10 things you should know about The Rules

A brief guide for greenkeepers.

29th August 2014
What golfers’ want
Are you familiar with The Rules of Golf?  

What Rules of Golf should a greenkeeper be aware of?

The Rule book can be a daunting read; there are 62 definitions, 34 Rules and 4 appendices. It can be difficult to know where to start. Thankfully there is a Quick Guide to the Rules and this contains all that the average golfer really needs to know to get around the golf course most of time. Referees and members of committees organising events need to know more than that, although applying and interpreting the Rules is not a memory test – if in doubt, look it up (or ask someone at your national governing body or The R&A). What about greenkeepers though?

Here we take a look at some of the Rules that greenkeepers should know.

1. The teeing ground
Although the Rules of Golf state that the teeing ground is an area that is two club-lengths in depth, there is no stipulated size of teeing ground as you can put the tee-markers as far apart or as close together as you like. We suggest that tee-markers should be placed about six to seven yards apart (this helps to contain the damage and any wider also runs the risk that players may tee the ball in front of the markers). The tee markers should always be at least two club-lengths from the back edge of the tee, preferably 3-4 club-lengths as a player should be allowed to tee the ball as far back in the two club-length area as he wants and still make an unobstructed swing…although sometimes it is just not possible to cater for this.  Set up at right angles to the centre of the drive zone and remember to take account of left and right-handed players.

For further information click here.

minimum distance

There is no Rule stating the minimum distance the hole should be from the edge of the green – an important consideration in some circumstances!

2. Hole positions
For many it is surprising that there is no Rule stating the minimum distance the hole should be from the edge of the green. That said, it is recommended that the hole be positioned at least four paces from any edge of the green, although much depends on the weather, the ability of the players, the firmness of the greens and the type of approach shot being played.  Ideally, an area of two to three feet around the hole should be as level as possible, ensuring that the hole is not positioned within three paces of a very severe slope or of a recently used hole.

For further information click here.

3. The Hole
According to the Definition of a “hole” in the Rules of Golf, the hole must be 4¼ inches (108 mm) in diameter and at least 4 inches (101.6 mm) deep and when a lining is used, it must be sunk at least 1 inch (25.4 mm) below the putting green surface.  It can be useful to carry a short ruler or measuring tape to check. In addition to the hole liner, it is increasingly common to find collars/inserts on practice putting greens to help protect the hole from overuse, often these are not sunk one inch below the surface of the putting green but are almost flush with the surface. This is fine on practice greens, but on the actual course, a plastic collar/insert is considered to be part of the hole liner and, as a result, both the liner and plastic insert/collar must be at least one inch below the surface unless the nature of the soil makes it impracticable to do so, e.g. where the hole is collapsing or shrinking significantly in a very short period.

Relocate the hole
Do you know if you can relocate the hole during a competition?

4. Relocating the Hole during a Competition
In a stroke play competition the Committee is prohibited from relocating one or all of the holes and from moving the tee-markers (Rule 33-2).  If the locations of the hole or tee-markers are moved, generally the round should be declared null and void.  If the area around a hole contains casual water, in stroke play, the course should be considered unplayable and the Committee should suspend play until such time as conditions improve...all the more reason to check the weather forecast and locate holes in appropriate positions.  In match play though, the Committee is permitted to relocate the hole.

5. Bunker Rakes – Inside or Outside?
This isn’t actually covered by the Rules but The R&A position is that we prefer rakes to be left outside bunkers. It may be argued that there is more likelihood of a ball being deflected into or kept out of a bunker if the rake is placed outside the bunker; however, in practice, players who leave rakes in bunkers frequently leave them just inside the bunker or at the very back which tends to stop a ball rolling into the flat part of the bunker. This may result in a much more difficult shot than would otherwise have been the case and is most prevalent at a course where the bunkers are small. 

There is also the situation of where the rake is left at the very back of the bunker, the ball drops in and comes to rest against the rake. The rake is removed and the ball moves. The ball is replaced but fails to stay at rest as it is on a slope and there is nowhere in the bunker that is not nearer the hole where the ball will remain at rest. In such a situation the player is stumped - he can proceed under the stroke-and-distance option of the unplayable ball Rule (Rule 28a) or, in equity, drop the ball, (again under penalty of one stroke), outside the bunker, keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.

