The rule breached most by social golfers

Forwarded from Canterbury Golf Referees Association, courtesy of Golf Australia

Perhaps the rule that is breached the most in club and social golf is Rule 8-1 Advice. It is not unusual for a golfer to ask their fellow-competitor what club he or she used on a par 3 hole before selecting their own implement! Or for a low marker to give a novice a tip or two on how to play a certain shot. Some golfers would be aware that these actions are against the rules but many just consider it part of normal club interaction. To refuse to answer such a query for assistance would be considered churlish by some at club level. As an accredited rules official, you no doubt have been put in this situation whilst playing your usual club competition round or have at least observed it happening.

Rule 8-1 Advice is brief and to the point –
“During a stipulated round, a player must not:
(a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or
(b) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.
PENALTY: Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.”

Although seemingly straightforward, like many of golf’s scenarios a number of queries pertaining to advice arise and fortunately The R&A’s Decisions on the Rules of Golf book helps us out. But first it is important to be very clear on the definition of Advice –
“Advice” is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke.

Information on the Rules, distance or matters of public interest, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice.

The Decisions book clarifies the following scenarios:-

  • Exchanging information about the distance between a ball and the hole, or the whereabouts of a fellow-competitor’s or opponent’s ball, is not advice.
  • Asking what club someone used on a previous hole or after both players have played their shots to the green is not advice.
  • Making a casual comment about your own club selection is not advice unless it is made to another player about to play a similar shot. However a deliberately misleading comment about club selection to a player about to play would incur the penalty.
  • Seeking advice on club selection before starting a round, between two rounds or while play is suspended, from a competitor who has already played the course is not a breach.
  • Looking into someone’s bag to check what club they used is not advice as obviously this would be virtually impossible to verify. However taking some physical action such as removing a towel or cover from the player’s bag to view their clubs would incur the penalty.
  • Giving a tip on how to play a particular type of stroke at any time during the round is a breach. The recipient of the advice is not penalised unless they asked for such advice.
  • Suggesting to a fellow-competitor that they should “lay up short of the green” or “I would take an unplayable if I was you” is giving advice. However giving assistance with the various options under say Rules 26 or 28 is not advice but information on the rules.
  • In singles match play it is important to establish who initiated the breach. If player A asks for advice then he loses the hole irrespective of whether player B responds with advice.

Although it is uncommon for breaches of Rule 8 to occur in significant pro or open tournaments due to the competitiveness of the players, it does on occasions happen. One of the most famous of these occurred when Tom Watson was cruising along with a big lead in the final round of the 1980 Tournament of Champions at the Las Costa Resort paired with his friend Lee Trevino. Seeing Trevino struggling with his game, Watson uttered a tip to Trevino about his stance. Unfortunately it was caught on television and a viewer called to ask if that was permitted.

When the PGA Tour officials caught up with Watson as he got to the scorer’s tent and asked about the incident, Watson admitted he had given advice and was assessed a two-stroke penalty. He still won by three strokes. However, if he had already signed his score card, he would have been disqualified. Trevino was not penalised since he had not sought the advice.

What happens if your caddie tells another player’s caddie what club you used on a par 3? Well, it resulted in a two-stroke penalty for touring USA professional Mark Wilson in the 2007 Honda Classic as it was considered giving advice. A player is responsible for the actions of his caddie. Despite the penalty, which he called upon himself, Wilson still took home the title after a four-way play-off!

In summing up what on the surface appears to be a simple rule but has its own peculiarities there is one statement that many golfers regularly use but probably shouldn’t if the Rule on Advice is very strictly interpreted. When a fellow competitor’s putt just lips out and he goes charging up to the hole to tap it in we should try to refrain from saying “Take your time”!