Molly Cooper, PGA
Director of Tournament & Member Programs

As we start the 2020 Section and Chapter Tournament and Pro-Am Season, I want to remind you of some of the more important rules that created some confusion in the past. Below is a list of the rules that were most often confused in 2019, with a full explanation. Let’s refresh ourselves on these rules before we start competing or running events at our club this year!

When Ball Is Lost.  A ball is lost if not found in three minutes after the player or his or her caddie begins to search for it.If a ball is found in that time but its uncertain whether it is the player’s ball:

  • The player must promptly attempt to identify the ball (see Rule 7.2) and is allowed a reasonable time to do so, even if that happens after the three-minute search time has ended.
  • This includes a reasonable time to get to the ball if the player is not where the ball is found.

If the player does not identify his or her ball in that reasonable time, the ball is lost.

If the ball is lost, that means the provisional ball now becomes your ball in play.  That’s it.  Sounds easy right?

Where we have seen people confused is twofold.  One, how do we know it’s been three minutes when we don’t look at the clock?  Two, when does the ball search begin?

Let’s tackle the first question.  Take a watch out.  Start a timer for three minutes.  It really is that easy!

The second question is just as easy.  Search begins when you or your caddie have started looking for the ball.  Or in the case of a team competition, the three minute starts when the first team member or their caddie starts looking for the ball.

The rules do not have to be that hard.  Sometimes it is just that simple.

You hit a ball off line.  When search begins, get the watch out (or a phone will work).  Start the clock when the player, their caddie or in the case of it being a team competition, the partner or there caddie starts looking for the ball.  You then get three minutes in which to either find the ball or have located a ball that you need to identify whether it is your ball.

That’s it.  Once the three minutes ball search expires, the original ball is now a lost ball.  EVEN IF YOU FIND IT AFTER THE THREE MINUTES.  If you do happen to find a ball after the three minutes expired, that ball is no longer in play.

If you hit a provisional, that ball now has become the ball in play.  If you did not hit a provisional, the ball is lost and play under stroke and distance.


7.1a. Player May Take Reasonable Actions to Find and Identify BallA player is responsible for finding his or her ball.

The player may fairly search for the ball by taking reasonable actions to find and identify it, such as:

  • Moving sand and water, and
  • Moving or bending grass, bushes, tree branches and other growing or attached natural objects, and also breaking such objects, but only if such breaking is a result of other reasonable actions taken to find or identify the ball.

If taking such reasonable actions as part of a fair search improves: the conditions affecting the stroke:

  • There is no penalty under Rule 8.1a if the improvement: results from a fair search.
  • But if the improvement results from actions that exceeded what was reasonable for a fair search, the player gets the general penalty for breach of Rule 8.1a.

In trying to find and identify the ball, the player may remove loose impediments as allowed in Rule 15.1 and may remove movable obstructions are allowed in Rule 15.2.

Actions that are considered unlikely to be considered reasonable to be part of fairly searching for your ball include (and will likely result in the general penalty if there is evidence of an improvement to conditions that affect the stroke):

  • Taking an action to flatten areas of grass beyond what is reasonably necessary to walk through or search for the ball in the area where the ball is thought to lie;
  • Purposely removing any growing thing from the ground; or
  • Breaking a tree branch to allow easier access to the ball when it could have been reached without doing so.

When in doubt, play two balls under Rule 20.1 and make sure to tell the Committee before you turn in your scorecard what you did so they can determine the proper score for the round!


19.3a Normal Relief Options (One Penalty Stroke)When a player’s ball in bunker:

  • The player may take unplayable ball relief for one penalty stroke under any of the options in Rule 19.2, except that:
  • The ball must be dropped in and come to rest in a relief area in the bunker if the player takes either back-on-the-line relief (see Rule 19.2b) or lateral relief (see rule 19.2c).

19.3b Extra Relief Option (Two Penalty Strokes)

As an extra relief option when a player’s ball is in a bunker, for a total of two extra penalty strokes, the player may take back-on-the-line relief outside the bunker under Rule 19.2b.

Another thing worth mentioning that has come up numerous times in both Section events in 2019 was confusion whether a ball is in a bunker when it is in the grass above the bunker.  If you learn the definition of a bunker, you can figure out pretty easily if you are in a bunker or not.

Bunker – a specially prepared area of sand, which is often a hollow from which turf or soil was removed.

These are NOT part of a bunker:

  • A lip, wall or face at the edge of a prepared area and consisting of soil, grass, stacked turf or artificial materials.
  • Soil or any growing or attached natural object inside the edge of a prepared area (such as grass, bushes or trees),
  • Sand that has spilled over or is outside the edge of a prepared area, and
  • All other areas of sand on the course that are not inside the edge of a prepared area (such as deserts and other natural sand areas or areas sometimes referred to as waste areas).

Bunkers are one of the five defined areas of the course.

A Committee may define a prepared area of sand as part of the general area (which means it is not a bunker) or may define a non-prepared area of sand as a bunker.

