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From the Ref’s Side of the Fairway

Click here to view article in CSGA Links Digital Magazine »

Article by Howard Meditz, Rules Chairman for the Sterling Farms Men's Club and author of the book How to Love the Rules of Golf

Participants in CSGA tournaments have the opportunity to interact with Rules Officials during their play, and at times that can be a big help.  Whether you participate in formal tournaments or not, learning about the principles Rules Officials apply can give you an edge. 

At a recent tournament at Sterling Farms, I was assigned to officiate the sudden death playoff starting on Sterling’s first hole, a short par 4 with OB left.  One of the three players who made the playoff pulled his drive, and it ended up about 18 inches from the chain-link OB fence.  The other two players were in relatively good shape, so I moved toward the player who faced this challenge and stood at a respectful distance to observe and help if possible.

The hole also has a paved cart path running along the left side, about three feet from the fence at this point, and the ball had settled right between the fence and the path.  I watched as this right-handed player tried to squeeze himself between the fence and the ball, trying to figure out if he had even a marginal backswing with which to work.  Then he turned his club over, moved to the other side of the ball and started to take repeated left-handed practice swings with which he might punch his ball toward the green with the back of his iron.  His stance from this side of the ball was necessarily on the paved cart path.

Here was what was going on in my mind as I watched:  “The player isn’t asking me for relief from the boundary fence, he seems to know that the Definitions section of the Rules has a clause regarding Out of Bounds which says, ‘Objects defining out of bounds such as walls, fences, stakes and railings are not obstructions and are deemed to be fixed.’  Good deal so far, looks like I won’t have to disappoint him with that knowledge.”  

Once he started taking a stance on the paved cart path and making practice swings, I began to worry.  It was obvious to me that this opposite-handed swing he was testing was a reasonable choice given the challenge the player faced, and I know that Decision 24-2b/17 allows free relief from interference from the immovable obstruction the cart path represents (even if the interference is caused by an “abnormal stroke”) as long as the abnormal stroke is “reasonable” given the circumstance.   

“I hate this, I wish I could tell him that he has the option of a free drop from the path, but doing so would essentially be providing him with advice on how to play — that’s not acceptable coming from me.  I can intervene to protect him from making a Rules violation if I see that happening, but there’s nothing illegal about standing on a cart path, so I’m going to have to shut up and hope for the best.  I wish he’d ask me about his options, one of them is a free drop, in this particular case given the nearby OB the free drop would actually have to be on the fairway side of the cart path — and once that drop is made he could even take his normal right hand swing!”

Sadly, the player never asked, made a decent but not spectacular left-handed punch, and ended up losing the playoff on the first hole.  It will never hurt you to ask a Ref what your options are — consider doing so next time something awkward is going on.  

Take care, play well!

Howard Meditz is a Rules Official for three USGA State and Regional Golf Associations, as well as Rules Chairman for the Men’s Club at the CSGA’s Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford.  He is also the author of the new book How to Love the Rules of Golf, available on Amazon by clicking here.