Ask the Rules Guy: Gate Gaffe

Ask the Rules Guy
GATE GAFFE
 
Rules Guy,
I hit my tee shot far right on one of the toughest holes at my home course. When I got to the ball, it was sitting up against the fence that runs along the side of the hole. As it turned out, I was actually right in front of a gate in the middle of the fence, and when I gave it a jiggle the gate immediately swung open. After safely playing my ball onto the green, I proceeded to brag to my friend/opponent about my good luck. Predictably, his response was less than favorable; he claimed that since the other side of the fence was OB, opening the gate gave me an advantage I shouldn’t have had. Was he right, or was I just fortunate?
--Joaquin A., New York, NY
 
It’s better to be lucky than good, but in this case you were neither. If the gate had been open to begin with, you would have been totally within your rights to play it as it lay. And while there’s a long list of obstructions that you would have been well within your rights to move, this wasn't one of them. According to Decision 27/18, a gate in a boundary fence (when it’s closed) is considered part of the boundary and not an obstruction. By opening the gate, you were in violation of Rule 13-2, which prohibits improving the area of your intended stance or swing. If you and your buddy were scoring match play you lost the hole, otherwise you should have taken a two-stroke penalty. Hence the old saying: "When one door is closed, another opens. When one gate is closed, take a drop."

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