Ask the Rules Guy: Legal tender, rakes and lampposts

Ask the Rules Guy
Jason Raish

Dear Rules Guy: My opponent asked me to tend the flagstick for him because he couldn't see the hole. After he putted, however, I discovered that the stick was stuck in the cup! His ball proceeded to hit the pin and bounce 10 feet away. After much discussion, he played it as it lay without penalty. Did we do the right thing?
— Don Moberg, East Sandwich, Mass.

A sticky situation, indeed. Decision 17-3/2 goes to great lengths to outline all the possible scenarios that could unfold under such circumstances. Your interpretation, though, missed the mark. Because your failure to remove the flagstick was not deliberate, and because you were acting on your opponent's behalf, he actually loses the hole under Rule 17-3. In stroke play, he would incur a penalty of two strokes and then play the ball as it lay. Since you were not acting with the intent to cause your opponent to incur a penalty or influence the movement of his ball, nothing sticks to you in this situation.

Mr. Rules Guy: My tee shot landed in a fairway bunker. I picked up a rake and raked my footprints in the bunker as I walked toward my ball on the far side. I hit my shot to a foot and made birdie. My playing partners, though, said I deserved a penalty stroke for testing the bunker before I hit my shot. I thought I was just saving myself extra raking of the bunker by not having to walk back out the side after my shot. Who's right?
— Sid Hasty, Powhatan, Va.

Until 2012 you would have received a two-stroke penalty. But the USGA added Exception 2 to Rule 13-4, which says that as long as the raking was done solely for the purpose of caring for the course and nothing was done to improve the area of your stance or swing, the lie of the ball or the line of play for the stroke you're about to play, there is no penalty. So your "sandie" stands, and tell your playing partners to brush up on the Rules.

Rules Guy: On a 220-yard par 3, my tee shot headed left and struck a lamppost on the course. It ricocheted off the pole and into a water hazard on the next hole. My playing partner told me to take a penalty and tee up another ball. I thought that the lamppost was considered an outside agency, which would entitle me to a free re tee. Still, I took the penalty and teed up another ball, eventually taking a double-bogey. I lost the match by two strokes and my playing partner got bragging rights. I still have a sneaky suspicion that it was a tie. What's the ruling?
— Casey Woodard, via e-mail

Now that's one bad bounce! Maybe I can shed some light on the ruling for you. Any object (man-made or natural) on a golf course is considered an outside agency. As Rule 19-1 states, when a ball in motion strikes an outside agency, the situation is considered to be a "rub of the green" and the ball should be played as it lies. Because it came to rest in the water hazard, you should have either played your ball from there or, after taking the one-stroke penalty, proceeded under Rule 26-1 (Relief for Ball in Water Hazard).

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Golf Magazine, on newstands now. Click here to subscribe to Golf Magazine and to learn about Golf Magazine All Access.