Dear GGG: My ball is disappearing playing golf in mud. Help!

Gail Rogers

Guidance guru Gail Rogers

IT’S THAT TIME of year when golf balls inexplicably disappear with a splash or a plop. Know how to handle your course in wet conditions, with the guidance of Gail Rogers.

Q. My golf group has a great local rule for wet conditions. If we all see a ball land in an area, get there and cannot find the ball, we just agree on the general area and drop another ball with no penalty. What do you think of that?

A. Working under the adage that any golf is better than no golf and even the nastiest mud splotches on pants, sweaters and faces wash off, I can sympathize with your solution. Avid golfers often play golf in mud when a course is not able to be played under the rules of golf. While your group’s solution keeps the game moving and prevents frustration, this is not playing golf according the Rules. My friend Ede calls this playing “a friendly”

The trick here is to recognize two things:

  1. We must do something about posting the score for that hole in order to keep an honest handicap.
  2. We need to know that this would never be allowed in tournament play. It would be a lost ball with the stroke and distance penalty applied. Rule 27-1.

LET’S ADDRESS THE HANDICAP ISSUE FIRST, AS THANKFULLY SPRING WILL EVENTUALLY BE HERE AND WE WON’T BE PLAYING GOLF IN MUD. WE NEED AN ACCURATE HANDICAP IN ORDER TO COMPETE FAIRLY WITH OUR FRIENDS.

Section 4-2 on page 26 of the USGA Handicap System Manual gives us guidance when we play a hole other than under the rules of golf, for example golf in mud. In the example above, if the ball played from the tee could not be found because it was sucked out of sight on the wet fairway, instead of returning to the tee and hitting a third shot, the player is playing a second shot from the fairway.

No matter what score she records on her scorecard in her outing with friends, when she reaches the computer she must post par plus any handicap strokes she is allowed for the hole. So whether she records a birdie or a triple, on this par-4 hole with one handicap stroke, she posts a 5. A player with a higher handicap who receives two handicap strokes on the hole posts a 6.

Why can’t we just drop a ball in tournament play in this situation if fellow-competitors agree on the general area where the ball is lost and get on with life? In taking relief with or without penalty under the Rules of Golf, a reference point is always needed.

If the player had hit to an area of the fairway and got there only to find a huge puddle of rain water, she would be allowed to drop without penalty using the outer edge of the puddle where the ball most likely crossed into the area as a reference point. The same is true if the player’s shot was lost in an area marked with a white line indicating ground under repair. Rule 25-1b. Without a reference point, a golfer cannot just drop a ball.

If your group thinks the course might be very wet, you might want to select a format that is a team competition as it is unlikely that all four balls would suck out of sight on the same hole. Remember too if you think your ball might be lost, declare a provisional ball and play it before going forward to search for your ball as it will save time and keep you in the competition — even if it is with a stroke and distance penalty. Rule 27-2.

SINCE THIS COLUMN IS TITLED GUIDANCE, HERE ARE A FEW MORE SUGGESTIONS FOR FOUL WEATHER FUN PLAYING GOLF IN MUD:

Remember to be a good steward of the game even in the mud. Replace your divots, which are normally larger than normal because wet turf gives way so easily. If the divot is broken into tiny pieces, use the sand and seed mixture some courses provide to fill the blemish. Remember, you do not want to have to play your next shot from a divot and neither do golfers in the groups playing behind you. Enjoy your golf even when the course is wet, and post properly.

This article first appeared in the February 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.

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