Close Encounters: What to Do When Your Round is Interrupted by Scary Wildlife

Gators, collisions and torrential downpours—we tackle them all in this month’s column.

By Genger Fahleson for Golf Digest Woman

I live in Florida, where alligators populate many courses. Is there a rule that applies if my ball lands near one?

A: Rules to the rescue! You’re not required to play your ball if it comes to rest in a dangerous area. You can drop another ball without penalty in the nearest safe spot that’s not closer to the hole. If your ball is in a hazard where an alligator is sunning, you must drop the ball in the same hazard or in a similar nearby hazard provided it’s no closer to the hole. If you can’t find a hazard without danger, you must take a penalty stroke and drop outside the hazard, keeping the point where the original ball lay between the hole and where it’s dropped (Decision 1-4/ 10, Dangerous Situation).

Q: I play in a league and I see many golfers sole their clubs in the bunkers. It’s only a fun group, but should I let them know they aren’t supposed to do that?

A: Why don’t you suggest to the golf pro that he or she provide a Rule of the Week primer and lead off with Rule 13-4b (Grounding Club in Hazard). In match play, if you see an opponent ground her club in a bunker, you may either ignore the breach or make a claim (Decision 2-5/1, Player’s Obligation Re: Lodging Claim). In stroke play, however, you must inform the player of the breach and ensure that the appropriate penalty strokes are added to her score.

Q: On the green, a player putts her ball and it strikes another player’s ball. What is the penalty and who incurs it?

A: In stroke play, the player who putts incurs a two-stroke penalty and she must play her ball from where it comes to rest after the deflection (Rule 19-5, Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped By Another Ball). In match play, there is no penalty to either player. In either case, the struck ball must be replaced in its original location (Rule 18-5, Ball at Rest Moved By Another Ball).

Q: Can you use any club in your bag to measure the two club-lengths for dropping a ball when it goes into a hazard?

A: When measuring club-lengths, you can use any club you have selected for that round (Decision 20/2, Borrowing Club for Measuring Purposes). Your driver is usually the longest club in your bag, and therefore makes the most generous measuring tool.

Q: After torrential downpours at our course, many of the bunkers were filled with water. I hit my ball into one and couldn’t even find it. What should I have done?

A: If you’re positive the ball is lost in casual water that fills a bunker, you have three options (Decision 25-1b/8, Player’s Options When Bunker Completely Covered by Casual Water). Without penalty, you can drop a ball on the nearest, driest area in the bunker, no closer to the hole. Or, if there isn’t a dry area in the bunker, take a penalty stroke and drop a ball behind the bunker, keeping the point where the first ball last crossed the outermost limit of the casual water between the hole and the spot on which you drop your new ball. Or you can add a penalty stroke and play another ball near the spot where your original ball was played.

Q: A player in my group outdrove me by 10 yards. He then proceeded to hit his second shot before I did and it went straight into the hole. I told him he would have to replay the shot because he hit out of order. Was I right?

A: The answer depends on the format you were playing. In match play, you could have immediately required him to cancel and replay the stroke without penalty (Rule 10-1c, Order of Play; Match Play). In stroke play, the stroke made out of order stands as played and there’s no penalty (Rule 10-2c, Order of Play; Stroke Play).

Q: My tee shot landed on the left side of a cartpath, and the nearest point of relief was an area of small rocks. Could I have dropped my ball to the right of the cartpath, on the fairway?

A: Taking relief simply gets you off the cartpath; it isn’t meant to guarantee you a good lie (Rule 24-2b, Immovable Obstruction Relief). If the area of small rocks is the nearest point of relief, you’d have to drop it within one club-length of that spot, no closer to the hole.

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