Rules: Steep Hazard Bank Forces Penalty


By Paul Kruger, PGA Professional
The Canyon Club, Albuquerque New Mexico

During the second round of the 2017 BMW International Open in Munich, Germany, Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark put his approach shot into the lateral water hazard adjacent to the 4thgreen. Unfortunately for Olesen, there was a rather steep slope adjacent to where his ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. As you might imagine, when Olesen proceeded to take relief per Rule 26-1c [Relief for Ball in Water Hazard] by dropping a ball outside the hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where his original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard, Olesen had some issues with that slope.


First, he knew that a ball, when dropped in the vicinity of this hazard, would most likely roll into the hazard. Thus, he positioned his caddie on the bulkhead to catch the dropped ball before it disappeared into the water. This situation is addressed by Decision 20-2c/4 [Caddie Stops Dropped Ball Before It Comes to Rest; When Penalty Incurred]. As stated in this Decision, “There is no penalty if the caddie stops the ball after it has rolled to a position from which the player would be required to re-drop it under Rule 20-2c, provided it is reasonable to assume that the ball would not return to a position at which Rule 20-2c would be inapplicable.

Rule 20-2c [Dropping and Re-Dropping: When to Re-Drop] states, in part, “A dropped ball must be re-dropped without penalty, if it (i) rolls into and comes to rest in a hazard. … If the ball when re-dropped rolls into any position listed above, it must be placed as near as possible to the spot where it first struck a part of the course when re-dropped.”

Unfortunately, due to the slope, Olesen had great difficulty in placing his ball at rest on the spot where his ball first struck the course when re-dropped. The applicable Rule for his dilemma is Rule 20-3d [Placing and Replacing: Ball Fails to Come to Rest on Spot] which points out, “If a ball when placed fails to come to rest on the spot on which it was placed, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced. If it still fails to come to rest on that spot, … it must be placed at the nearest spot where it can be placed at rest that is not nearer the hole and not in a hazard …” After ten or so attempts, Olesen finally found a spot where he could place his ball at rest on the slope.

After that ordeal, Olesen walked up to the green to assess his forthcoming chip shot. However, as he was about to walk back down to his ball, he saw it start to roll down the slope and disappear into the water hazard. At that point, he became completely frustrated by the sequence of events, so he called over a Rules Official for some much-needed assistance. The Rules Official should have informed Olesen that he needed to proceed under Rule 26-1c, incurring another one-stroke penalty as his ball in play had entered the lateral water hazard and had not been moved by an outside agency. Note the following statement in Rule 20-3d, “If a ball when placed comes to rest on the spot on which it is placed, and it subsequently moves, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies….”


The Rules Official mistakenly advised Olesen that he could proceed without penalty by placing another ball as near as possible to the spot from which the previous ball had moved. Olesen got “up and down” for what he thought was a bogey-5 on the hole. However, at a subsequent hole, he was advised of the incorrect ruling and that he would be assessed a one-stroke penalty since his ball in play had entered the water hazard a second time. Such corrective action is authorized by Rule 34-3 [Committee’s Decision] as clarified by Decision 34-3/1 [Correction of Incorrect Ruling in Stroke Play] which states, in part, “However, Rule 34-3 does not prevent a Committee from correcting an incorrect ruling and imposing or rescinding a penalty provided that no penalty is imposed or rescinded after the competition is closed ….”


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