1 Rules (general)

We play according to the Royal and Ancient (R&A) Rules of Golf and whatever Local Rules a course may apply, as modified from time to time by our own rules and considerations of appropriate golfing etiquette.

The R&A is world golf’s rules and development body and organiser of The Open Championship. It operates with the consent of more than 130 national and international, amateur and professional organisations, from over 120 countries. The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the game’s governing body in the United States and Mexico.

There are three categories of golfing rules.

• Firstly, there are the 34 official Rules of Golf. The Rules of Golf are those approved by R&A Rules Limited and The United States Golf Association. They are known as the Rules of Golf and are often referred to simply as "the Rules". For clarity in this discussion, we will frequently refer to them as the "R&A Rules” to distinguish them from other rules mentioned.

• Secondly, there are Local Rules which are provided for in the R&A Rules and which golf clubs can choose to implement or not, at their discretion. These are contained as an appendix to the R&A Rules. We call them “Local Rules”.

• Thirdly, there are social club rules that any playing group such as ours might choose to enunciate and adopt. We call our rules “St Leonards Rules”.

St Leonards Rules only apply when you are playing in a St Leonards Tax Officers' Golf Club competition.

The St Leonards Tax Officers' Golf Club committee will administer the club and apply all rules in a spirit of fairness and in the interests of all players. The committee may canvass the views of any party when considering a matter.

Without restriction, the committee reserves the right to vary any rule(s) at any time.

The committee’s decisions in all matters will be final.

2 Ball Lost or Out of Bounds

Social golfing groups such as ours must be mindful of sensitivities around slow play. Our aim is to prevent situations where following groups of players are delayed by a ball of a player in a St Leonards group lost or out of bounds (OB).

We remind players that, where they suspect a ball they just hit may be lost or OB, they should, in keeping with the R&A Rules, hit a provisional ball. We stress that the benefit of any doubt should be in favour of hitting a provisional ball, not the assumption you will find a wayward ball.

However it is a St Leonards Rule that, in particular circumstances, players may take a drop if their ball is lost or has gone OB.

In most circumstances, and in keeping with R&A Rules, if a player’s ball is lost or OB and they have not hit a provisional ball, the player must return to the point where the lost or OB ball was hit, and hit another ball.

The circumstances envisioned for application of the St Leonards Rule are restricted to the extent that (a) only if, by the player returning to the point from which the lost or OB ball was hit, excessive delay contributing to slow play would occur, and (b) only with the approval of the other players in the group, the player will instead be permitted to take a drop.

Factors to consider in players consenting to another player taking a drop in this situation should include (for example) the proximity of the following group (its presence on the tee or fairway would be persuasive in favour of the drop) and whether a cart is available for the player whose ball is lost or OB.

Where it is determined that a drop should be taken, the drop must be performed as close as possible to the place where the original ball was last sighted and not within two club lengths of the mown portion of the fairway.

R&A Rule 27-1c states that the amount of time given to attempt to find a lost ball is 5 minutes.

We are attuned to expressions of concern as to overuse of this St Leonards Rule. Players may speak in confidence to either or both of Messrs President and Handicapper on this matter.

3 Preferred lies

Taking a preferred lie is a Local Rule that clubs may permit from time to time, usually when they feel weather and ground conditions warrant. In the US it’s a concession which is described as “Winter Rules”.

It is a St Leonards Rule that the preferred lie Local Rule is applied in all our games. We adopted this measure in recognition of the high degree of wear and tear to which many of the courses we play are subject.

On the fairways of any course we play (unless advised otherwise prior to commencement) players may move their ball to another lie within 30cm (12 inches) of their ball’s resting position, in any direction but not closer to the flag.

Note that the St Leonards preferred lie Rule applies only to the closely mown portion of the fairway.

For the purposes of utilising the St Leonards preferred lie rule, players should note that there are three elements to the playing surface between tee and green:

(1) closely mown,
(2) light rough — mown so that it is approximately 2½ – 5 cms (1–2 inches) high, and
(3) unmown.

The St Leonards Rule on preferred lies applies to the closely mown portion of the fairway only. It does not apply on the light rough at the edge of the fairway unless the course we are playing has invoked a Local Rule allowing preferred lie through the green. It is usually only after bad weather that a course allows preferred lie through the green. When it does so, a notice advising players to that effect is usually placed at the first tee. When a course allows preferred lie through the green you may take a preferred lie anywhere on the course except on greens.