When a bunker is being repaired and the Committee defines the entire bunker as ground under repair, it is treated as part of the general area (which means it is not a bunker).

The word “sand” as used in this Definition and Rule 12 includes any material similar to sand that is used as bunker material (such as crushed shells), as well as any soil that is mixed in with the sand.

More times than not, you can find the answer you are looking for just by simply going to the definition.  This is something I have to continually remind myself …always go to the definition first!


A partner standing behind the player would also be in violation of this rule.Rule 10.2b (4) does not allow a player to have his or her caddie deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason when the player begins taking a stance for the stroke. Reference to “the stroke” means the stroke that is actually made.

The player begins to take the stance for the stroke that is actually made when he or she has at least one foot in position for that stance.

If a player backs away from the stance, he or she has not taken a stance for the stroke that is actually made, and the second bullet point in Rule 10.2b (4) does not apply (Bullet point 2 reads – If the player takes a stance in breach of this Rule, he or she cannot avoid penalty by backing away).

Therefore, if a player takes a stance when the caddie is deliberately standing on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball, there is no penalty under Rule 10.2b(4) if the player backs away from the stance and does not begin to take a stance for the stroke that is actually made until after the caddie has moved out of that location. This applies anywhere on the course.

Backing away means that the player’s feet or body are no longer in a position where helpful guidance on aiming at the intended target line could be given.

Last year on the (now called the Korn Ferry Tour), a player earned a two-stroke penalty for breaching this rule.  The player got penalized two strokes even though his caddie was already walking away before the player started his stroke.  The penalty may seem harsh to some but the rule clearly states that it was not allowed.  The player dropped out of the top 10 with his two penalty strokes.  This is one reason they issued the change. Click here to view the full article.

Please keep in mind one important fact about this rule.  This rule is not about where the caddie or partner is at the time the stroke is made but where the caddie or partner is when the player started taking their stance.  That’s it.

This is a major change from the previous rules of golf.  This rule will be applied on the location the caddie and/or partners was standing at the time the player started taking their stance, if they player then goes ahead with the stroke.

Rules 22, 23, and 24 confirm that in forms of play involving partners, a player’s partner and the partner’s caddie may take the same actions (with the same limitations) as the player’s caddie may take under Rules 10.2b(2) and 10.2b(4).

Jeff Ellison says it best – “You have all the rights and privileges of a partner…and all the responsibilities!”

As you gear up for team competitions or individual competitions, keep in mind to make sure your partner(s) and caddie know where to stand when you start taking your stance.

It’s easy to avoid penalty strokes by just having your caddie and/or partners stay off your extension of the line of play when it is your turn to play.  My advice: have them stand off to the side (90 degree angle), well off your line of play!


This rule now allows you to remove loose impediments and movable obstructions. Sounds great right?  Keep reading, as there are new liberties that were not allowed before, there is still restrictions and consequences if you do not apply the rule correctly.Though Rule 12 now allows a lot of liberties it did not before, it still very clearly states that you may not test the surface, have your backswing brush sand away during your stroke, and of course not have your club touching the ground behind or in front of your ball.  You will still get the general penalty for breaching the Rule.

Though you can move loose impediments, the one you generally need to move the most (the one touching your golf ball), you will not want to as you will get the general penalty if your golf ball moves.

Click here for a video from the PGA of America explaining Rule 12 from the talented Tom Carpus, PGA Master Professional Tournament Official.

*With the change in the Rule, the USGA no longer authorizes the local rule on reclassifying stones in bunkers as moveable obstructions.  Since they are still loose impediments, be careful your ball doesn’t move!

Another important item to note is that bunkers and penalty areas are now treated different.  Under the old Rules of Golf, what you were allowed to do in both bunkers and hazards were very similar.

This confused many golfers last year as they were thinking since you could ground your club in the penalty areas, you could in the bunkers as well.  THIS IS NOT THE CASE, please don’t fall in this trap!


The recent addition of a Local Rule could affect you, if your facility adopts Local Rule G-9, or if the tournament you are playing has this local rule in affect.  Local Rule G-9 allows for replacement of a club that is broken or significantly damaged during the round, except in cases of abuse.Under this Local Rule (if adopted), a club is “broken or significantly damaged” if it meets the following conditions:

  • the shaft breaks into pieces, splinters or is bent (but not when the shaft is only dented)
  • the club face impact area is visibly deformed (but not when the club face is only scratched)
  • the clubhead is visibly and significantly deformed
  • the clubhead is detached or loose from the shaft, or
  • the grip is loose

However, a player is not allowed to replace his/her club solely because there is a crack in the club face or clubhead.

Keep in mind that a player’s club needs to start the round conforming and that if the club did not start conforming under the Rules of Golf, then not only may you not use the club during the round, you also may not replace it during the round as it was not fit for play prior to the round.

