Rules Myths

The game of golf abounds with myths and misconceptions when it comes to the Rules. Either through years 

of practice, or simply failing to keep up with the constant changes to the Rules some of these misconceptions 

have become widespread and ingrained, passed from one generation of golfers to the next. This page looks 

at some of these misguided beliefs.

Myth 1. 'Suckered Ball' Rule.

There are a number of golf clubs that periodically operate a Local Rule (commonly known as the 'Suckered 

Ball' rule) allowing players by agreement with a fellow competitor or opponent, to drop another ball into play 

without penalty in the vicinity of where a ball is assumed to be lost in its own pitch mark. However, this is not 

an authorised Local Rule.  Clubs, Associations or National Governing Bodies do not have the authority to

introduce such a Local Rule. Only if it is known or virtually certain that the ball has been removed by an 

Outside Agency, or it is lost in an Obstruction (Rule 24), an Abnormal Ground Condition (Rule 25) or a Water 

Hazard (Rule 26), can a player avoid returning to the place from where the previous stroke was made, and the 

resulting penalty of stroke and distance. Somehow over the years, this 'rule' has made its way onto club 

scorecards and local rules boards, but its use is completely flawed in that players make quick assumptions 

that the ball has been lost in this manner, when on occasions it is possible that the ball could just be lost in

long grass. With golf being a predominantly winter game in New Zealand, courses can have large areas of soft 

ground. These areas should be clearly defined and declared as Ground Under Repair. A player with a ball 

known or virtually certain to be lost in one of the these areas can then proceed under Rule 25-1c. Likewise, if 

ball is known or virtually certain to be lost in an area covered by casual water, the player may proceed under 

Rule 25-1c.

Myth 2. You can simultaneously play a match and enter the pro-shop stableford scramble.

Some clubs allow players taking part in a match to also enter the pro-shop scramble, which is normally a stroke 

play format such as Stableford. This is not permitted as very clearly stated in Rule 33-1. There are many 

differences between the two formats of play, so there is potential to have to do something requiring a different 

process for each format of play. For example if Player A tees off outside the teeing ground; in a match Player 

can recall the stroke or ignore it and let Player A continue (no penalty incurred either way) - however in stroke 

play, the Player A must play from inside the teeing ground under a penalty of two strokes. Another example is if 

Player A strikes Player B's equipment; in a match, Player A can replay the stroke, but in stroke play it's just rub of 

the green.Rule 33-1 also states that any match played under such circumstances is null and void. Both players 

are also disqualified from the scramble (stroke play event). Almost all clubs have it stated as part of their 

constitution that golf at the club will be conducted under the Rules of Golf. It is not for Committees to decide 

which of the 34 Rules can be ignored and which should be adhered to.

Myth 3. You can pluck Paspalum stalks or other invasive grass near your ball in play

No it is not permissible. It's another unauthorised Local Rule of unknown origin that some clubs even have 

permanently fixed on their Local Rules board and/or scorecards. The R&A has provided a written decision that 

states allowing anything growing to be plucked would amend a Rule of Golf, therefore this cannot be authorised 

by Clubs, Associations or National Governing Bodies. If a particular invasive grass is an issue, Clubs have the 

authority to introduce a Local Rule using the same provisions as the traditional 'Clean and Place' Local Rule. The 

recommended wording for this can be found in the local rules section of the Rules of Golf book.

Myth 4. When dropping a ball, you have to drop it in the same 'class of country'

A Local Rule with wording to this effect was spotted on a club score card recently. This Local Rule is stating that 

if a ball lay in the rough but the player was entitled to a drop under a specific Rule, the player would have to 

drop the ball in the rough. This would amend a Rule of Golf so is not an authorised Local Rule. If the limits of 

the dropping area allow the ball to be dropped in a more favourable lie (such as the fairway when the ball 

originally lay in the rough), that is to the good fortune of the player and such relief cannot be denied.

Myth 5. You can not take your clubs into a hazard

A player will be penalised under Rule 13-4 (Ball in Hazard, Prohibited Actions) for touching the ground with his 

club or hand prior to making a stroke at a ball, however there is no penalty if the player places his clubs in a 

hazard, provided he does nothing to test the condition of the hazard (Exception 1b to Rule 13-4).