Where circumstances dictate, the President, or his nominee for the day, may allow preferred lie through the green, even though notice to that effect has not been posted by the course.

4 Cleaning the ball

The general rule is that you cannot lift and clean your ball except on the green. However, as with all good golf rules there are exceptions.

R&A Rule 21 states that a ball that has been lifted under the [R&A] Rules (e.g. ball unplayable, relief from an abnormal ground condition, relief from a water hazard) may be cleaned — except in these three situations:

a.) to determine if it is unfit for play (R&A Rule 5-3);
b.) for identification (R&A Rule 12-2), in which case it may be cleaned but only to the extent necessary for identification; or
c.) because it is assisting or interfering with play (R&A Rule 22).

Our view is that a ball having been lawfully lifted under a St Leonards Rule – being our rule that makes permanent the occasionally implemented Local Rule permitting preferred lies – cleaning is permitted under the R&A Rule that permits cleaning of balls that have been lawfully lifted.

The effect of the St Leonards rule regarding preferred lies on cleaning the ball:

You can take a preferred lie and clean your ball while it is lifted only if you are on the closely mown part of the fairway, unless the course permits preferred lie through the green on the relevant day, in which case you can lift and clean at any time.

5 Shite Creek

5.1 Up Shite Creek

All of us at some time have found ourselves in a difficult position on the golf course with respect to the lie of the ball and the proverbial paddle is nowhere in sight.

If you find yourself in any of the following circumstances you should consult with your marker. If the marker agrees with what you propose, you just go ahead. If the marker thinks that another course of action is the correct course, then you are supposed to play two balls, one from where you as the player think it should be, and one from where the marker thinks it should be.

Naturally this is likely to slow down play, which we don't want. If you are close to the hole you can do it. If you are a long way out, on a par 4 or 5, the lowest handicapper in the group, other than the player involved, must make a decision and that is what will apply, whether right or wrong. The reasoning is that over time we will get it right.

5.2 Ball in Thick Rough

Play the ball as it lies. Don’t improve your lie, the area of your intended stance or swing, or your line of play by:

(1) moving, bending or breaking anything fixed or growing, except in fairly taking your stance or making your swing, or
(2) pressing anything down (R&A Rule 13-2), ie. you cannot tamp down the grass behind the ball with your foot, or club to give yourself a better shot at the ball.

5.3 Dropping the Ball.

When dropping, stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it. The three most common situations (of the nine situations in R&A Rule 20-2c) where a dropped ball must be re-dropped are those where the ball:

(1) rolls to a position where there is interference from the condition from which free relief is being taken (e.g. an immovable obstruction)
(2) comes to rest more than two club-lengths from where it was dropped, or
(3) comes to rest nearer the hole than its original position, the nearest point of relief or where the ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard.

In these cases you must take a second drop. If a ball dropped for a second time rolls into any of these positions, you place it where it first struck the course when re-dropped.

Under the R&A Rules you must mark where your ball is before taking the drop.

5.4 Ball in Water Hazard (yellow stakes) or Lateral Water Hazard (red stakes)

Water hazards may be marked by either RED stakes or lines, or YELLOW stakes or lines.

Water hazards with RED markers are lateral water hazards. Lateral water hazards are those that, generally, do not lie between the tee and the hole.

If a ball is found in a water hazard or if a player knows or is virtually certain that their ball has gone into a water hazard, the player may:

(1) play the ball where it lies, within the hazard (point B in Diagram 1, below), or

under penalty of one stroke,

(2) play a ball from or as near as possible to the spot from which the original ball was last played, wherever that occurred along the line from tee (point A) to entering the water hazard (point B in the diagram below), or

(3) drop a ball behind the water hazard on a line extending backwards from the hole through the point at which the original ball crossed the margin of the water hazard, with no limit on how far the ball may be taken back. In the example below the player would have to drop it on a straight line behind D, through C, to the hole.

If a ball goes into a lateral water hazard (red stakes), the player has two additional options:

(4) take a drop within two club lengths of the point at which the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, and not nearer the hole (point C), or

(5) take a drop in an area on the opposite margin of the water hazard, within two club lengths and not nearer the hole, from a point that is equidistant to the hole as the point at which the ball entered the hazard (point E). To clarify "equidistant", points C and E must be the same distance from the hole.

Diagram 1: Water Hazard

5.5 Ball Unplayable (R&A Rule 28)

(Diagram 2, below, relates)

"The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable" (R&A Rule 28). If you believe your ball is unplayable, you may, under penalty of one stroke:

(1) play a ball from where your last shot was played, or
(2) drop a ball any distance behind the point where the ball lay, keeping a straight line between the hole and the point where the ball lay, or
(3) drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball lay but not nearer the hole.

