Rules Corner

Welcome to the new rules corner!  Have a rule question you’d like to share?  Please email our Rules Chair Carol D.

While playing team matches, my ball landed in the bunker and immediately behind my ball was a pine cone. There was no way I could hit my ball without removing the pine cone. I started to pick it up, when my opponents said I couldn’t move it. Am I allowed to move the pinecone?

You didn’t use to be able to move loose impediments in a bunker, but now as of 2019, yes you can. Rule 12.2a allows you to remove loose impediments (the pine cone) and movable obstructions. This includes any reasonable touching or movement of the sand in the bunker that happens while doing so. You need to be careful when removing loose impediments as if you ball moves while you are removing the loose impediment you will incur a 1 stroke penalty.


While playing in a Cup tournament, a fellow competitor drops a ball in the relief area in the fairway in taking proper relief from a paved cart path. When she sees that the ball embedded in the soft turf, she lifts the ball and proceeds to take relief for an embedded ball. Was she able to do this?

Rule 16.3(2) tells us that a ball is embedded only if it is in its own pitch-mark made as a result of the player’s previous stroke, and part of the ball is below the level of the ground. A ball cannot be considered embedded under Rule 16.3(2) as a result of a drop. 

Since she played the ball that she moved, rather than replacing it, she gets a penalty of two strokes for moving the ball in play (1 penalty stroke) and playing from a wrong place (2 penalty strokes).  In this case, she just gets the worse of the  two separate penalties. [1p + 2p = 2p] 


I was playing with my regular foursome on Wednesday.  One of my playing partners was on the putting green and putted her ball.  It hit my ball at rest on the green.  I thought she incurred a  penalty but she said the rules changed and there was no penalty.  Is she correct?

No, she is not correct.  The exception to Rule 11.1a states:  If a player’s ball in motion hits another ball at rest on the putting green and both balls were on the putting green, the player who putted and hit the other player’s ball gets the general penalty (2 strokes).  So, in this case your playing partner incurred a 2 stroke penalty.  What your playing partner may be referring to is the rule change that allows a player to quickly mark their ball when a ball putted from the putting green is about to hit their ball.  So, if you were able to quickly mark your ball before her ball hit yours you would have saved her from incurring a 2 stroke penalty.


I was in the trees and hit my shot. My ball hit a small tree and rolled back and stopped against my foot. I knew if I moved my foot the ball would move. What do I do?

This is covered under Rule 11.1a which states if a player’s ball in motion accidently hits any person or outside influence:

  • There is no penalty to any player

  • This is true even if the ball hits the player, the opponent or any other player or any of their caddies or equipment.

Rule 11.1b states if a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits any person or outside
influence, the ball must be played as it lies.  However, your situation is covered under Exception 1 of the rule which states:

  • When a ball played from anywhere except on a putting green comes to rest on any person, animal or moving outside influence, the ball must not be played as it lies.  Instead, the player must take relief as follows:

    • Identify the reference point which is right under where the ball came to rest on the person, animal or moving outside influence.

    •  Your relief is one club length from the reference point but must be in the same area of the course as the reference point and must not be nearer the hole than the reference point.

In your situation you would drop your ball in the relief area without penalty and hit your ball again.


A real life WDCGA rules situation that occurred during team matches! Playing at River Bend, a National Golf Club player hit her ball under the cart of the Columbia team.  They can’t see it, so the driver pulls the cart forward and still no ball. On further inspection on hands and knees they find the ball in the rim of the golf cart stuck between the axle and rim.  The players backed the cart to where they all agreed it first was, took the ball out , and dropped with no penalty.  Did they do the right thing?

Yes, this is an instance of an outside influence moving the ball.  To correct, go to the nearest point of complete relief before the ball was moved.  This is your reference point.  The player gets one club length, no nearer the hole, to drop the ball.  There is no longer any penalty if a player hits their own cart or an opponent’s cart.  Just play the ball as it lies. Hopefully, it won’t get stuck in anything!


I saw on TV at this year’s Players Championship Keegan Bradley, on the green, mark his ball but not lift it. While he was studying his line, the wind then blew his ball a few feet, so he picked it up and replaced it on his mark.  He then was assessed a two stroke penalty.  What happened?

This is a very important distinction to be aware of.  Under Rule 13.1d (When Ball Moves on Putting Green), if, on the green, a golfer has already marked her ball, lifted and replaced it, she must return the ball to where it was marked and play from that spot if the ball moves (either by natural forces or by accidentally hitting it). So long as that happens, the player proceeds with no penalty. Think of the ball as having “owned” that spot by virtue of being lifted and replaced. But, because Keegan had not lifted and replaced the ball, it did not actually “own” that spot and he was violation of a rule. The ball was still “in play” even though it was marked.  The act of putting a marker down does not change the status of the ball.  Lifting it does, when lifted, a ball is no longer “in play”. Instead Bradley should have played the ball (while still “in play”) in its new spot where it had rolled because of natural forces. When natural forces move an “in play” ball, you play it from it’s new position. Bradley was thus assessed a two-shot penalty because he played from a wrong place, making a double-bogey 7 on the hole.


OMG!! Have you seen the new bunkers at the new Congressional Blue Course?   If I cannot get out of a bunker which has a very high lip, can I declare my ball unplayable?

Yes, Rule 19.1 states that you are the only person who can decide to treat your ball as unplayable* and you must take penalty relief under 19.2 or 19.3.  In this example after declaring your ball unplayable you have 4 options:

  1. For one penalty stroke, you may take stroke and distance relief.
  2. For one penalty stroke, you may go back by dropping your ball in a relief area based on a line going straight back from the hole through the spot of your ball going as far back as you like but you must stay in the bunker.
  3. For one penalty stroke, you may take lateral relief by dropping a ball two club lengths from the spot of your original ball but not closer to the hole than where your original ball landed but you must stay in the bunker.
  4. For two penalty strokes, you may take back on the line relief by dropping your ball in a relief area based on a line going straight back from the hole through the spot of your ball going as far back as you like outside of the bunker.

*You may declare your ball unplayable anywhere on the course except if you are in a penalty area.


The 5th hole at Argyle is a par 3 over water. I hit my tee shot and it landed on the bank about 2 yards past the penalty area line in the grass. As I was walking towards my ball I watched with dismay as my ball started to roll and it rolled back into the water.  What do I do in this case?

This is an unfortunate situation.  Since natural causes caused your ball to roll into the water you must play the ball as it lies.  Since you cannot play the ball from where it lies (the water) you must take penalty relief.  In this case your ball rolled into the water in a Yellow penalty area.  You have 2 penalty relief options when your ball is in a Yellow penalty area.  For 1 penalty stroke:

  1. You may take stroke and distance relief and go back to the tee box and hit again.
  2. You may go back and drop a ball in a relief area that is based on a reference line going straight back from the hole through the estimated point where your ball rolled into the water.  This would mean you would need to go back across the water and drop a ball.

I was playing team matches at Army Navy and was off the green on the fringe and decided I would putt the ball. In front of my ball on the fringe was a ball mark. I started to fix it so I could putt and my partner said I could not fix it. I wasn’t sure but thought I was able to fix ball marks. What is the rule?

Unfortunately, you cannot repair the ball mark on the fringe. Rule 8 says you must play the course as you find it. If you would have repaired the ball mark, you would have incurred the General penalty (2 strokes). If the ball mark had been on the green, you could have repaired it without any penalty. In addition, if your playing partner’s ball landed in front of your ball on the fringe and made a ball mark, you may repair that as Rule 8.1d allows you to restore conditions that were worsened after your ball came to rest.