Myth 6. You always get free relief from a “plugged” ball

Rule 25-2 (Embedded Ball) provides relief without penalty if a ball becomes embedded in its own pitch-mark in 

any closely- mown area (the ball must be found to action this). This relief does not extend to a ball embedded 

elsewhere (such as the rough) unless a Local Rule is in force providing relief for an embedded ball 'through the 


Myth 7. On the green, you must mark behind the ball before lifting it.

Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking), recommends that the ball be marked by placing a ball marker behind the ball, 

but there is no restriction under the rules if the marker is placed other than behind the ball. Marking behind the 

ball is recommended best practice.

Myth 8. You can declare a ball on the green to be “marked” to save time.

We have all seen instances when a player, in order to not hold up the members of his group, declares his ball to 

be marked, the theory being that another player on the green may putt without fear of being penalised if his 

ball strikes the “marked” ball. Nowhere in the Rules is this practice allowed. If a player's ball (when played from 

the putting green), strikes another ball in play on the putting green, a penalty of two strokes is incurred in 

stroke play by the person playing the putt (not the other person whose ball it hit), but there is no penalty in 

match play (see Rule 19-5).

Myth 9. You can declare your ball to be lost.

The ball is lost if it is not found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player's side or his 

or their caddies have begun to search for it. Before the five minutes is up, the ball can only be deemed lost if a 

player takes a specific action. Simply saying a ball is lost does not make it so. The definition of Lost Ball in the 

front of the Rule Book clearly lists the actions that will deem the original ball to be lost.

Myth 10. You always get free relief from a rabbit hole (or other abnormal ground condition)

Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions) provides relief from conditions such as rabbit scrapes, ground under 

repair and casual water. However there is an exception to this rule where relief is not available if it is 

unreasonable to make a stroke because of interference by something other than the abnormal ground 

condition. Simply put, if the condition (e.g. rabbit scrape) were not there, would the ball be playable? If the 

answer is no, then relief is denied and the player should proceed under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) with a penalty 

of one stroke. It is important to note that this exception also applies when seeking relief from an immovable 

obstruction (Rule 24-2).

Myth 11. If someone else marks my ball, then that person has to replace it.

Under Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking), a ball to be lifted under the rules may be lifted by the player, his partner, 

or another person authorised by the player. Under Rule 20-3 (Placing and Replacing) a ball to be replaced may 

be replaced by the player, his partner, or the person who lifted itRegardless of who does the lifting and 

replacing, the player is responsible for any breach of the Rules that may occur.

Myth 12. If you’re off the green you can’t have the flagstick held.

Still a common belief among players, but not true. Rule 17-1 (Flagstick Attended, Removed or Held Up) states 

“before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or 

held up……”. The only difference between a ball played from on the green, to one played from off the green is 

that there is no penalty in the latter instance if the ball strikes an unattended flagstick. Also, the same penalty 

applies to a ball that strikes an attended flagstick, regardless of where it has been played from (Rule 17-3 Ball 

Striking Flagstick or Attendant).

Myth 13. If the ball is marked on the putting green it is out of play.

A common misconception is that when a player replaces a ball in front of his marker on the green, the ball is still 

not in play. This is not the case. If the marker is not lifted after the ball is replaced and the ball is subsequently 

moved by the slope of the green or by the wind, the ball must be played from where it comes to rest in its new 

position. If the ball is then replaced by the player back in front of the marker and played, the player has played 

from a wrong place and incurs a two stroke penalty. If it is also deemed that the ball played from the wrong 

place gave the player a significant advantage, he would also have to replace the the ball in the new position and 

play out the hole from there in addition to the two-stroke penalty. See Rule 20-7.

Myth 14. You cannot smooth the sand if your ball is still in the bunker.

After making a stroke, if a player fails to extricate his ball from the bunker it is permissible to rake the sand that 

has just been disturbed as long as that sand does not affect the lie, stance or line of play of the next stroke. It 

does not matter if after playing the next stroke the ball comes back into the area that has just been smoothed.

Exception 2 to Rule 13-4 now allows the sand to be smoothed prior to the first stroke being made in the bunker, 

as long as it is solely for the intention of caring for the course and that the areas being smoothed to do affect 

the lie, stance or line of play of the next stroke.