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. Outside of players taking relief in the wrong spot from a penalty area, this is the most common rules fail I see on the course.

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

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 wherever the best lie is found.

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 the Rules say: “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

“I know my ball’s in the water because it can’t be anywhere else.” No. No. Thrice no.

When deciding what’s happened to your ball, whether it’s in a penalty area, if it 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 are two different things.

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 a pond, 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 a touch 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 very clear: It can be seen before or after a player takes a stance “without pressing down excessively with his or her feet”.

It’s not enough for the ground to just be wet, muddy or soft, 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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