If a rake is in the middle of a large bunker, it is either not used or the player is obliged to rake a large area of the bunker, resulting in unnecessary delay.  Therefore, on balance (and from a Rules perspective) it is felt there is less likelihood of an advantage or disadvantage to the player if rakes are placed outside of bunkers in areas where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball.

6. Water Hazards
There are two different types of water hazard – a normal water hazard and a lateral water hazard.  A lateral water hazard is one where it is not possible or it is deemed impracticable (by the Committee) to drop a ball back in a line (in accordance with Rule 26-1b). In other words, if you had a body of water running parallel to a hole with the ground on the far side of the hazard being out of bounds, that would be a case where it was not possible to drop back in a line; if it was wooded or overgrown on the far side, that would be a case where it was impracticable to drop back on a line.

Golfers need to know where they have entered a hazard so they can apply the appropriate Rules.

As provided in the Definitions of the Rules of Golf, stakes and/or lines used to define the margins of a water hazard must be yellow and, in the case of lateral water hazards, they must be red.  Stakes or lines defining the margins of a water hazard should be placed as near as possible along the natural limits of the hazard, i.e. where the ground breaks down to form the depression containing the water. Whilst it can be time consuming, an accurately marked golf course is vital to enable players to proceed with certainty and without delay.

7. Grass Cuttings
Grass cuttings (and other material) are ground under repair only if they have been piled for removal.  If cuttings piled for removal interfere with the lie of the ball or a player’s stance or swing, the player is entitled to relief under Rule 25-1b.  Grass cuttings are also loose impediments, whether or not they are piled for removal, and may be removed by the player – Rule 23-1 – but the player needs to be careful that he does not move the ball in the process.  Try to keep grass cuttings away from playing areas.

8. Bunkers - Under Repair and Flooded
If an entire bunker is being renovated, the Committee should, during the renovation period, define the bunker as ground under repair. The bunker automatically loses its status as a hazard and is reclassified as “through the green”.  This means that the player is entitled to take relief under Rule 25-1b which allows the player to drop the ball out of the bunker without penalty. 

flooded bunkers
In spite of the greenstaff’s best efforts, golfers will occasionally be faced with flooded bunkers.

Where a bunker is flooded, there is provision for players to take relief under Rule 25-1, but the player will only be able to drop outside the bunker with a penalty stroke. However, in exceptional circumstances, where certain bunkers are completely flooded and there is no reasonable likelihood of the bunkers drying up during the round, the Committee may introduce a Local Rule providing relief without penalty from specific bunkers. The key is that the Committee may only do this in exceptional circumstances, it must put in place a Local Rule, and it must specify the bunkers that are affected.

See Decision 33-8-27 for more information.
9. Defining Course Boundaries
It is essential that course boundaries are clearly defined so that there can be no doubt as to whether a ball is in or out of bounds.  Different methods can be used to mark the boundary such as fences, stakes, lines or walls but it is not recommended to use a hedge or line of trees due to their irregular growth.  When stakes are used, they should be positioned sufficiently close to each other so that it is possible to draw an imaginary line between the two stakes to determine if the ball is out of bounds. You might have stakes positioned closer together in areas where the boundary really comes into play, compared to areas that are somewhat off the beaten track.  If possible, bushes or trees should not obscure stakes.  Stakes and/or lines when used to define a boundary should be white.

For further information click here.

10. Flagstick
It is permitted to have thin discs or sleeves attached to the flagstick to indicate the distance of the hole from the front of the green, provided that the attachments are circular in cross-section.  Similarly, the use of different coloured flags is permitted to indicate when the hole position is at the front, middle or back of the green. 

Greenkeepers need to be aware of The Rules of Golf as their actions in setting up the golf course may bring The Rules into play for the golfer.

Further Information
For further information see The R&A’s Guidance on Running a Competition publication. The R&A has a beginner’s online Rules and etiquette course, the Rules Academy www.RandA.org/RulesAcademy and organises Rules courses around the world, click here  to see the list of Rules courses.