Golf is a game of rules. Lots and lots of rules. For the most part, there are no officials to enforce these rules, so golfers are expected to abide by the honor code.
They are expected to learn the basics - like play the ball where it lies - take a penalty when a ball is lost or unplayable, and hit every shot until the ball goes in the hole.
But there are several lesser-known rules that competitive golfers are expected to know. In most cases, they do. But some are so obscure - some would say petty - that they are missed even by veterans.
We offer some obscure rules from the official USGA rule book:
It is illegal to hold an umbrella over a player while he or she is putting. That happened on the European PGA Tour recently, and the player was assessed a two-stroke penalty. The caddie earned the nickname Mary Poppins.
Building your stance
It happened to Craig Stadler at the 1987 Andy Williams Open. He used a towel to kneel on while hitting a shot under a tree during the third round. He went on to tie for second, but viewers who saw replays of the Saturday shot called in to say Stadler broke a rule. He did. The USGA rule states you can't "build your stance" and it should have been a two-stroke penalty. Because he signed for another score, Stadler was disqualified and lost out on $37,000.
Ten second rule
If your ball is hanging on the lip of the cup, you have 10 seconds to address the ball. If it falls in before 10 seconds, the putt counts. If it falls in after 10 seconds, another shot is added to your score. That happened to Lee Janzen in the 1998 World Series of Golf. He waited 19 seconds for his ball to fall during the first round. After viewers called in, Janzen was disqualified the next day for signing the wrong scorecard.
Removing morning dew from your ball
According to rule 13-2, it is illegal to remove dew accumulated on the ball with your hands or a towel. The result is a two-stroke penalty. Dew, frost or water, however, may be removed from the teeing ground before hitting the ball.
Using range finders
It is illegal, per rule 14-3, to use it or other electronic distance measuring device. The rule states: "The player shall not use any artificial device or unusual equipment for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions which might affect his play." There is a stipulation that states, "The Committee may, by Local Rule, permit the use of devices that measure distance only (i.e., the device may not be used to measure other conditions such as wind speed or the slope of the ground)."
A bunker under water
This rule has come into play recently because of rain. If a bunker is completely filled with water, the only relief a player may take is to move the ball within the bunker to where there is less water. Or, under penalty of one stroke, the player may drop the ball outside the bunker, keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and where the ball is dropped. It is rule 25-1.
These are a few rules that aren't in the book but probably should be:
It's a well-known fact among weekend hackers that mulligans are acceptable in certain situations. On the first tee with people watching is the most common. But they can be taken on shots where the divot flies farther than the ball, where the ball lands in the dead center of a lake or where a drive lands on the roof of a house. Generally, one mulligan per nine holes is acceptable.
Sure, pros hit out of divots or off tree roots, but c'mon. You hit a perfect drive 250 yards down the center and it lands in an unrepaired divot. You're supposed to hit that? No way. Use the old foot wedge and get a better lie. And you paid $250 for that Ping 7-iron and you're supposed to break it on a tree root? Please. Foot wedge.
The 3-foot gimme
The average pro makes about 98 percent of his or her 3-foot putts. There are no statistics for the amateur because, as every amateur knows, that sucker is a gimme. Some sticklers may say it has to be "in the leather," or as close as your putter grip. But if it looks anywhere near 3 feet, like, say, 5 feet, then pick it up.
The 'I didn't know it was there' rule
A colleague actually pulled this one off on the par-5 18th hole at Fox Hollow. The hole has water bordering both sides of the fairway, but it also has a small cut that juts out near the front of the green. After a long drive, his second shot was smoked toward the green. When he arrived where the shot should be, he found it in the water. Using the "I didn't know it was there" rule, he took a free drop, chipped onto the green and two-putted for par. We all agreed it was the right thing to do.
Find a ball and it's yours
So you hit your shot into the woods. Your playing partners are scouring the brush when one shouts, "Pinnacle?" You are hitting a Slazenger X-out, but without hesitation you say, "Yes." The reasoning is that if a ball is in the area of your shot, any ball, then it becomes yours and you play it for the duration of the hole, no penalty shot incurred.
The swing and miss rule
Your partner, or perhaps even you, addresses the ball and then takes a full swing but misses. That is merely strike one. If your partner, or perhaps you, swings and misses again, perhaps it's time to take up tennis.
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8810.