- I was once playing with a longstanding golfer, and someone who had been captain of my club, when my ball disappeared into a bush crossing the fairway 100 yards out.
On retrieving the ball, I set about dropping back on line under penalty, only to be asked what I was doing as I could only take such a drop if my ball was in a water hazard.
I politely explained that such an option was always available under the unplayable ball Rule, but it got me thinking that for perhaps 20 years or more, this chap had been doing himself out of one of the three unplayable ball options.
How many shots had that cost him over the years?
Having a better knowledge of the Rules would have given him greater options in such circumstances, and there are a number of ways that simply knowing certain Rules fully could potentially save you shots.
Here are five ways to use golf Rules to your advantage.
The teeing ground is not just a strip between the markers
The teeing ground is not simply the area between the two markers, but rather an area two club-lengths in depth, the front and sides of which are defined by the outside limits of the tee-markers.
So if the tee is not in great condition between the markers, don’t be afraid to find a flatter bit further back.
Equally, it is only your ball that has to be inside the teeing ground – you may stand outside it to play your shot, so if being on the extreme side of the teeing ground might make it easier for you to hit the shot you’re looking to hit, don’t be afraid to stand outside.
Stones in bunkers may only be removed if a Local Rule is in force
When is a loose impediment not a loose impediment? Under the Rules of Golf, never, but under an appropriate Local Rule, stones are very often reclassified as movable obstructions in bunkers for reasons of safety and to avoid club damage.
You need to know when such a Local Rule is in force to avoid costing yourself shots either through not removing stones when you are allowed to do so, or removing them when you are not allowed to do so.
So always check the scorecard or noticeboard to see if stones in bunkers are reclassified as movable obstructions where you are playing.
Flag tended from off the green
Despite what many will tell you, you can have the flag tended from anywhere on the course – you do not have to be on the putting green.
Obviously, no-one has the flag tended from 200 yards – even though it would be permitted – but on long putts from the fringe, having someone holding the flag may give you better depth perception.
It may also be wise on windy days when the flag is being blown towards you and could well prevent your ball from dropping should you hit a career putt.
However, once tended you need to remember that should your ball then strike the flagstick you will be penalised two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in matchplay (unless you can prove that your opponent or fellow competitor allowed it to happen deliberately).
Stroke and distance even from on the green
Stroke and distance applies even from on the green. This may sound silly, but people have been known to putt into bunkers (the Road Hole at St Andrews) or water hazards, as Tiger did on the 13th green at Augusta in 2005. And what did Tiger do?
He elected to putt again from the green under stroke and distance rather than drop from the hazard, deeming he was more likely to get down in two from there than dropping from Rae’s Creek.
So if bunker play is not your forte, or your ball has found a footprint or an impossible spot at the back of the bunker that would bring the thin out of bounds into play, don’t be afraid to exercise your right to putt again from the green under penalty of stroke and distance rather than risk a very big number from the sand.
Partner further from the hole can play first
The player farthest from the hole has the honour at all times on the course, but don’t forget that in fourball betterball, the honour is the side’s rather than the individual’s.
So there can be much wisdom in letting the team member nearer the hole go first in circumstances where the result of his or her shot might then help his or her partner.
Examples would include the player farther from the hole deciding whether or not to take on a risky shot based on what his partner does first.
Or perhaps more commonly, on the green where the putts are on a similar line but the player closer to the hole has taken more shots.
Giving the player further away some extra help on the read and line could well help the side achieve a lower score, and it’s all perfectly within the Rules.