Last year, we had a ruling from a gentleman who on the third hole in a Section tournament pulled out his hybrid to use and noticed that the club shaft was snapped in the grip area.  Though we had adopted the local rule on our PNW PGA Section Hard Card, the player was not allowed to replace his hybrid as he had not broken the club during the round (he had not used it on hole #1 or hole #2) and therefore the club had not broken during normal course of play.  It did not matter that the player had started the round unaware that his club was broken.  The player was not able to replace the club (nor use it for the remainder of the round).

In 2020, you will see the Local Rule G-9 in every PNW PGA Section event included on our Section Hard Card.  The Washington State Golf Association, Pacific Northwest Golf Association and the Oregon Golf Association have also added the local rule to their Hard Card as well.

It is fantastic to be part of a strong and united golf community that works together and tries to be consistent in Rules of Golf execution.

Click here to download the Pacific Northwest Supplemental Rules of Play (Hard Card).


During a round, you may take these two actions on the putting green, no matter whether your ball is on or off the putting green:

  • Sand and loose soil on the putting green (but not anywhere else on the course) may be removed without penalty.
  • You may repair damage on the putting green without penalty by taking reasonable actions to restore the putting green as nearly as possible to its original condition, but only:

By using your hand, foot or other part of your body or a normal ball-mark repair tool, tee, club or similar item of normal equipment and

Without unreasonably delaying play.

But if you improve the putting green by taking actions that exceed what is reasonable to restore the putting green to its original condition, you get the general penalty

“Damage on the putting green means any damage caused by a person or outside influence such as:

  • Ball marks, shoe damage (such as spike marks) and scrapes or indentations caused by equipment or a flagstick,
  • Old hole plugs, turf plugs, season of cut turf and scrapes or indentations from maintenance tools or vehicles,
  • Animal tracks or hoof indentations, and
  • Embedded objects (such as a stone, acorn or tee).

But “damage on the putting green does not include any damage or conditions that result from:

  • Normal practices for maintaining the overall condition of the (such as aeration holes and grooves from vertical mowing),
  • Irrigation or rain or other forces,
  • Natural surface imperfections (such as weeds, bare or diseased areas or areas of uneven growth), or
  • Natural wear of the hole

Click here to view a short video posted by the USGA on the new actions allowed on putting greens.

We noticed in early 2019 Section tournaments that we had some players wanting to repair some hole cups that got a little damaged during play, due to players not pulling out the flagstick when they reached their hand in to take out their golf ball.  As many golf courses are starting to notice, hole cups are starting to show wear throughout the day and players want to repair the hole to help the field out.

While this is an action allowed on putting greens, repairing wear is not allowed until your group has completed the play of the hole or you would earn the general penalty.

We strongly recommend you pull the flagstick out before you take your ball out to help prevent damage to hole cups and to help make playing conditions more favorable for the field.  Once we identified this issue we suggested it to the players in Section events, which seemed to solve the issue for the remainder of the year.


There are two specific Rules for a ball or ball-marker that moves on the putting green.

  • No Penalty for Accidently Causing Ball to Move. There is no penalty if the player, opponent or another player in stroke play accidently moves the player’s ball or ball-marker on the putting green.

The Player must:

  • Replace the ball on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (See Rule 14.2), or
  • Place a ball-marker to mark that original spot.

Exception – Ball Must Be Played as It Lies When Ball Begins to Move During Backswing or Stroke and Stroke Is Made (see Rule 9.1b).

If the player or opponent deliberately lifts the player’s ball or ball-marker on the putting green, see Rule 9.4 or Rule 9.5 to find out if there is a penalty.

  • When to Replace Ball Moved by Natural Forces. If natural forces causes a player’s ball on the putting green to move, where the player must play from next depends on whether the ball had already been lifted and replaced on its original spot:
  • Ball Already Lifted and Replaced. The ball must be replaced on it’s original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2), even though it was moved by natural forces and not the player, the opponent or an outside influence (see Rule 9.3, Exception).
  • Ball Not Already Lifted and Replaced. The ball must be played from its new spot (see Rule 9.3)

If you cause the ball to accidentally move on the putting green, it’s OK!  Just make sure you replace the ball accurately.  There is no penalty for replacing a ball that you caused to move on the putting green.  There IS the general penalty if you cause the ball to move and DON’T replace the ball.

It’s as simple as that.  If you ACCIDENTALLY caused the ball to move, replace it!

And if your ball moves due to natural forces, the answer varies depending on whether you have marked the ball yet.

These are both changes that took place in January 2019.  Learn the new rules!

Last, if the ball was not on the putting green, the rule would be different.  Different locations could mean different answers!


As always, to continue learning more about the new Rules of Golf, go to

Please download the Rules of Golf App on your phone. I cannot stress enough how convenient it is and how easy it is to use. The search engine on the app is amazing! Simply type in what you are looking for and you immediately have the answer at your fingertips.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Molly Cooper, PGA
Director of Tournament and Member Programs