green after his opponent Joe conceded his next stroke. What is the penalty to Scott? He does not incur a penalty. A concession may not be withdrawn. Joe’s concession stands and it is irrelevant whether Scott makes the putt or misses.

3. In match play, Rick’s ball lies in ground under repair and he is unsure how to proceed. His opponent Andrea also does not know the Rule. What must Rick do? If a member of the Committee is not available, Rick should continue the match without delay, proceeding
according to how he thinks the Rules would permit. If Andrea disagrees with the selected procedure, she may make a claim to the fact. If she makes a claim, it must be made before either player plays from the next tee or in the case of the last hole of the match, before all players leave the putting green.

4. If a player runs out of golf balls during a round, may he borrow a ball from another player? Yes. There is nothing in The Rules of Golf that prohibits a player from borrowing a golf ball from an opponent or fellow competitor. A player who runs out of balls may get a new supply from any source, provided he does not unduly delay play in the process. Although golf balls are part of a player’s equipment, the only type of equipment that the Rules limit the borrowing of is clubs.

5. A player’s ball is in a bunker (at Point A) that runs approximately 20 yards along the left side of the fairway. He plays a stroke and the ball advances about 10 yards toward the hole and remains in the bunker (at Point B). May he rake the bunker at Point A before playing his stroke at Point B? Yes, the player may smooth the bunker at Point A as doing so would not improve the lie of his ball, his line of play, or his area of intended stance or swing for his next stroke (at Point B).

6. May I wear headphones or earplugs while playing in the state amateur? No. The use of headphones or earplugs to eliminate noise or other distractions is prohibited under Rule 14-3.

7. I like to play early in the morning. Usually there is still dew on the ground during the first few holes. Is it permissible to sweep away the dew or mop it up with a towel around my ball? Generally, improving the lie of the ball, the line of play, or the area of intended stance or swing by removing dew is a breach of Rule 13-2 (the penalty for which is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play). However, dew, frost, or water may be removed from the teeing ground.

8. On what part of the course is a player entitled to relief from an embedded ball? A player may only take relief from a ball that is embedded in a closely-mown area through the green. A closely-mown area is any area that is mowed to fairway height or less. However,
the Committee may adopt a Local Rule that allows for relief from an embedded ball anywhere through the green.

9. What constitutes the validity of a hole-in-one? The Rules of Golf do not address the issue of the validity of a hole-in-one. It is up to the Committee to determine whether a hole-in-one is valid. However, the USGA recommends that a hole-in-one be considered valid:– If made during a round of at least nine holes, except that a hole-in-one made during a match should be acceptable even if the match ends before the stipulated round is completed.– If the player is playing one ball; a hole-in-one made in a practice round in which the player is playing two or more balls should not be acceptable.– If attested by someone acceptable to the Committee.– If made at a hole with a temporary tee and/or putting green in use, even if the Committee did not specifically define the teeing ground with tee-markers; the length of the hole at the time should be stated on any certificate.– If made in a “scramble” competition, which is played as follows: A side comprises four players. Each member of a side plays from the teeing ground, the best drive is selected, each member plays a second shot from where the best drive is located, and so on.

10. May I post scores while playing “preferred lies” or “winter rules?” Yes. As long as the Committee has made the decision to play “preferred lies,” then all acceptable scores must be posted. The decision to post under preferred lies is not an option to the player if he/she has an acceptable score to post. The Committee making this decision is the Committee present at the club (preferably the Handicap Committee), but could include other club committees. The decision is made on a daily basis based on a specific Local Rule adopted by the Committee. Guidance on how to proceed under this condition must be available to all members, since there is not an established code of how to take relief (must specify location to take relief, procedure, and length of relief). The USGA does not endorse “preferred lies.” However, if the Committee adopts “preferred lies,” all scores must be posted for handicap purposes.

11. What is the current method for adjusting my hole scores under Equitable Stroke Control (ESC)? ESC is an adjustment of individual hole scores (for handicap purposes) in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC is applied after the round and is used only when the actual score or the most likely score exceeds a player’s maximum number. ESC sets a limit to the number of strokes a player may take on a hole depending on Course Handicap. Apply ESC to all scores, including tournament scores. The maximum numbers players may take are: Handicap 9 or less: double bogey; handicap 10–19: 7; handicap 20–29: 8; handicap 30–39: 9; handicap 40 and above: 10 

12. May I use a distance-measuring device in a competition? The use of distance-measuring devices during a stipulated round remains contrary to The Rules of Golf, the penalty being disqualification under Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment). However, since January 2006, a Committee may permit the use of such devices via a Local Rule.

13. What kind of distance-measuring devices are allowed by Local Rule? GPS, laser, any type of device really; however, it is important that the device measure only distance. The use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player’s play, such as gradient (slope), wind speed, or temperature, is not permitted, regardless of whether such an additional function is used or not—even if that function has been disabled.

14. What about multi-functional devices, such as a mobile phone, with a distance-measuring application? On the course, subject to any club or course regulations, a multi-functional device may be used to phone, text, access the Internet, or e-mail provided the purpose is not a breach of the Rules, e.g. you are not asking for advice or accessing an application which gauges, measures, or reports conditions that might affect a player’s play. Using the device for any prohibited function would result in disqualification.

15. If the local rule allowing distance-measuring devices is in place, may players share a distance-measuring device? Yes. The Definition of “Advice” and Decision 8-1/2 clarify that the distance between objects is a matter of public information and therefore not advice…although it is important that players sharing devices do not unduly delay play.

16. Can my long putter have an adjustable shaft for travel purposes? Yes, provided the adjustment mechanism is not readily adjustable (see Rule 1b Appendix II). A locking mechanism is required to ensure the shaft is not readily adjustable. An Allen screw placed through the joint of a pool-cue type shaft would suffice.

17. Does the suction cup on the end of the putter grip, for retrieving the ball from the hole, conform with The Rules of Golf? Yes, it is permitted as an exception to Rule 1a in Appendix II.

18. May I use a bowler’s glove or wrist brace due to my arthritic condition? Braces of this type are generally not permitted under Rule 14-3. However, personal handicap items designed to be used for a specific handicap or ailment are considered and ruled on individually. Requests of this nature should be submitted in writing to the USGA’s Technical Department.

19. May I apply a substance to the clubface to either reduce spin or increase spin? No, Rule 4-2b states that foreign material must not be applied to the clubface for the purpose of influencing the movement of the ball. Any coating designed to influence the movement of the ball by either increasing or decreasing spin, or to have any other effect on performance, is not permitted.

20. What’s the longest ball? You won’t get that answer from the USGA; such information is confidential.                        

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