News From Terre Haute, Indiana

On & Off the Course

May 24, 2008

On and Off the Course: Scratching the surface of a sticky penalty situation

I am constantly amazed when I see a high school golfer who doesn’t understand the basic rules of golf, especially regarding a lost ball, ball unplayable, or even out-of-bounds. Anyone who plays in tournaments ought to at least be familiar with those basic rules. High school golfers aren’t the only culprits; they’re just whom I’ve witnessed making the mistakes lately.

How to get relief from an unplayable lie, or from a lost ball, are common occurrences that golfers should already be familiar. There are some rules though, that are important but less well known because they don’t seem to happen often. One such rule is number 13.4a from “The Rules Of Golf,” which states that a player may not test the surface of a hazard prior to playing a shot from it.

“Testing the surface” includes touching the surface with a club or a rake. So if you have to pick up a rake from the far side of a hazard to take it closer to your ball, you cannot rake up your footprints as you walk back to the area near your ball. That would be considered “testing the surface.”

Another example — and one that most of us might not have thought of — is one that caused Stewart Cink to disqualify himself from the Zurich Classic this year. The disqualification was for signing an incorrect scorecard, which was caused by not giving himself a penalty for testing the surface of a hazard. It was odd the way it happened, and not until I called the USGA to verify the situation did I understand why the penalty was rendered. Stewart had hit his tee ball on the 15th hole near but not into a fairway bunker. He stepped into the bunker while sizing up his situation and determining how to hit his next shot. He then stepped out of the bunker, and hit his shot, which landed in a greenside bunker. His caddie then raked the sand to clean up the footprints where Stewart had stepped into the fairway bunker. His doing so, was considered “testing the surface” of the bunker, even though it was a different bunker that his ball had landed in. Therefore he should have been penalized one stroke.

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