Colorado Golf Association Executive Director Ed Mate put together a pamphlet of what he considers the 10 most violated rules of golf:
10. Limit of 14 Clubs
The 14-club rule is one often waived in club events. This is puzzling since the rule has been around for nearly 60 years.
9. Order of play
This is an issue of tradition and etiquette, in which the ball farthest from the hole is to be played first even if a player off the green is closer. This rule often creates confusion but there is no penalty for playing out of turn.
A golfer can have the flagstick attended at any time on the golf course. Whenever a ball strikes an attended flagstick or the person holding the flagstick, the penalty is two strokes in stroke play or loss of a hole in match play. If a player’s ball hits an unattended flagstick there is no penalty unless the stroke was played from the putting green, which initiates a two-stroke penalty.
7. Improper dropping procedure
There is no such thing as line of flight when a ball goes into a water hazard. The point must be determined where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, then the ball is dropped. The other option is to return to where the ball was last played. When determining relief from an unplayable lie, the two-club-length measuring starts where the ball lies, not the edge of a bush.
6. Teeing ground
The teeing ground is two club lengths in depth between the tee markers. Golfers often tee up a few inches in front of the tee markers.
5. Failing to hole out short putts
An important principle of golf is completing each hole. Many players miss short putts, rake the ball back and say “that was good.” If a player fails to hole out in stroke play, the penalty is disqualification. However, short putts can be conceded in match play.
4. Failing to replace ball properly
Players are allowed to lift and clean their ball at any time on the putting green. Many players, however, have a habit of approximating when replacing the ball.
3. Improving lie
Rules says a golfer should play the ball as it lies and the course as it is found. That means no breaking or bending branches in the way of a swing and play the ball as it lies.
2. Lost ball
If a ball off the tee can’t be found and a provisional ball wasn’t hit, there are a couple options. A player can return to the tee to hit a provisional ball (Rule 27) for the third stroke or drop the ball in the approximate location of the lost ball and continue the hole with a stroke added.
1. Bad math
Most rules are violated because of ignorance or misunderstanding. The most violated rule in golf is simply bad math. Golfers sometimes have selective memory of bad shots or missed putts when it comes to totaling up scores.
They drive around the golf course in carts and get good views of the action.They are the rules officials who volunteer at the various levels of golf, both professional and amateur.And while some golfers would rather not see them, officials say they are not out to marshal players — just to help them follow the rules.“We can’t run a tournament without rules officials because their job is to enforce the rules of golf and provide assistance to those golfers who do not know the rules and decisions on the rules of golf,” said Laura Robertson, executive director of the Colorado Women’s Golf Association.“Rules officials are there to help. We’re not there as a police force trying to find rules violations.”Workshops, seminars, tests and ride-alongs are among the training that takes a number of years for volunteers before becoming certified United States Golf Association-certified rules officials.Tom Kennedy, a retired Colorado Springs district judge, is a USGA chief rules official and said of the tutoring, “I hadn’t studied this hard since I took the bar exam 48 years ago. They made me work to become a certified rules official.”It’s demanding to be a rules administrator since there are 34 rules of golf, but every two years a large book is published concerning decisions on the rules. That’s to help clarify any ambiguity that might arise from the rules to allow rules officials to correctly interpret the rules.“You not only have to master the rules but understand the decisions,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes you have to use a judgment call. I’m used to making decisions, but I want it to be in a positive way.“I’ve made a lot of decisions sending people to prison for a very long time and those were never fun decisions. The decisions we are making out here on the golf course are to help educate the players. So if they make a mistake on the rule, they won’t make it a second time.”Brad Wiesley, a lawyer who lives near Indian Tree Golf Club in Arvada, is another chief rules official.“None of us like when a penalty is involved,” he said. “Some people think the rules official is handing out penalties. We never do that. The penalty is because of the rules of golf.“The reasons there are so many decisions is because golfers find interesting situations to get into. Sometimes there is not a decision to cover exactly what happened. So you have to do some interpretations. Similar situations are treated alike.”There are many rules that might be misinterpreted or broken. And golfers have a knack for getting themselves in odd — and sometimes, truly hazardous — situations.Rules official Sandy Schnitzer recalls that twice in the past few years a ball has landed on mating snakes.It happened once at Riverdale Dunes in Brighton, she said, when a tee shot on a par 3 landed on top of two bull snakes. The other time was at Murphy Creek in Aurora and rattlesnakes were the landing spot for a ball. Those were deemed “dangerous situations” and the golfers were allowed to move the ball without a penalty.Wiesley recalls a situation in which a player hit a ball near a tree by the green with a nest of swarming wasps. As with the snake situations, the golfer was allowed to move the ball without penalty.But most rulings aren’t as dramatic.“The junior tournaments, I find, give you the most rulings because a lot of times the younger people don’t know enough,” said rules official Andrew Snyder, of Greenwood Village. “It’s a learning experience for them and for us.”Colorado Golf Association Executive Director Ed Mate says advice other than public information — like yardage, hazards and where the flagstick is located — can be a violation.“Probably the rule that gets broken a lot of times unwittingly is advice, anything you say to somebody that can influence their play,” Mate said. “Like I noticed something in your swing or boy that breeze sure is blowing hard. Things like that. There’s a line that you have to be really careful about.”Schnitzer, an Erie resident, has seen many golfers puzzled by water.“Golfers sometimes get confused over the relief they can take from a direct water hazard and lateral water hazard,” she said.Competitive golfers are used to dealing with rules and generally accept the decisions.“Most golfers know the rules and understand the rules are there to treat everybody playing in the event with equality,” Wiesley said. “Every once in a while people get frustrated when things don’t go the way they intend them to go. That can happen, but it is pretty rare. You understand somebody is frustrated. They are not mad at you personally.”Jack Tickle, a junior-to-be at Arapahoe High School, is a promising junior golfer who isn’t intimidated when he sees a rules official watching.“They don’t much get involved unless we ask — and they are helpful,” Tickle said. “I’ve never really had one say ‘I don’t know what that ruling is.’ They always know. They don’t help unless we ask. They let us play.”
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