Golf Rules OK

RulesGolf , its Competitions and its Rules at club level are run with an unenforced and unwritten trust relationship between competitors which makes the sport standout in the way that its rules are applied.  While the integrity of Golf is something wonderful and cherished by the sport rules are still broken each and every week up and down the country by Golfers of all levels unbeknownst to the Clubs or other Competitors.  However the vast majority of these infringements are entirely unintentional given the amount of rules and situations that can arise during a round.

But all golfers should know all the rules of Golf, after all there are only 34 of them!  Yes just 34 rules but with 100 sections and subsections in reality there are around 2000 actual rules, no one can honestly know them all can they?  How can a Golfer be confident he has applied the correct rule in any given situation or indeed help out a fellow Golfer unsure himself about his own situation?

While all golfers should be aware and understand the basic set of rules, this is not always the case.  “how many club lengths do I drop?  Can I drop it here? Is this a rabbit scrape?  There is sand on my line?” are all common questions from players during rounds, questions no one should be afraid or embarrassed to ask if they are unsure.  So it doesn’t hurt to look at the basic misunderstood rules and go deeper into the depth of the R&A rules of Golf to become better more confident players when situations arise.

So we will be running a series of blogs to hopefully look at and clarify  some of the most overlooked rules as well as some of the more obscure situations, starting with “The most misunderstood rules of Golf”.



  1. Red Lateral Hazard

Option 1 – Play it from the hazard.

Option 2 -Replay the shot from the original position incurring a stroke and distance penalty.

Option 3 –Draw a line from the hole to where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and drop anywhere behind that point keeping the point between you and the hole incurring a 1 shot penalty.

Option 4 – go to the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and drop within 2 club lengths, no nearer the hole, on either side of the hazard incurring a 1 shot penalty.

  1. Yellow Water Hazard

Option 1 –Play from hazard.

Option 2 –Replay the shot from the original position incurring a stroke and distance penalty.

Option 3 – Draw a line from the hole to where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and drop anywhere behind that point keeping the point between you and the hole. You would incur a 1 shot penalty.

  1. Lost Ball or Out -of –Bounds

After looking for a maximum of 5 minutes, you must go back to where the shot was originally played from, and replay, incurring a stroke and distance penalty.

  1. Unplayable Lie

Option 1 – Take 2 club lengths relief no closer to the hole and assess a 1 stroke penalty.

Option 2 – Replay the shot from the original position incurring a stroke and distance penalty.

Option 3 – Take the ball back as far as you want keeping the point where the ball lays between you and the hole incurring a 1 shot penalty.

  1. Improving Your Swing Path

You cannot bend, break, or hack anything growing or fixed if it improves your lie, your stance, or your area of intended swing. The penalty for doing so is loss of hole in match play, or a 2 shot penalty in stroke play.

  1. Unplayable Lie in Bunker

Option 1 –Take a drop of no more than 2 club lengths no closer to the hole, but still in the bunker incurring a 1 shot penalty.

Option 2 –Replay the shot from the original position incurring a stroke and distance penalty.

Option 3 – Go back as far as you like in the bunker and drop keeping the spot where your ball laid between you and the hole. This incurs a 1 shot penalty.

  1. Removing Objects in a Bunker.

You may not move or remove any loose impediments in the bunker unless they are foreign to the area. Example- you may remove a candy wrapper but not a pine cone or tree branch.

  1. Number of Allowed Clubs.

You are only allowed to carry 14 clubs in your bag. The penalty for carrying more than 14 clubs:

Match Play- Loss of a hole – maximum 2 holes.

Stroke Play – 2 strokes per hole up to a maximum of 2 holes or 4 shots.

  1. Casual Water

Find your nearest point of relief no closer to the hole where neither you nor your ball lie in water that can be seen without pressing your feet up and down. You may then drop your ball within 1 club length from that point no nearer to the hole at no penalty.

