The three Rules of Golf you’re still getting wrong

It’s been two years since the revised Rules of Golf came into effect. But some still seem to be causing a headache. Let our expert clear them up for you

Knee-high drops? There were some who thought the very sport was about to unravel. The revised Rules of Golf came into effect at the start of 2019 and, despite the initial hype, we all came out of the other side pretty much intact.

But even though we’ve had two years to get used to them, there are still parts of the new rule book that continue to cause golfers problems.

Whether it’s what I’ve seen on the course as a club golfer, or through emails and enquires to my Rules of Golf Explained column, a theme emerges and three issues, in particular, can blindside players.

So let’s get into them and see if, once and for all, we can embed these things into your brains and save you from a potential rules disaster out on the golf course…

Nearest point of complete relief

Do not confuse nearest with nicest. This is one of the most common rules fails I see on the course.

What is nearest point of complete relief? It’s defined in the Rules as the reference point for taking free relief from an abnormal course condition, dangerous animal condition, wrong green, or no play zone. It’s also used when taking relief from some local rules.

The Rules say it is the estimated point where the ball would lie that is: nearest to the ball’s original spot, but not nearer the hole; in the required area of the course and where the condition from which you’re taking relief doesn’t interfere “with the stroke the player would have made from the original spot if the condition was not there”.

So what’s the problem? Let’s say a player’s ball lands in an area of ground under repair. Instead of first finding out whether the nearest point of complete relief is they simply pick it up and drop it on the side that gives them a good lie.

But the Rules of Golf strictly interpret what the nearest point of complete relief is: “A player is not allowed to choose on which side of the ground under repair the ball will be dropped, unless there are two equidistant nearest points of complete relief.”

If I could give you just one piece of rules advice, make sure you think very carefully about where that nearest point is before you pick your ball up.

For as an interpretation to this definition says: “Even if one side of the ground under repair is fairway and the other is bushes, if the nearest point of complete relief is in the bushes, then that is the player’s nearest point of complete relief.”

Known or virtually certain

“There’s a pond over there so my ball must be in it.” No. No. Thrice no.

When deciding what’s happened to your ball, whether it’s in a penalty area, if it has moved, or what caused it to move, the standard you use in the Rules is “known or virtually certain”.

But what you think that means and what the Rules say can be two different things.

It means more than possible. It even means more than probable. You need to have “conclusive evidence” that the event in question happened. That means you need to have seen it, or witnesses saw it.

There can be a very small degree of doubt, but the definition of “known or virtually certain” says: “All reasonable information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened.”

So if you’ve hit a wayward tee shot towards some water, you can’t find it and you haven’t seen a splash. Do you know it’s gone in the penalty area? Can you be virtually certain? It’s not enough to think, or assume, it’s in there.

If you can’t meet the known or virtually certain standard, you can’t take penalty relief.

Temporary water

At the slightest sign of liquid on a fairway, some golfers do that dance – almost jumping up and down so they can try and claim relief from temporary water.

The definition of temporary water is actually quite clear: It can be seen before or after a player takes a stance “without pressing down excessively with his or her feet”.

The Rules say it’s not enough for the ground to just be wet, soft, muddy, or even for water to be “momentarily visible” as a player steps on the ground.

“An accumulation of water must remain present either before or after the stance is taken.”

Are there any Rules of Golf that still catch you out? Do you have any questions you’d love to ask? Drop Steve a line via email, or you can tweet him.

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