Golfers: Amended Rules of golf

The rules of golf have been criticized for being rigid and unbending. Every golfer has a story about a rules violation that defies common sense. We also know of circumstances where the penalty seems punitive, especially compared to the "benefit" of the violation.

Despite the rigidity of the rules, the R&A in St. Andrews, Scotland and the United States Golf Association, the bodies responsible for the Official Rules of Golf, have seen fit to modify the Rules of Golf for various disabilities. For golfers using a SoloRider, the applicable rule revisions are listed under "Golfers Requiring Wheelchairs."

"In modifying the Rules of Golf for golfers with disabilities, the desired result should allow the disabled golfer to play equitably with an able-bodied individual or a golfer with another type of disability. It is important to understand that this critical objective will occasionally result in a modification to a Rule which may seem unfair at first glance because a more simplified answer may appear to exist when two golfers with the same disability are playing against one another."

While we appreciate the effort, The writers of the rules note that "Hopefully, all of the issues have been addressed, although it is anticipated that continued analysis and further modification will be necessary, as is the case for the Rules of Golf."

Golfers Requiring Wheelchairs

Definition of "Stance"

The use of assistive devices raises the question of what constitutes taking the stance. This is a critical element in determining relief from an immovable obstruction (Rule 24-2) and abnormal ground conditions (Rule 25-1) and whether or not a player is subject to penalty if his ball moves prior to his playing a stroke. The following Definition is recommended:

Stance: Taking the "stance" consists in a player who is using an assistive device placing the device and, if applicable, his feet in position for and preparatory to making a stroke. The assistive device is deemed to be part of the player's stance.

Rule 1-2 (Exerting Influence on the Ball),
Rule 13-1 (Ball Played as It Lies) and
Rule 18-2a (Ball at Rest Moved by Player)

Prior to making a stroke, golfers who play from a wheelchair have traditionally moved the ball a short distance to facilitate positioning it in their stance before address, a maneuver often referred to as "bumping" the ball. Increasing the pace of play and decreasing turf damage by not having to precisely position their chair are the reasons which are often cited to justify this practice. Everyone would like to increase the pace of play while simultaneously decreasing turf damage. Consequently, the rationale for "bumping" the ball is not without some merit. However, such an action violates one of the two most fundamental principles of the game - playing the ball as it lies.

Drafting language which would permit such a procedure is more difficult than it might seem. For example: By what means may the player "bump" the ball? How far may he "bump" it? When is the ball back in play? If the ball moves after it has been "bumped," must it be replaced, played as it lies or may the player "re-bump" it? If the ball moves after it has been "bumped," is the player subject to penalty? Must the ball remain on the same part of the golf course (teeing ground, through the green, hazard and putting green) after it has been "bumped"? If it must remain on the same part of the golf course, may a player who is "bumping" the ball only several inches through the green move it from high rough to short rough or to the fairway? If the original ball had come to rest in a divot hole, may the player "bump" the ball out of the divot hole?

With respect to the next-to-the-last question, it seems logical to conclude that, at a particularly crucial point in his round, the player who has the opportunity to move his ball from tall grass to short grass is much less likely to make a concerted effort to precisely position his chair than the player who would have to move his ball from short grass to tall grass.

Ultimately, "bumping" the ball becomes a mechanism by which "preferred lies" are endorsed. Certainly, this is not a desired result. Therefore, this practice should be discouraged, realizing that there is and will continue to be a marked difference in how strictly the Rules of Golf are applied by and to recreational and competitive golfers.

Rule 6-4 (Caddie)

By analogy to Decision 6-4/4.5, someone, including another caddie or player, who assists a player with the retrieval of his ball is not acting as the player's caddie. Such an act does not constitute a breach of Rule 6-4, which prohibits a player from having more than one caddie at any one time under penalty of disqualification.

In addition, it would be permissible for a wheelchair golfer to employ both a caddie and an aide to assist him provided the aide does not carry or handle the player's clubs (see Rule 8-1 below). Depending on his responsibilities, the status of the aide would need to be clarified (see discussion of "Coach" under Blind Golfers; see also discussion of "Supervisor" under Mentally Handicapped Golfers).

Rule 8-1 (Advice)

If a wheelchair golfer employs both a caddie and an aide (see Rule 6-4 above), the aide would be prohibited from giving advice to the player.

Rule 13-2 (Improving Lie, Area of Intended Swing or Line of Play)

The interpretation of what constitutes a player "fairly taking his stance" is one of the most difficult judgment calls in golf. Whereas most of the Rules of Golf are objective, this Rule is highly subjective. Decision 13-2/1 (Explanation of "Fairly Taking His Stance") lends some clarification to this phrase, but significant gray areas remain. The disabled golfer who is using an assistive device is entitled to bend or even break the branches of a tree or bush in order to fairly take his stance. However, he may not use the device to deliberately hold back branches which would otherwise interfere with the area of his intended swing or line of play. There is not, nor will there probably ever be, a substitute for the judgment required to interpret this Rule.

