Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Rules of the Game:

Rules of the Game: What happens if you incur more than one penalty at the same time?

Other than being disqualified, there’s nothing worse than incurring a penalty in golf. Sometimes it’s of no consequence, sometimes it might cost you a few bucks in your friendly weekend match, sometimes it might cost you the club championship. But at a higher level, it might cost you or a team the state, regional or national championship, or on the Tour, a penalty could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars! Ouch!

But what if you incur more than one penalty at the same time? The Rules of Golf used to have a maze of procedures when you incurred multiple penalties at one time. Rule 1.3c(4) was called “Applying Penalties to Multiple Breaches of the Rules.” Then there were sub-categories like “When Breaches Resulted from Unrelated Acts” and “When Breaches Resulted from a Single Act or Unrelated Acts” and “Multiple Procedural Breaches.”

Yikes! Is this the Rules of Golf or a textbook from the Harvard Law School?

Mercifully the 2023 Rules of Golf have greatly simplified the procedure for applying multiple penalties. In short, if you commit more than one breach of the Rules in succession, you only receive the greater or greatest penalty of them all. Let me give you an extreme example, but it will serve as a good illustration.

We’ll assume it’s stroke play. Joe Golfer is in a bunker. He tests the sand with his hand (two stroke penalty), then takes a practice swing, hitting the sand with his club-head (two strokes), accidentally moves his ball with his foot and then replaces it (one stroke), gives advice to his playing partner (two strokes), and then smooths out a clump of sand behind his ball (two strokes). So is poor Joe going to get a nine-stroke penalty??

Nope! Joe will only a get a two-stroke penalty, since of all the Rules he violated, that was the greatest single penalty.

But wait! There’s more! The Rules of Golf have another legalistic-sounding term called an “intervening event.” An “intervening event” can be one of two things: 1) making a stroke, or 2) being aware, becoming aware or expressing uncertainty of a breach or possible breach of a Rule. Why is this important? Let’s return to hapless Joe Golfer and his myriad of penalties. Let’s revisit the extreme example above and make it more extreme…. for illustrative purposes. So Joe tests the sand with his hand (two stroke penalty), then takes a practice swing, hitting the sand with his club-head (two strokes), accidentally moves his ball with his foot and then replaces it (one stroke), gives advice to his playing partner (two strokes), and then smooths out a clump of sand behind his ball (two strokes). We saw that Joe was going to get a two-stroke penalty, but now an “intervening event” happens.

One of his playing partners says, “Joe, I don’t think you can touch the sand like that” (or alludes to any one or more of Joe’s violations). The playing partner’s comment is an “intervening event.” Ignoring the other player’s comments, Joe continues his Rule-breaking antics, touching the sand again with his practice swings, giving advice, smoothing the sand around his ball, etc., etc. Now, since there has been an “intervening event,” Joe gets another two-stroke penalty, and he’s been penalized four strokes. I think you get the idea. The moral of the story: if someone suggests or cautions that you might be breaking the Rules, stop what you’re doing and get the facts!

You can get updated on the 2023 Rules of Golf which became effect on January 1, 2023 by logging on to www.usga.org/rules.