  1. Grounding Your Club in a Hazard.

Practise swings may be taken inside a hazard as long as you don’t touch the ground, sand or water with your club. The top of the grass may be touched during a practise swing. The penalty for grounding your club is loss of the hole in match play, or a 2 shot penalty in stroke play.

  1. Accidentally Moving the Ball

There is a 1 stroke penalty for accidentally moving your ball, and it must be replaced in its original position before hitting. There is another 1 stroke penalty for hitting the ball from the wrong place if it is not replaced. There is no penalty for accidentally moving the ball when on the tee.

  1. Removing Loose Impediments

If, in moving loose impediments you accidently move your ball, you must return the ball to its original position, and penalize yourself 1 stroke.

  1. Asking for advice

It’s against the rules of golf to ask an opponent what club they have to hit. The penalty for this breech is loss of hole in Match Play, or a 2 shot penalty in Stroke play.

  1. Ball on a cart Path.

You are entitled to free relief.

Step 1 – Determine the ‘nearest point of relief’. This is the point where the ball would lay affording the player both swing and stance from the cart path.

Step 2 – you are entitled to 1 club length relief from the point where the ball would lie once full relief is taken.

Step 3 – After dropping, the ball may roll up to 2 club lengths no closer to the hole.

  1. Changing Club Characteristics.

Clubs may not be altered in any way once play has begun. If a club is altered during the normal course of play, such as bending it after hitting a tree while attempting to hit the ball, the club may be taken to the shop for immediate repair and a replacement club may be used until the original club is repaired.

If the club is modified outside the normal course of play, such as breaking or bending it in a fit of anger, it must be taken out of play for the remainder of the match. Should it be use again the penalty is disqualification, whether Match or Stroke play.

  1. How to drop the Ball.

After determining the nearest point of relief, you may stand outside the drop area, no closer to the hole, and extend your hand to the side dropping the ball from Shoulder height. The ball may roll up to 2 club lengths no closer to the hole. If the ball rolls farther than that you must re-drop.  If after dropping 2 times the ball continues to roll past 2 club lengths, you must replace the ball where it first touched the ground.

  1. Repairing the Line of you Putt.

You may repair any ball marks in your line and remove any pebbles of foreign objects in your line, you can use any means you want to do this as long as you do not press down at anytime. You may not fix spike marks. The penalty for doing so is loss of hole in Match Play, or a 2 shot penalty in Stroke play.

  1. Hitting the Wrong Ball.

The penalty for hitting the wrong ball in Match play is loss of Hole. If Both players hit the wrong ball, only the first player to do so would be penalized as that would be the end of the hole.

The penalty for hitting the wrong Ball in Stroke play for either players is 2 strokes and the original ball must be replayed from its original position.


Gender Free Tees

golfteesMany traditions in Golf remain sacred and unchangeable,  embedded in the culture and beliefs golf club members cling so desperately to.  One of these keeps two large sets of members apart, maintaining a long standing divide that drives us and them thinking. We are of course talking about Tees, the ingrained thinking that Red is for Ladies and Yellow is for Men.

The English Golf Union and Today’s Golfer reported back in 2015 on Sheringham Golf Club being the first and Trentham Park Golf Club being the latest to introduce Gender neutral tees to their courses.  Both clubs have reported an increase in golf participation as a result of the tee change with Trentham reporting a rise in both membership and retention of members particularly from senior Gents and higher handicapped Ladies.

Is this just another fad?

Gender free tees are already becoming common place in America and growing globally.  The idea behind the concept is that everyone is a golfer at any club, regardless of age, gender or ability as such they should be able to move forward or backward as they wish without feeling shame or attaching any stigma to them.  This is all about using the course in a way that benefits all members, all ages and all abilities without investing in the building of new tees or restructuring the course.  Some clubs have gone a step further with play in some comps seeing players use the tee that matches their handicap.

How does a Gender Free Golf Course work?

