Ask the Rules Guy: Was this a legal play?

June 22, 2017

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy—he won’t throw the book at you!

Hey, Rules Man:

While playing at a course next to some houses, my playing partner’s shot came to rest against an iron gate between the course and a backyard. The ball was inbounds, but he had no swing. I noticed that his ball was in front of the gate’s door and that by opening it he would have a swing. I convinced him this was a legal play. Was it? —JOE LONGO, NEW ORLEANS

This is an open-and-shut case. Per Decision 27/18, the closed gate is considered part of the boundary fence, not a movable obstruction. Moving the gate violates Rule 13-2 (related to improving the area of intended swing), and brings with it a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. Now, had the gate already been open, your playing partner could have proceeded with the gate in the position he found it in, or he could have closed it, but nothing in between. Here, as in most matters, the Rules do not sit on the fence.

Rules Guy:

A ball is putted into the hole. A frog that was in the cup immediately jumps out, taking the ball with it. Is the ball deemed holed? —JIMMY AHMED, LAGOS, NIGERIA

Rules Guy is calling bullfrog here. The kind of critter involved doesn’t matter. The ruling remains the same: If the ball comes to rest in the circumference of the hole, it’s considered holed. If Kermit’s caper came before then, under Rule 19-1b (which covers a ball being deflected or picked up by an animate outside agency) the stroke is canceled, and the ball is re-placed and replayed. Should this mulligan be missed, well, ribbit and weep.

Rules Guru:

In a round with my brother-in-law, he shanked his tee shot OB on a par 3, and I got distracted while he reloaded. The next thing I know he’s yelling, “It’s in the hole!” When we check, there it is. Here’s the thing: He reteed using a range ball. Did he actually make a miraculous 3 with a penalty, or did he use an illegal ball? —DAVE WOODRELL, BOTHELL, WASH.

While it is Rules Guy’s considered opinion that red stripes on the course should be confined to the refreshing Jamaican lager, your brother-in-law in fact made the flukiest of pars with his range ball. According to Decision 5-¼, practice golf balls—while they’ve seen more wear and tear than Keith Richards—are typically conforming to the Rules of Golf. You can check Appendix III for the requirements of legal orbs. And you may want to ask your brother-in-law how that striper snuck in his bag in the first place.

Rules Guy:

At my local course, a player hit his drive toward the rough and into a rotted tree stump. The ball embedded in its own pitch mark in the stump. Was he entitled to a free drop? Would it have mattered had the stump been in the fairway? —MICHAEL O’CALLAHAN, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

No, a player does not get relief for a ball embedded in a tree stump. The only question is whether the area has been marked or designated as ground under repair (far more likely in the fairway scenario, alas). If so, the player is entitled to relief without penalty. If not, he can play the ball as it lies or declare it unplayable. Now, should the player choose the latter route, there are three well-known options available, all under penalty of one stroke. If that strikes you as a rotten piece of news, well, the player is still in much better shape than the tree.


Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to [email protected] and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!