Amen Corner: Basic Rules Every Weekend (or Weekday) Golfer Should Know
No golfer can be expected to know all of the sport's rules, but there are at least three with which every player should be familiar.
Golf is made up of so many rules, it’s impossible to know all of them. That’s why there will be a rules official with every group during this week’s major, the British Open championship.
Even the guys and gals who play professionally every single day don’t know them all, so how could we?
Here are a few rules that are most in play for you and me during a round of golf:
∎ Out of Bounds: An area is marked by the white stakes along the side of the golf course. It signifies that you literally hit your golf ball off the golf course … and possibly in someone’s swimming pool.
The penalty here is the same penalty as if you simply lost your ball. The rules state you’re not allowed to hit the ball out of the neighbor’s backyard and you must hit another ball from generally the same spot as the original shot, and then add one penalty shot to your score. Ouch.
If you’re unsure if your ball is lost or out of bounds, you may hit a provisional ball. You get to play a second ball until you get to the area you believe your ball may be lost. You just need to announce it to the group to make it official.
Once you get to the area you think your shot landed, you get only five minutes to look for your original ball. After that, you have to play the other.
∎ Water Hazards: What happens if you hit your ball into a pond or a marsh? These water hazards are typically lined with yellow stakes.
Here, you have two options besides taking off your shoes and shorts and wading in the water in your skivvies to try to hit your shot.
First, you get the same option as hitting out of bounds, hitting another from your original spot and taking a stroke penalty. I would say this option is the least advantageous to you because you lose the distance your first ball traveled.
The next option is to drop the ball on safe land behind the water hazard near the point it entered.
This option gets tricky because you can also drop the ball along the path behind the spot where the ball crossed into the hazard and the location of the pin on the green. That means if you drew a line between the spot your ball crossed the hazard and the pin, and then extended this imaginary line away from the hole into infinity, you could drop the ball anywhere along that line.
A red-staked water hazard is easy. These hazards are typically nasty woods and wetlands filled with poison ivy that travel alongside the length of the hole. Just drop the ball within two club lengths of where it entered, give yourself a one shot penalty and proceed.
Oh, and you’re not allowed to touch the ground with your club in a hazard, including a sand trap, unless you need to use it to prevent you from falling down, for shooing a rattlesnake or something like that.
∎ Identifying Your Ball: Finally, a good rule to know that often gets overlooked is you must be able to identify the ball that you are playing.
If you and all of your playing partners sliced the ball in the same area and each of you say, “I think I had a Titleist or something,” that’s not good. This rule is why you see serious golfers, armed with a Sharpie, mark their ball with a dot or two or a line or a smiley face. Their mark becomes their identity and prevents strangers from hitting their ball if you happen to drive it in the wrong fairway.
See? Not so complicated. If you have any questions, just see a rules official.
Peter Harris is director of golf at the Fore-U Golf Center in West Lebanon.