What It’s About: Defines stroke play, sets the penalty for failure to hole out, and details the procedure for playing two balls in a doubtful situation
We are all used to stroke play today because we watch it every week on the professional tours. In the early days of the Rules, though, match play was predominant and stroke play was covered by a section, relegated to the end of the book, called “Special Rules for Stroke Competitions.” One reason stroke play wasn’t more popular may have been that, since everyone had to hole out on every hole, the pace of play was much longer and delayed the adult beverages that so many enjoyed at the conclusion of a round.
Now, of course, stroke play is addressed throughout the Rules, but Rule 3 covers a few elements specific to it. Rule 3-1 simply states that the player who plays the stipulated round or rounds in the fewest strokes is the winner. Rule 3-2 states that a player is disqualified for failing to hole out. These were both part of the special Rules for stroke play way back in 1912. The 1912 Rules also made it very clear that any ties (presumably for first place) would be decided by another round. Today, the Rules require the Committee to spell out how ties will be handled.
One of the most difficult Rules in the book comes under Rule 3-3 and is titled “Doubt as to Procedure.” This Rule allows a player to play a second ball when he encounters a doubtful situation, but only in stroke play.
The purpose of this Rule is to allow a golfer to continue play when an immediate ruling is not possible. For example, a player’s ball comes to rest in an area that he feels the Committee could have and should have defined as ground under repair. If he wishes to invoke this Rule, there is a proper procedure to follow:
1) He must announce his intention to play a second ball before taking further action, such as making another stroke with his original ball, and he must declare the ball with which he will score if the Rules permit.
2) Before returning his score card, he must report the facts to the Committee, unless he scored the same with each ball; if he fails to do so, he shall be disqualified.
In our example, the player announces he wishes to score with his second ball, i.e., the one he dropped in accordance with relief from ground under repair. Let’s say he then plays his original ball from the questionable area and scores a 5. With the second ball, he scores a 6. So, he is in the unusual situation of hoping the Committee rules against his announced preference of which ball would count. If the Committee says it would have declared the area in question as ground under repair, the player’s score is 6. If the Committee says that the area is not that bad, thus there is no relief without penalty, the player’s score is 5.
A few nuances of this Rule are clarified by the Decisions on the Rules of Golf. You cannot play more than two balls for one doubtful point. If you played the original ball after the doubtful situation arose, but before invoking Rule 3-3, the score with the original ball must count. If you play a second ball, but then fail to hole out with it, you are disqualified if the Committee rules that ball would have counted; however, there is no penalty if it rules the original ball is the one that counted.
What happens if, trying to be funny, a player blows his ball into the hole after it stopped on the lip of the hole? He won’t be laughing for long because, as Decision 3-2/2 makes clear, he will be disqualified in stroke play for failing to hole out unless he corrects his mistake before playing from the next tee. Rule 1-1 says that the game of golf consists in playing a ball into the hole by successive strokes; blowing the ball is, of course, not a stroke. The player, in fact, violated Rule 18-2a by causing his ball to move. He is subject to a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball. If he doesn’t take that penalty and tap in before playing from the next tee, he runs afoul of Rule 3-2. Another example of failing to hole out is covered by Decision 3-2/1, where, in stroke play, a fellow competitor “concedes” a player’s short putt and knocks it away. The player must replace his ball and hole out, without penalty, before playing from the next tee, or he is disqualified.