Prolonged music, news on course is against rules

Contributing Columnist

Both the USGA and the R&A has finally seen fit to agree to a change of one of golf’s most infamous hard luck rules. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, if you addressed a ball, and a wind gust causes it to move, you are not penalized. All you need do is play from the ball’s new position.

Previously, you would have incurred a one-stroke penalty when this happened and had to replace the ball to its original position. Nevertheless, if it moved because of gravity, you would still be penalized and the ball replaced.

Another rule change involved altering conditions. Changing the area of the course will not be a penalty unless it creates a potential advantage for you. Two examples: Repairing a pitch mark on your line of play five yards in front of your ball; accidentally knocking a leaf loose with a practice swing. Either would be all right provided no advantage was gained from doing so (Decision 13-2/0.5).

Another change involves moving your ball accidentally while searching for it when it is covered with sand; there is no penalty. However, from now on, if your ball moves in a hazard when it is covered by loose impediments, it is a one-stroke penalty.

Also, with regard to smoothing sand. You can smooth sand before your first shot in a bunker, provided it is for the purpose of tidying and you are not testing the conditions or improving your stance, lie, intended swing or line of play. If you move a loose impediment as a result of tidying the bunker, there is no penalty, so long as you didn’t gain an advantage (Rule 13-4, Decision 13-4/9.5).

Unless you commit a serious breach of the rules, if you accidentally play from the wrong place, the maximum penalty is two strokes. That, too, is a change in the rules (Rule 20-7c).

If you make a stroke at an oscillating ball, there is no penalty because the ball hasn’t moved (Decision 14-5/2).

Here’s an interesting change: You cannot listen to music or news, etc., for prolonged periods during a round, but it is all right if you briefly listen. For example: checking sports scores.

If you tee off within five minutes of a designated tee time, before or after, it’s a two-stroke penalty instead of disqualification (Rule 6-3a).

There are also two major changes to the USGA Handicap System that take effect now. All clubs and associations will follow the same National Revision Schedule and revise Handicap indexes every two weeks, year round. All golf club handicap committees must have a member who is trained and certified in the USGA Handicap System procedures.

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A reader writes:

During my recent trip to Florida, I pulled my drive into a row of orange trees. After a lengthy search, we finally found the ball firmly embedded instead a rotting orange on the ground. My playing partner said I had to play the ball as it lay, but I thought I could take a free drop. What is the ruling?

If your ball had been lying next to the orange, the orange would have been considered a loose impediment. However, since it actually became embedded in the fruit, you are not entitled to a free drop. Instead (according to Decision 23/10), you had the option of playing the ball/fruit as it lay, or deeming your ball unplayable and dropping with a one-stroke penalty.


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