Rule 13-3 (Building Stance)

The use of assistive devices by disabled golfers does not constitute building a stance within the meaning of the term in Rule 13-3. However, there may be an issue with regard to assistive devices which may be adjusted to various positions during a stipulated round. The USGA Rules of Golf Committee is considering this issue in the course of reviewing medical devices and their conformance under Rule 14-3.

Another issue relating to this Rule concerns the following query:

If a player builds a stance so that his supporting crutch does not slip during the swing, is he in breach of this Rule?

This is an interesting question, because the answer is also dependent on the concept of "fairly taking his stance" (Rule 13-2).

A player who "builds a stance" by creating a raised mound of soil against which he braces his crutch would be in breach of Rule 13-3 for building a stance. However, a certain amount of "digging in" with the feet is permitted. By analogy, this would allow for some "digging in" with an assistive device in an effort to prevent slipping, but there is a point beyond which the player would be in violation of "fairly taking his stance." As noted in the discussion of Rule 13-2 above, this is a very subjective determination which the Committee must make after considering all of the circumstances.

Rule 14-2 (Assistance)

Prior to the stroke, it is permissible for a disabled golfer to accept physical assistance from anyone for the purpose of positioning himself or any assistive device which he is using. The provisions of this Rule apply only while the player is making a stroke.

Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment)

Assistive devices are considered artificial devices or unusual equipment under Rule 14-3. Nevertheless, a Committee may allow a disabled golfer to use such an assistive device, even if it has been modified to aid the player in playing the game. However, if the Committee believes that an assistive device so modified would give the player an undue advantage over other players, the Committee has the authority to prohibit its use under Rule 14-3.

Rule 16-1e (Standing Astride or on Line of Putt)

In view of the proposed Definition of "Stance," it is recommended that Rule 16- le be modified to read:

e. Standing astride or on line of putt.
The player shall not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot or any assistive device touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.

Rule 17-3b (Ball Striking Flagstick or Attendant)

The language in Rule 17-3b makes it clear that if a ball strikes an assistive device which is being used by any person while he is attending the flagstick with the player's authority or prior knowledge, the player incurs a penalty for a breach of this Rule.

Rule 20-1 (Lifting)
Rule 20-1 states in part:

If a ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of lifting the ball under a Rule or marking its position, the ball or the ball-marker shall be replaced. There is no penalty provided the movement of the ball or the ball-marker is directly attributable to the specific act of marking the position of or lifting the ball. Otherwise, the player shall incur a penalty stroke under this Rule or Rule 18-2a.

This Rule requires no modification for use by disabled golfers. However, because physical limitations and assistive devices, especially chairs, may restrict access to the ball, the Rule should be interpreted loosely enough to give the disabled golfer the benefit of the doubt in cases where directly attributable becomes an issue.

Rule 20-2a (Dropping and Re-dropping; By Whom and How)

Rather than have a disabled golfer who uses a wheelchair hold the ball above his head and drop it or throw the ball upwards to what shoulder height would be if he were able to stand erect, and in an effort to provide some uniformity, the following modification to Rule 20-2a is recommended:

20-2. Dropping and Re-dropping

a. By whom and how.

A ball to be dropped under the Rules shall be dropped by the player himself. He shall either stand or sit erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm's length and drop it. If a ball is dropped by any other person or in any other manner and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player shall incur a penalty stroke.

Rule 20-3 (Placing and Replacing)

While a player may give another person the authority to retrieve or lift his ball, only the player or his partner may place a ball under the Rules. Because of physical limitations, it may be difficult or impossible for the disabled golfer playing from a wheelchair to place a ball as provided in Rule 20-3a. The solution to this issue is not very straightforward. Rather than suggesting that another person be authorized by the player to place the ball for him or that the player simply do his best, even if this means dropping the ball a few inches, it seems reasonable to wait and see whether or not this concern becomes a real issue.

Replacing the ball should rarely pose any difficulty, as Rule 20-3 allows for replacement not only by the player or his partner but also by the person who lifted it.

Rule 22 (Ball Interfering with or Assisting Play)

Disabled golfers using assistive devices may be inclined not to lift their ball on the putting green in an effort to reduce the potential for damage to the putting green surface. This is not the problem it may seem to be, as the player may authorize another person to lift and mark his ball. The development of assistive devices which minimize the load per square inch will also help eliminate this concern.

Rule 24-2 (Immovable Obstruction) and Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions)

The amended Definition of "Stance" would entitle a player to relief from an immovable obstruction or an abnormal ground condition if, in fairly taking his stance, the obstruction or the ground under repair interfered with the positioning of his assistive device. However, the Exceptions under Rules 24 and 25 would preclude relief for a player who has interference from these conditions as a result of placing his assistive device in an unnecessarily abnormal position for the required shot or using an unnecessarily abnormal direction of play.

Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable)

It is a fact that one able-bodied golfer may attempt and successfully execute a stroke with a ball which another able-bodied golfer may have declared unplayable. It is also a fact that the disabled golfer who requires the use of canes, crutches or any other type of assistive device may occasionally be unable to play a stroke at a ball which the able-bodied golfer could play. For example, a player using crutches may need to declare a ball which lies on a steep slope of wet grass unplayable in an effort to eliminate the possibility of injury from a fall. However, this situation is not any different than a case where the balls of two able-bodied golfers lie on a gravel cart path which has been declared an integral part of the golf course, and one player plays the stroke and the other player declares his ball unplayable, thus obviating any chance of an injury from flying gravel.

One might argue that because the situations noted above are potentially dangerous, Decision 1-4/10 (Dangerous Situation; Rattlesnake or Bees Interfere with Play) should apply, and the player should be entitled to free relief as prescribed by that Decision. While the situations described in the preceding paragraph are potentially dangerous, they are not analogous to the circumstances contemplated or the answer offered in Decision 1-4/10. That Decision concerns the player who encounters a dangerous situation which is both totally out of his control and unrelated to conditions normally encountered on the course. Additionally, it presupposes that the player's ball is in a playable position. If this were not the case, the player would have to proceed under the unplayable ball Rule incurring a penalty of one stroke, rather than obtaining free relief as prescribed by the Decision. Ultimately, ll players must exercise their best judgment in determining whether they are placing themselves at risk by playing a particular stroke. If they are, then their best option may be to declare the ball unplayable. Rule 28 must govern in these situations. Providing free relief in any instance in which there may be a potential for injury will create an unmanageable situation ripe with the potential for abuse.

Rule 24-2 (Immovable Obstruction) and
Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions)

Obviously, the most significant issue here is how this Rule should be applied to the disabled golfer who is using a wheelchair and cannot get to his ball when it lies in a bunker. At present, the wheelchair golfer often moves the ball close to the edge of the bunker and plays it, without penalty, or drops a ball outside of the bunker under penalty of one stroke.

This procedure creates the potential for a very definite inequity. Consider the case in which two wheelchair golfers are playing against one another, and the balls of both players come to rest in a bunker. If one of the balls is playable and the other ball is truly unplayable, both players are handled identically - a decidedly advantageous result for the player whose ball was unplayable.

Before suggesting a solution to this problem, another potential inequity must be examined. Consider the available options for the able-bodied golfer when he plays a stroke and the ball comes to rest in a bunker. He may play the ball as it lies. If the player deems his ball to be unplayable, he shall, under penalty of one stroke:

  • Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or
  • Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole; or
  • Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.

If the unplayable ball lies in a bunker the player may proceed under Clause a, b or c. If he elects to proceed under Clause b or c, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.

Therefore, the able-bodied golfer may play his next stroke from outside of the bunker, but instead of simply dropping a ball just outside of the bunker, he must go back to the spot from which he last played. In some instances, this may result in his having to play a full shot just to get back to the area of the bunker - the equivalent of a two-stroke penalty and a very definite inequity.

Keeping in mind the goal of allowing able-bodied and disabled golfers to play against one another on an equitable basis, the following modification to the language of Rule 28 is recommended:

If a disabled golfer deems his ball to be unplayable in a bunker, he shall:

  • Proceed under Rule 28a, b or c; or
  • Add an additional penalty of one stroke and play a ball outside the bunker, keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.

While this modification eliminates the inequity for the able-bodied golfer, it appears to create one for the disabled golfer. However, it is anticipated that future refinements in the USGA Handicap System will resolve this concern by allotting proportionally more handicap strokes to the disabled golfer who is playing from a wheelchair as the number and the severity of the bunkers increase from one golf course to another.


With due respect to the Rules of Golf, we at SoloRider would like to see an addition to the revisions and one change.

Since Soloriders are designed to be used in bunkers, we would like a revision to rule 13.4 for Canes and Crutches to also apply to SoloRiders driven into the bunkers. See below.

Rule 13-4a (Testing the Condition of the Hazard) and
Rule 13-4b (Touching the Ground in the Hazard)

By analogy to Decision 13-4/22 (Rake Handle Stuck in Bunker Before Stroke), it could be argued that a disabled golfer who enters a bunker with a cane or crutches is testing the condition of that hazard and, therefore, is subject to penalty. However, the intent of Decision 13-4/22 is to clarify that a player may not gain additional information about the condition of a hazard through actions other than those which are necessary to allow him to reach his ball and take his stance. Therefore, a player who enters a hazard with canes or crutches would not be in breach of Rules 13-4a or 13-4b provided his actions are not intended to test the condition of the hazard.

The rulesmakers discussed the inconvenience and speed-of-play problems with their disallowance of bumping in Rules 1-2, 13-1, 18-2a. We feel that a no harm no foul approach consistently applied would be of greater service. In no case would a SoloRider golfer improve his or her lie. But bumping the ball in order to avoid repositioning the golf car seems reasonable and in the best interest of the game. Most SoloRider users take this approach and apply the bump in the spirit, if not the letter, of the Rules.