Rule of the Month: What You See is What You Get
By Sr. Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly
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Part 1: Course Played as It Is Found — Allowed Actions
The Rules of Golf were written with several guiding principles governing their creation. By looking at the Rules through these principles, you begin to understand the intention and purpose of each Rule. One of these guiding principles is to “play the course as you find it.” In other words, don’t rearrange the course for your benefit. However, there are times when this happens as a result of other allowed actions or when a player is allowed under a Rule to improve an area of the course. And there are other situations when a player is allowed or required to restore the conditions that may have been worsened or improved to avoid a penalty.
As you can imagine, sorting this out on the golf course can be a bit daunting. Actually, it’s more daunting to explain the Rule in one article with ten questions and answers. So as a result, we have split this article into three separate segments. This first installment covers actions that the player is allowed to do, even if the conditions of the course are improved as a result. Next month’s article will focus on conditions affecting the stroke that must not be improved prior to the player making a stroke and June’s article will focus on when a player may, or is required to, restore conditions that were worsened or improved.
Test your knowledge of “playing the course as you find it” with the following questions regarding actions that improve an area of the course.
Questions: True / False
- In the teeing area, a player is allowed to alter the surface of the ground and remove dew, frost or temporary water.
- Just prior to making a 150 yard approach shot, the player replaces a divot a few yards in front of his or her ball and on the intended line of play. The player incurs the general penalty for improving the line of play.
- Without penalty, sand in a bunker may be smoothed by the player prior to making a stroke from the bunker.
- During the backswing for the stroke, which is then completed, a player breaks a branch with the club. The player incurs a penalty for improving the area of the intended swing.
- Damage on the putting green—including ball marks, spike marks and animal tracks—may be repaired even when the ball is not on the putting green.
- While searching for a ball, the player moves long grass around the ball which improves the conditions affecting the stroke. The player incurs the general penalty for improving the conditions affecting the stroke.
- Loose impediments, including leaves, twigs, cones and branches, may be moved anywhere on the course, including bunkers and penalty areas, to improve the line of play.
- In an attempt to take a stance for a stroke, the player carefully backs into a bush and pushes several branches out of the way. The player is allowed to back into the bush, but gets a penalty for improving the area of the intended swing.
- Sand on the putting green, but not elsewhere on the course, may be removed to eliminate interference on the line of play.
After playing a ball from the fairway, a player replaces the divot created by the stroke. The ball is subsequently found out of bounds, requiring the player to proceed under stroke and distance. Because the player had replaced the divot, there is a penalty for improving the relief area where the player must drop a ball.
- True. Rule 8.1b(8). In the teeing area, a player is allowed to alter the surface of the ground prior to making a stroke. This permission includes when a ball is in play and is still within the teeing area. Additionally, dew, frost and temporary water may also be purposely removed from the teeing area by the player.
- False. Definition of Improve and Interpretation 8.1a/2. In order for an action to be considered a breach of improving the area of the intended line of play, the improvement must have created a potential advantage. Since the divot was replaced only a few yards in front of the ball prior to a long shot over the area, it is unlikely that any potential advantage has been gained and the player incurs no penalty.
- It Depends. Rule 12.2b(2). It is true that sand in a bunker may be smoothed at any time provided that the smoothing is only for the care of the course and not to test the condition of the bunker. However, the question is also false if the smoothing of the sand improved the area of the players intended stance, swing, lie of ball or the line of play. If so, the player has breached Rule 8.1a and incurs the general penalty.
- False. Rule 8.1b(7). Provided that the player completes the stroke, there is no penalty for improving the conditions affecting the stroke during the swing. If the player stops the swing after breaking the branch, there would be a penalty for improving the area of the intended swing. Additionally, if the branch was broken during a practice swing, there would be a penalty if the action improved the area of the intended swing for the stroke to be made.
- True. Rule 13.1c(2). Damage to the putting green may be repaired at any time by taking reasonable actions to restore the putting green as nearly as possible to its original condition. However, damage as a result from normal maintenance, natural forces, natural surface imperfections and natural wear of the hole must not be repaired.
- False. Rules 8.1b(1) & 7.1a. The player is allowed to take reasonable actions to find and identify his or her ball and incurs no penalty if the reasonable actions improve the conditions affecting the stroke. However, caution should be exercised because if the actions exceed what is reasonable, the player has breached Rule 8.1a for the improvement.
- True. Rules 8.1b &15.1a. Any loose impediment may be removed, including a loose impediment in a bunker or penalty area. If the conditions affecting the stroke are improved by the removal, there is no penalty provided that the player used reasonable actions to remove the loose impediments.
- False. Rule 8.1b(6). Provided that the player used the least intrusive course of action to take his or her stance, there is no penalty for improving the area of intended stance or swing. A player is allowed to fairly take a stance by taking reasonable actions to get to the ball, even if these actions improve the conditions affecting the stroke.
- True. Rule 8.1b(10). Sand and loose soil may be removed from the putting green whether the ball is on or off the green. It may also be removed from the teeing area. However, sand and loose soil may not be removed to eliminate interference anywhere else on the course.
- False. Rule 8.1 & Interpretation 8.1a/8. Because the player was unaware when replacing the divot that he or she would be dropping in the relief area, there is no penalty. However, once the player becomes aware that they will be required to drop a ball in a relief area, they are prohibited from improving the relief area by altering the surface of the ground.