Rules Column: Pat Campbell

With the local rules, who decides which ones to put into play

An e-mail arrives from a local 18-hole group wanting to adopt the following local rule:
‘If your ball is on a tree root or your club will contact a root during your stroke; you may, with free relief, drop your ball within one club length.’
Sounds reasonable, no one wants to damage their club, right? If only it was that simple…

The problem is that in its current wording this is not a local rule authorized by the USGA and that is an important consideration. (For those of you dealing with exposed tree roots on the fairway and adjacent rough, see Model Local Rules F9-1 and F9-2.)

It’s tempting to ask why a group somewhere else should tell folks how to play on their local course. One of the goals of the USGA is to equalize the experience of many golfers each playing their own unique game on any given golf course in order to establish equitable handicaps. To do that we have to apply the Rules of Golf in order to arrive at a score that is comparable to submit for handicap purposes. To accommodate conditions specific to a course or a season, the USGA has approved a number of local rules (check USGA.org for a complete list) that a group may adopt; think lift, clean and place in unusually muddy conditions.

The USGA is understandably reluctant to authorize local rules that circumvent the Rules of Golf such as the one outlined. Trees and tree roots are common landscape features on many golf courses and playing with and around them is an expected challenge of the game.
Another unauthorized ‘local’ rule that is used by some groups is a penalty area with a dropping area on the ‘green side’ of the penalty area – think of a creek with a dropping zone across the water like the one shown in the photo. Again, penalty areas are a common feature of many golf courses and navigating them is part of course management.

Given that, would one expect the USGA to authorize the use of these two local rules? Not likely, but you can always submit them if you feel you have a perspective the USGA may not have considered.

Having said all that, the question to ask first is, ‘Why am I playing today?’

If it is for fun and fresh air, why bother keeping score? If you aren’t keeping score, you don’t need to apply the Rules of Golf, so foot wedge all you want from trees, roots and divots.

If you need to keep score to establish or apply a handicap (such as in a competition), the Rules of Golf must be applied.
Knowing the Rules of Golf will give you the confidence to correctly identify the rule that applies to the situation you face and the options available. That alone will help lower your handicap.