At present our choice of tee at Helsby is limited, Gentlemen of Helsby, outside of competitions, can currently only utilize the Yellow tee which plays 6055 yards off the stones.  Is this a fair yardage for all abilities? Does the length affect your game? Does it affect your enjoyment of the game?  Well although no true mathematical algorithm or comprehensive report exists to answer these questions, the great golf coach and TV pundit Denis Pugh has offered his thoughts on length of course vs players abilities.  He is on record as saying “Golfers will often visit a golf course and are often given the choice to play off the championship tees, or the usual yellow tees.  This will often result in the majority Teeitspending all day slogging away and finishing with a negative opinion of the course as well as their own game”.  Pugh makes points here that a large amount of us can relate to, we are lucky that Helsby is not a course of great length but a course of guile and shotmanship.  Pugh goes on to suggest a simple mathematical formula that can be applied to a golfer marrying their ability to the length of course that suits them. Pugh suggests that “for maximum enjoyment golfers should be playing courses 28 times their average drive in total length”.  Pughs views are inline with the US Golf Association and PGA of America who are already 5 years into their own non gender specific tee initiative, ‘tee it closer’, which has been well received and widely adopted.  They suggest a similar system to Pughs presented in a tabular format with recommended course ranges against a players driving distance. These ideas certainty provoke thought and discussion and explore a new way for golf courses to assist players in gaining maximum enjoyment.  Everyone would surely agree that hitting 4 iron or 5 wood 2nd shots all day is not much fun.

So taking these systems on board how does Helsby compare?  Well applying Pughs formula a player hitting his drive 216 yards on average will gain the most enjoyment out of the course with a length fitting of their ability.  The American system suggests that actually you would have to be driving on average 225 yards to gain the most enjoyment.  A slight difference here but still a good argument to be made from golf experts that perhaps Helsby, off the yellows and probably more so off the whites, is too long for some members.

So can we now go out and use these systems put forward? if so how do we go about it?

Well at the moment the answer is we can’t (unless we were to play at one of the 30 courses England with gender free tees).  At present even though a course maybe too long for us to enjoy or too short that it feels like a seaside pitch and putt the current traditional static tee sets means its hard luck, we have to just get on with it.

So are governing bodies looking at this?

We have already seen the CONGU changes that are in the pipeline regarding CSS but even these changes will not change the fact that not all of us can hit the ball 250 yards off the tee.  The CONGU changes are planned to cater for the management of handicaps only, which doesn’t help if you have already reached 28 with no other option than to hit driver driver constantly on the static yellow course you are always forced to play.

Before any changes could be implemented a process would need to be carried out via the union that assesses and grades courses. This would need to be conducted along with a seperate assessment carried out to make all tees lady golfer complient also.

The future

So while it is clear that golf and clubs are adapting like never before the change to non gender specific tees is not simply an overnight operation. There is a strong case put forward for tees of various lengths to exist at courses against the backdrop of traditional and intrinsicly helded beliefs, for this to happen a shared vision must exist.

R&A Pace of Play – Player

time-managementSo the manual is out, is very concise and provides plenty to absorb and investigate as a club. It is broken down into sections, one for clubs and committees and one for the players which focuses on common sense as well as introducing some good concepts for us all to think about.

Here we highlight some of the player pace suggestions put forward by the R&A.

