Rules in Focus - On the Tee

Rules in Focus 

On the Tee for 2012

SabbitiniAt the start of the second round of the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii in January, Rory Sabbatini missed his start time by 20 seconds and received a two-stroke penalty for his mistake.

Sabbatini’s caddie took responsibility as his watch was four minutes slow and neither were aware that the tee time had come and gone. As of 1 January 2012, Rule 6-3a states that if a player arrives at his starting point, within five minutes after his starting time, the penalty for failure to start on time is two strokes at the first hole in stroke play. Otherwise, the penalty for a breach of this Rule is disqualification.

Nevertheless, if the Committee considers that there are special circumstances that prevented the player from starting on time, there is no penalty.

This new change to Rule 6-3a has eliminated the requirement for organising Committees to have a condition of competition permitting an extension to the time of starting. Prior to 2012, had such a condition not existed, a player would automatically have been disqualified for missing his tee time.

Sabbatini was well within the five minutes after his starting time, but if he had been over five minutes, what circumstances would have merited the waiving of the penalty? The Exception to Rule 6-3a states that the circumstances must be exceptional and it is ultimately for the Committee to determine what is exceptional.

The player is responsible to ensure he allows enough time to reach the course and must make allowances for any delays. Therefore, if a player gets lost on the way to the course or heavy traffic delays the player, these are not considered exceptional circumstances to warrant the waiving of the penalty or in the case where the player is over five minutes late, disqualification.

But if a player is late to the tee due to assisting in an emergency or being involved in an accident, the Committee would be justified in determining that these are exceptional circumstances. Decision 6-3a/1.5 clarifies this.

Sabbatini is not alone in making this mistake. In 2011 Dustin Johnson was penalised two strokes at the start of his first round at the Riviera Country Club for being late to tee off. Johnson was warming up on the range when a PGA Tour referee ran over to tell him he was about to miss his 7.32am start time. Johnson made a quick dash up to the 1st tee from the practice ground but despite his sprint, did not make it and incurred a two-stroke penalty for failing to be present for his tee time.

“I don’t look at my time,” said Johnson, “I leave that up to my caddy.” However, on this occasion his caddy had mixed up his start time with the 8.12am time that Johnson had for the pro-am the previous day. “I was pretty ticked off on the first and second holes, and on the third, fourth and fifth!”

Bradley Dredge also incurred a two-stroke penalty for arriving less than one minute late on the tee at the Czech Open. Later that same day, Philip Price arrived to the first tee almost two minutes late for his starting time. However, Price was not able to play because the group in front were waiting on the fairway for a ruling. Decision 6-3a/4 clarifies that if a group is unable to start at the time originally established by the Committee and the player arrives before the group could physically play, the player is not in breach of Rule 6-3. Price was therefore not penalised.

At the time, many felt Price should have been penalised, like Dredge, for being late for his tee time. However, it would not be appropriate to penalise a player who may be late for the tee time, but who then cannot start play immediately due to other factors. Price was fortunate on this occasion that the delay with the group in front saved him a two-stroke penalty.

Being prompt to the first teeing ground not only avoids costly penalties but affords the player valuable time to do some checking of equipment before beginning the round. We’ll take a look at this in more detail in the next Rules in Focus article.

Starting Essentials

  • Check your tee time in advance
  • Arrive on the first tee approximately five minutes in advance of your start time
  • Be ready to play when your appointed time arrives
  • Start on time! Don’t start before or after your allotted time – this assists with pace of play