The R&A - Working for Golf


Rules in Focus


3D2C217DB91749D8A1DA31574CD1DB68In the last Rules in Focus, we looked at Time of Starting. This month, we take a look at a few routine checks that can be carried out before starting the round to avoid any unnecessary penalties.

Being prompt to the first teeing ground not only avoids the chance of a penalty for being late but affords you valuable time to read the Local Rules, count and check your clubs and identify your golf ball before starting the stipulated round.  

As a number of high-profile cases have proven, this is especially important in relation to the number of clubs in the bag. 

Michael Hoey of Ireland was disqualified from the 2009 Irish Open for having fifteen clubs in his bag.  He looked into his bag after playing several holes of the second round to find that he was over the limit, but as he had neither added nor replaced any of his clubs since his practice round, he realised that he had been carrying the fifteen clubs when he signed for his first round score too. 

Consequently, he was disqualified for signing for a wrong score under Rule 6-6d for failing to include the penalty under Rule 4-4a in the first round.

Hoey is not the only one to succumb to this.  Probably the most memorable case of a breach of Rule 4-4a was during the 2001 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes. 

Ian Woosnam started his final round as joint leader and tapped in for a birdie two on the 1st hole – a perfect start to his final round.  However, on the 2nd tee, Woosnam’s caddie noticed he had 15 clubs in his bag.  Much to Woosnam’s obvious disappointment, he incurred a two-stroke penalty at the 1st hole and his birdie two quickly became a bogey four. 

Another valuable task to complete on the first tee is to ensure that your golf ball can be easily identified.  Many golfers play with the same brand and number of golf ball.  The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with each player and it is recommended that each player puts a unique identification mark on his ball.  If you cannot identify your ball, it is considered lost (Rules 12-2 and 27-1).

Jerry Kelly benefitted from this during the 2011 Honda Classic.  Kelly was certain that his ball was lodged high in a tree. If he could not identify it, Decision 27/15 states that the ball is lost and the player must proceed under stroke and distance.  

B4C0739B2F8F4A489F3670454A02079AKelly could see a ball embedded in the tree but could not see his green identification line with the naked eye, and so he tried to identify it with the aid of binoculars, but that did not help.  Then it was suggested by a spectator that he take a look at a photograph taken by one of the accredited photographers, and it was only when the picture of the ball was magnified on the camera screen that Kelly felt confident that this was his ball as he could see a part of the green line he had put on the ball.    

Kelly took one of the balls from his bag to show the referee how his ball would be marked.  It was agreed that this was in fact his ball lodged in the tree.  Kelly was then able to deem the ball unplayable under penalty of one stroke and drop the ball within two club-lengths of the point on the ground immediately below where it lay in the tree.  Decision 28/11 clarifies this procedure.   He then got the ball up and down for what he later hailed “a great bogey”.

It is also advisable to read the Local Rules on the score card, any notice boards or those issued by the starter before teeing off.  The Local Rules, established by the Committee under Rule 33-8, relate to the specific conditions that are unique to that course. 

For example, the specified area in which to place the ball under the preferred lies or “winter rules” Local Rule can vary as there is no hard-or-fast regulation.  It is for the Committee to determine and clarify in the Local Rules. 

Had Ryuji Imada checked his Local Rules before teeing off in the 2010 Mission Hills Star Trophy in China, he would have avoided a monstrous penalty.  Imada assumed he could prefer the lie of the ball within a club-length of its original position but the Local Rules for the tournament stated that the placement had to occur within the length of one score card.  He was assessed a 26-stroke penalty – two strokes for each of the 13 times he had preferred his lie outside the prescribed distance!


Before starting your round you are advised to:

  • Read the Local Rules on the score card and notice board
  • Put an identification mark on your ball; many golfers play with the same brand of ball and if you can’t identify your ball, it is considered lost
  • Count your clubs; you are allowed a maximum of 14 clubs