Ready to Play 

Other than match-play the R&A advise that players be encouraged to play out of turn where appropriate rather than adhering strictly to the “farthest from the hole plays first” rule.
This could be:
  • Shorter hitters playing first off the tee or fairway if longer hitters have to wait.
  • Knowing your own abilities and how far you can reasonably hit a golf ball so being better aware when it is safe to play.
  • By playing your shot when someone in your group is assessing their tricky shot.
  • Hitting a shot before helping someone to look for a lost ball.
  • Instead of waiting for a player to walk to the ball they have just chipped over the back of a green, chipping yourself if ready while the other player walks to their ball and assesses their shot.
  • Playing your shot even if a person who has just played from a bunker is still farthest from the hole but is raking the bunker.
  • Being ready to play your shot as soon as the group in front is clear.
There seems to be a lot of common sense practical ideas here we could all adopt very easily, especially the playing out of turn elements.  If we look at this mathematically in terms of time a 3 ball, all shooting the GB&I average of 87, taking 5 seconds a shot less for their round would see them complete it 21 minutes sooner.
Be Aware
We have all done this after becoming so engrossed in our own games.  The R&A stress that it is the duty of all golfers to ‘be aware of their position’ on the golf course.  If your group loses a hole on the group in front it is the responsibility of all your group to make up the time.  If your group cannot keep its position on the course for whatever reason, and is delaying a group or groups behind, you should invite the group behind to play through so that your group can play at the pace it is capable of.  The R&As philosophy on this is pretty sound, stating that “it is likely that the ‘inviting’ group will enjoy its game more without being constantly pressurized by the group behind, and the group that has been allowed to play through will have their enjoyment enhanced”.  Even if a large number of groups are slow it is always considered good etiquette to invite faster golfers through.
The R&A have also included some general things for us to consider that could speed up play, such as:
  • If there is any chance the players played ball might be in an area where it is difficult to find, may be out of bounds play a provisional ball.  It is always quicker to play a provisional than look for, loose a ball and walk back to the tee or last played location.
  • Ensuring your bag or trolley is left between the green and the next tee before putting.
  • Marking cards while walking to or being on the tee.
  • No one likes being told but if you are told by numerous people you are a slow player then perhaps you are?  Taking some of the posted points on board or even asking your playing partners why they think you are slow could improve your pace and perhaps help you feel less pressurized from Golfers behind.
  • Taking your shots then chatting with your playing partners as you all walk to your bags or towards your balls.

It is clear from these suggestions and the manual as a whole that the R&A are not asking players to run around the course and complete rounds as fast as they can.  Far from it the R&A guidelines are good practice suggestions that can easily be implemented and taken on board by all golfers regardless of age, sex, ability, size of group, or difficulty of course.  We as golfers have a responsibility to ourselves as well as everyone else on the course to ensure that our great game is enjoyed equally and etiquettely by all.

You can view the manual Here

Congu Slope System

tugofwarcartoonIt was back in October 2012 that the EGU completed and posted there Handicap & Course Rating Committee Feasibility Study.  Upon conclusion of the report the EGU proposed that “England Golf adopt the USGA System of Course Rating from January 1st 2014.”  So is the CONGU system to be replaced by the international slope system? Well kind of, read on.

Unions of the World have been discussing a world handicapping system for many years now.  While GB&I use CONGU and have done since the R&A handed over handicap control in 1927, internationally the USGA slope system is widely used.  So is Slope or CONGU the better more accurate system?  Well:

The first argument for the Slope system is with CONGUs reliance on SSS.  SSS is assessed and accredited by County Unions derived from a list of criteria as opposed to the Slope systems compassion against a good obstacle course.  The current assessment criteria for setting SSS takes into account the length of holes, how the elevation of the course changes, how many trees are on a hole, how many water hazards are present, how many bunkers does the course have etc.  A big argument here against SSS is that many top grade difficult links courses have no trees on the course, no water hazards (other than the sea) and little elevation change so are often rated in SSS terms similar to average parkland courses.  This rating discrepancy means that many courses are in fact under-rated while many are over-rated.  The CONGU system means golfers from difficult golf courses gain a significant advantage over golfers from average or easier courses as their handicap would be lower on these courses.

CONGU handicaps are devised by a moving model, players score are compared against the score of other competitors, the CSS.  This system sees players handicaps reduce, sometimes significantly, when they better the CSS yet increase slowly by .1 when they miss their predefined buffer zone.   This system means that on the whole even a semi regular players handicap is defined in part by scores they shot 3 or more years previously, as such this does not accurately represent their current ability.  With the stipulation that a golfers only have to return 3 cards annually a once frequent player who for whatever reason becomes infrequent could take 4 years for their handicap to rise by one shot.  This has also caused real problems for Counties with CAT1 competitions where competitors enter flagship events often balloted even though their ability no longer matches their handicap.

