Ask the Rules Guy: Cart climber and match-play mixup

Photo: Jason Raish

Ask the Rules Guy, March 2012

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Rules Guy: My home course is lined with large, prickly bushes. I hit my drive into one of them and found the ball cradled gingerly on the outside of the bush, almost begging to be swung at. The problem? It was four feet in the air. Thinking quickly, I called my buddy over in the golf cart and climbed on top. I didn't get much on my next shot, but it beat taking a drop. When my friend stopped laughing he told me there's no way what I did was legal, but I figured there's no way there's a rule against it. Is there?
-- Stephen C., via e-mail

While you may have felt like Sir Edmund Hillary, you're not the first man to scale a golf cart. As weird as your situation was, the Rules of Golf still have it covered, although you're going to wish they didn't. According to Decision 13-3/5, using your golf cart as a ladder is considered building a stance, which violates Rule 13-3. You should have taken a 2-stroke penalty for your mistake. Sure you've got the story to tell, but in this case you would have saved a stroke by taking the drop and skipping the Tarzan impression.

Rules Maven: I was playing a match with a friend and he was one hole up on 18. We were both lying three when he two-putted for bogey. Thinking he had sealed the match, he then picked up my ball. He was stunned when I reminded him that I still had a chance to win the hole and halve the match. Neither of us knew what to do, so I just replaced my ball and played on. Needless to say, I missed the putt, but I think I should have won the hole by default.
-- Ed Gonnel, Tenafly, N.J.

I'm going to give your buddy the benefit of the doubt and assume his mistake was one of poor math and not poor sportsmanship. While picking up your ball is not the same as conceding your next stroke, your friend also doesn't get off free and clear. According to Decision 2-4/4, your buddy incurred a penalty of one stroke for touching your ball and violating Rule 18-3b. That means you had not one but two chances to win that last hole and halve the match. If your buddy is fair, he'll give you a rematch, and if he's smart he'll get a math tutor.

Rules Reporter: I was playing with my father when my ball landed under a small tree. As I took my backswing, my club swung up and snapped a branch behind me. I stopped my swing quickly and assessed the damage. I then took my shot (which I admit was easier without the branch). My dad said I had to take a penalty for improving my lie, but I disagreed, since I broke it during my swing. Who was right?
-- Bruce C., via e-mail

Sometimes it's not what you do on the course that gets you in trouble, it's what you don't do. By stopping your club mid-swing, you did not actually make a stroke at the ball. Consequently, according to Decision 13-2/14.5, breaking the branch constituted improving the area of your intended swing, a violation of Rule 13-2 and a two-stroke penalty. If you had completed your swing, breaking the branch would have simply been a result of your stroke and you would not have been penalized.


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