Golf’s Word of Fairness

bookEQUITY: “The quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality… the application of the dictates of conscience or the principles of natural justice to the settlement of controversies” –

In a USGA Rules of Golf video of some years ago, host Peter Alliss said something to the effect that not every situation in the Rules is fair, nor meant to be so. A ball that lies in a divot hole in the middle of the fairway is one instance that comes to mind. Yet, when the Rules themselves don’t specifically cover a situation, the principle of equity, as stated in Rule 1-4, is used to resolve the problem.

Let’s say that Suzy hits a tee shot that might be out of bounds. She plays a provisional ball that goes in the same area as the original ball. When Suzy gets to the area, she finds both balls in bounds, but with one problem: both balls were identical in brand, model, and identification number. Suzy admits she can’t tell which ball is which. What should happen here?

You could argue that both balls are lost because she cannot identify which ball is the original ball and which is the provisional ball, and that she should go back to the tee and hit her fifth shot. However, let’s think the situation through.

Although both balls are technically lost as defined under the Rules, we know for a fact that at worst, her provisional ball is in bounds. Subsequently, under the principle of equity, Suzy is to choose a ball to play, consider it her provisional, and abandon the other ball. She will now be hitting her fourth shot (Decision 27-11).

If one ball was out of bounds and one ball was inbounds, the same principle applies. She is to treat the ball in bounds as her provisional and play her fourth shot with that ball.

Here is a situation that, unfortunately, could be all too real in today’s world. Bob is almost hit by a ball from the group behind. In anger, he hits the ball into the water. Strictly be definition, he did not play either a practice shot or a wrong ball, but Decision 1-4/4 says Bob is to be penalized by loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play, in accordance with equity.

A general principle under equity is that a single breach that results in two Rules being broken is subject to only a single penalty being applied. Decision 1-4/12 gives an example of a player whose ball is in a bunker, and that player uses a rake to smooth some footprints between his ball and the hole. He has breached both Rules 13-2 and 13-4a, but only a single penalty of two strokes is warranted in stroke play. If a single act results in a breach of a Rule that calls for a onestroke penalty and another Rule that calls for a two-stroke penalty, the most severe penalty would be applied.

Likewise, a player who commits multiple breaches of the same Rule is subject to only one penalty. An example would be a player who took several practice swings in the bunker, hitting the sand each time. A single penalty of two strokes would be meted out for stroke play.

It takes different acts in order to breach multiple Rules. A player who lifts his ball in the fairway and then substitutes another ball has breached two Rules, 18-2a and 15-2. The lifting of the ball without the authority of the Rules is one act, and the substituting of another ball is another.

A couple of interesting situations occur in the Decisions with a player teeing off with 15 clubs in the bag. A player who tees off with 14 clubs in the bag in addition to a club that has broken into pieces prior to the round is not subject to a penalty, in accordance with equity (Decision 4-4a/14).

In the second situation, Sam arrives at the first tee, counts his clubs and sees he has 14, and then heads to the tee box. In the meantime, Dave by accident puts his driver into Sam’s bag. Sam then tees off. As unfair as it sounds, Sam is penalized two strokes in stroke play for teeing off with more than 14 clubs (Decision 4-4a/6). In equity, it seems Sam should not be penalized in such a situation. Perhaps one day this Decision will be changed, as many past Decisions have been once a more thoughtful application of logic and common sense has been used.

There are still many situations in golf which the Rules do not contemplate and upon which no decision has been made. You or your students may find this happening one day. Use the principle of equity to make a ruling, and a fair outcome is likely to result.

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