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DEAR RULES GUY: I was playing in a high school tournament and one of my opponents hit his ball into a greenside bunker. The bunker was marked as 'ground under repair,' but he wanted to play out of there because the closest relief was on a steep hill that would have been hard to hit from. One of the coaches said that he could play out of the bunker if he wanted to, so he did. I did not agree with that ruling; I believe you cannot play a shot from ground under repair. Was the coach correct?
Mitchell Keep, Kauai, Hawaii
The Rules Guy remembers how confusing high school can be, so he's happy to have a chance to contribute to your education. While Rule 25-1b entitles you to relief from ground under repair, there is nothing in the Rules of Golf that requires you to take it. Assuming that your opponent did not move the ball or improve the ground in any way, he incurred no penalty.
DEAR RULES GUY:
I chipped my ball onto the green, but as it went into the cup it was held up by the flagstick. We counted it as a birdie, but one of my buddies called me later that day and told me he had received a flier from one of the local golf associations that seemed to indicate that I should have spotted the ball and counted another stroke. If it's important, the ball was more than third of the way in. What is your ruling?
M. Mann, Idaho
No matter how much of the ball was inside the hole, there's a specific procedure to follow to determine whether you've holed your putt. According to Rule 17-4, you should have removed the flagstick (with the ball still leaning against it). If your ball fell into the hole once the pin was removed, then you could have counted your birdie guilt-free; if it had stayed on the lip you would have had to play it from there. If you picked up your ball before removing the pin, however, it's bye-bye birdie. According to Decision 17-4/1, you incur a one-stroke penalty for lifting your ball without marking it (Rule 20-1). You must then replace your ball up against the flagstick, exactly as it was, and remove the pin as described above. I hope that you did the right thing (even if you did it by accident).