Ask the Rules Guy: Virtual water and off-the-bag-holes-in-one

Ask the Rules Guy: Virtual water and off-the-bag-holes-in-one


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DEAR RULES GUY: On one course I play water is often scarce, so much so that the water hazards completely dry up. During a match, my ball went into one of these 'dry lagoons' (which was marked with yellow stakes) and the guy that I was playing with said that I couldn’t address the ball where it was lying, and that I had to take a penalty stroke and drop behind the lagoon because it was filled with 'virtual water.' Can that possibly be right?
Angel E. Arriaga, via e-mail

Sounds like your opponent has a case of 'fauxagorarulesaphobia,' a common fear of water hazard rules that simply don’t exist. Just because your ball wouldn’t have been unplayable if the lagoon were full doesn’t force you to pretend that that’s the case. Under Rule 26-1, you are entitled to relief from water hazards (and lateral hazards) with a one-stroke penalty, but you are under no obligation to take that relief and are free to play the ball as it lies. This is true no matter how much water is in the hazard. Next time, address your ball with confidence and point your buddy to the Rules IQ [far right] for some more hazard re-education.

While playing a 200-yard par 3, the players in front of us, who were still on the green, waved at us to hit. My partner teed off, and his shot hit one of their golf bags on the ground just off the green. The ball careened off the bag and into the hole for what we assumed was a hole-in-one. But upon reporting it to the clubhouse, the local pro said hitting the bag was a one-stroke penalty and we should score the hole as a birdie. Is this the correct ruling?

Ken Clement, via e-mail

Ah, the old ricochet-off-the-bag hole-in-one; I’ve seen it a million times. While this pro might be a great teacher, he’s not a master of the Rules. The pro misinterpreted Rule 19-2, which calls for a one-stroke penalty for hitting a bag carried by yourself, your partner or your caddie. However, there is nothing illegal about accidently using the other group’s bags as ball bumpers. Your buddy should have cited Rule 19-1, which deals with outside agencies like other people’s golf bags. He was entitled to play the ball where it ended up (in this case at the bottom of the cup). He gets a '1' on his scorecard, and your pro gets an 'F' on his Rules School report card.