Where CONGU is a historical representation of a players ability, Slope is focused on a players current ability.  In brief Slope calculates a golfers 10 best rounds from his 20 previous competitions to calculate their playing handicap.  This means that a players 21st score is no longer counted towards their handicap and so could see larger immediate increases or decreases in handicaps for players.

CONGU is better in the way it applies stableford adjustments at holes where large scores are posted, so a players handicap is not based on any score over a net double bogey.  Slope applies a maximum score of 7 in similar circumstances regardless of the par of a hole.  CONGU is also better in the fact it calculates handicaps based on the condition of the course and the weather conditions players faced, the Slope never changes in this respect.  CONGU is therefore more focused on the players and not the course.

So what is a Slope rating on a golf course?  Well courses are given a Slope rating depending on how they rate against a single course, in GB&I the course is St Andrews.  The slope rating of a course is between 55 and 155, an average or ‘standard’ course is 113.  At a golf course all the tees, including the red ladies tees, are given a slope rating, such as 113 for the white course and 95 for the blue course.  This way any player on any given day can play off any tee using their full Slope handicap and without a 3/4 or any other difference being applied.  The Slope rating is also applied taking into account the ability of a host of handicap ranges when it comes to hazard relationships instead of CONGUs scratch golfer approach.

So to the question, there are no plans at present for GB&I golfers to move from CONGU to Slope.  The EGU, in conjunction with CONGU, have devised a system that will use Slope to rate courses, so getting rid of CSS, while keeping CONGUs decimal handicap system.  This has been rolling out since 2013 with the aim of getting all golf courses Slope rated by 2023.  This will mean for the GB&I players little in the way handicaps are managed but will change the shot allowance players receive playing away courses.  It will also mean that international players can use their Slope handicap on our shores and vice versa.

As 2023 is still a long way off it will be interesting to see if a radical overall of CONGU handicaps will eventually take place or perhaps a full change to the Slope system to create a worldwide handicapping standard.

The R&A Pace of Play Survey

CaptureBusy times at the Royal & Ancient who have now published their findings on the growing discussions centered around pace of play.  To begin their evaluation they conducted a worldwide survey of some 56,000 golfers across 122 countries back in September 2014 and have now concluded with a report.

Main highlights of the report indicate that 65.7% of GB&I golfers are themselves mainly happy with the length of time it takes them to play, with 30% feeling that only sometimes are their round times acceptable.  Globally the most satisfying round lasts between 3.5 – 4 hours with 72% of respondents indicating this.  25% of golfers in GB&I said that a reduction in round time of between 21-39 minutes would encourage them to play more and increase their enjoyment of the game.  It is interesting to also note that 75% of those taking part preferred midday or earlier tee times

Although it was found that 25 – 44-year-old play considerably fewer rounds than the older age brackets, with 65 to 75-year-old amassing on average 93 rounds per year, globally there is little difference in opinion between age groups.  There were however significant differences between regions views on round time.  The vast majority of global respondents considered 4 hours more than acceptable for a round of golf, however 50% of GB&I respondents disagreed with this.  A possibility is that round times Worldwide may be significantly higher due to the fact that only 7% of GB&I golfers stop at and embrace a halfway house against the 74% who do in Africa and larger % elsewhere.  Globally rounds last between 4 – 4.5 hours whereas GB&I see rounds lasting between 3.5 – 4 hours.

On the back of these findings the R&A have now produced a best practice guidance manual for clubs and players centered around pace of play.  We will be looking into the guide shortly and seeing what we can do at Helsby to make everyone’s Golf that little more fun.

The full report can be accessed Here