The R&A - Working for Golf

Weather Options and The Rules @ The Players

With The Players Championship having moved from its traditional scheduling spot in May back to March, the potential for adverse weather in Florida in the early months of the year disrupting play at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was always something competition organisers and their forecasters kept a keen eye on.

Unfortunately, with Mother Nature refusing to play ball and providing an unusually prolonged deluge of bad weather, the Committee were required to take several steps over the course of the Championship to ensure that players were safe, conditions were fair, and the PGA Tour event was eventually completed.

Thursday’s weather saw play being suspended on a number of occasions due to a series of  heavy thunderstorms which had swept through during the day, and when play was suspended for the day again on Friday due to heavy rain causing unplayable course conditions, the first round still remained unfinished. 

With a severe forecast on the horizon for the Saturday which included high winds and more potential lightning, the Committee had to assess the best options for completing the competition which eventually extended into a Monday finish. Whilst a championship like the Players may benefit from a multitude of different resources not necessarily available at all events, from player transportation to the course’s sub-air system allowing it to be in a playable condition especially quickly, decisions still had to be made on how best to continue play and when to suspend. In this article, we take a look at some of the different options available to Committees and the guidance on how to deal with adverse weather and suspensions of play during a competition.

Weather conditions can deteriorate quickly on a golf course and when conditions become such, that the fair playing of the game is no longer possible or is dangerous, the Committee may suspend play. Depending on the weather forecast, the Committee may have the difficult task of deciding whether it is possible to resume play either the same day, next day or at another identified time, or if the round should be cancelled.

When to Suspend Play?

A variety of bad weather conditions can be met by players on a golf course, but the decision on whether to suspend play or not sits with the Committee.

Wind – The Committee should consider suspending play if several balls are moved by wind on different parts of the course within a relatively short period of time. If there are just a few balls moving due to the wind on one green, the Committee should not normally suspend play. The Rules of Golf also now help players to avoid getting penalties and being advantaged or disadvantaged if the wind blows the ball to a new position (see Rules 9.3 and 13.1d).

Water – The Committee should suspend play in stroke play when greens are flooded with most or all the area around a hole surrounded by temporary water and it cannot be removed. In such conditions the course would be considered unplayable and it is only fair to suspend play.

In match play, the Committee should try and remove the water and if that is not possible, the Committee can suspend play or relocate the hole to an unaffected portion of the green.

Lightning – The very nature of lightning is unpredictable and therefore dangerous. The Committee should use whatever available resources it has to determine if there is danger from lightning and take actions it believes are appropriate. Lightning is one case where players may also stop play on their own accord if they believe there is danger from lightning (Rule 5.7). However, if a player does so, he or she must report to the Committee as soon as possible.

It is worth noting that in match play, players may agree to stop for any reason, except if doing so delays the competition. However, if they agree to stop and then one player wants to resume play, the agreement has ended, and the players must both then resume play.

What options are available to Committees Once Play Has Been Suspended?

Match Play

In match play, a round should not be cancelled once play has begun as both players in a match are playing in identical conditions, without one player having an advantage over the other. When the Committee has suspended play, they should resume play as soon as it is fair and reasonable to play again. When a match is being played by arrangement and the players have several days or weeks in which to play a match, the players may either resume play as soon as it is fair and reasonable to play again, or they may agree to resume play at a later date. Whether play is being resumed on the same day or another day, it is important to remember that the match resumes play from where it was suspended rather than starting the match again.

Stroke Play

In stroke play there is no set guidance for when a Committee should cancel a round. The proper action depends on the circumstances in each case and is left to the judgement of the Committee.

A Committee should only cancel a round when it would be unfair not to do so. If a small group of players tee off in extremely bad weather conditions, and conditions only get worse as the day progresses to the extent that play is suspended and further play on that day is impossible (and if the conditions the following day when play will resume are ideal), it is only fair that the Committee cancel the round.

It is important to note, when a round is cancelled, all scores and penalties during that round are cancelled, which would also include disqualification penalties. However, if a player is disqualified for serious misconduct (Rule 1.2) or for a breach of the Committee’s Code of Conduct, that disqualification should not be cancelled.

One of the frequently asked questions we receive in Stroke Play is whether a result can be declared if over 50% of the field have completed their rounds?

The answer to this common misconception is no. Even if all but one group in a stroke play competition have completed their round before play is suspended, the Committee should not base a result on the completed scores as all players should have the opportunity to finish their round. Similarly, the Committee should not announce the result based on only 9 holes, say, when the competition was being run as an 18-hole event. Instead, the Committee should resume play at the next available time to achieve a result or alternatively the Committee may cancel the round and reschedule the competition for another date.

For further guidance on Suspensions and Resumptions of play see Rule 5.7 and Section 6E of the Committee Procedures.