Diagram 2: Unplayable Ball

Note that if you are well into the bush and you choose option (3) you must drop within two club lengths. If you still have to chip out, such is life.

5.6 Casual Water in Bunker

If your ball comes to rest in casual water in a bunker, you may drop without penalty at the nearest point of relief within the bunker, no nearer the hole. That applies no matter what the condition is of the rest of the bunker.

If the rest of the bunker is dry, great! But even if the entire bunker contains water, the same R&A Rule applies – if you drop, then you must drop within that bunker to avoid penalty. If the bunker is completely filled with water, your only option to improve the situation without penalty, according to the USGA Web site, is this: "… the player may drop the ball in the bunker at a point that provides maximum available relief (ie, in 1 inch of water rather than 5 inches)."

If you choose to drop outside the bunker then you incur a one stroke penalty. The drop must be taken at a point outside the bunker that is in line with where the ball lay and the hole, with no limit as to how far back the drop may be taken.

A player in this position could deem the ball unplayable and subject to R&A Rule 28 – see 5.7 following.

5.7 Ball in the Bunker and R&A Rule 28

If you hit the ball into a bunker, can you invoke R&A Rule 28 (refer to 5.5, above).

As stated above, a golfer can declare any ball unplayable at any time, for any reason and anywhere on the course other than in a water hazard. Under penalty of one stroke the player may then:

(1) play a ball from where their last shot was played, or
(2) drop a ball any distance behind the point where the ball lay, keeping a straight line between the hole and the point where the ball lay, or
(3) drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball lay but not nearer the hole.

However, if you declare a ball in a bunker unplayable and use options (2) or (3), you must drop within the bunker. These might be options to consider if you have the ball right up under the lip of the bunker.

If you putt the ball across a green and into a bunker, option (1) potentially provides the opportunity to retake the putt (with penalty).

5.8 Immovable Obstructions and Abnormal Ground Conditions (R&A Rules 24-2 and 25-1)

An immovable obstruction is an artificial object on the course that cannot be moved (e.g. a building) or cannot readily be moved (e.g. a firmly embedded direction post). Objects defining out of bounds are not treated as obstructions.

An abnormal ground condition is casual water, ground under repair or a hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, a reptile or a bird.

Note 1: abnormal ground conditions do not include tyre tracks unless there is a Local Rule to say so.

Note 2: abnormal ground conditions do not include bare areas with no grass.

Note 3: Paths and tracks are considered artificial constructions and you can take a drop without penalty, unless there is a Local Rule declaring them an "integral part of the course", in which case you must play the ball as it lies. Check the card.

Except when the ball is in a water hazard, relief without penalty is available from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions when the condition physically interferes with the lie of the ball, your stance or your swing. You may lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, but not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief (see Diagram 3, below).

Diagram 3, illustrating the term “nearest point of relief” in Rules 24-2 and 25-1 in the case of a right-handed player.

5.9 Other Rules and Circumstances

5.9.1 On the putting green, you may repair ball marks and old plug holes, but not any other damage such as spike marks (R&A Rule 16-1). Under Decision 16-1c/4, it is illegal to repair spike marks anywhere in the vicinity of the hole, regardless of whether or not they are in your current line of putt. Note: once all players have putted out, spike marks may be repaired.

5.9.2 If you think a ball is yours but can’t see your identification mark, after notifying your marker or opponent, you may mark the position of the ball and lift it to identify it (R&A Rule 12-2). However, generally, you should not pick up your ball, without reference to your marker, with the exceptions of (a) on the green, and (b) under the preferred lie rule (see section 3 above).

5.9.3 What if I think I will damage my club if I hit the ball where it is? Answer: you have no choice but to invoke R&A Rule 28 and declare the ball unplayable. See options under 5.5, above.

5.9.4 Local Rule 9 Anti-Doping – The Committee may require, in the conditions of competition, that players comply with an anti-doping policy.

6 The sprinkler head query

Another recent query is along the lines of: if you are off the green and there is a sprinkler head along the intended line of your ball to the hole, can you move the ball?

Answer: The R&A Rules say NO. However, individual clubs are allowed to introduce a Local Rule that says you can. If so, it should be printed on your card as a Local Rule. It will probably refer to Immovable Obstructions. Sprinkler heads are immovable obstructions. If the card for the course you’re playing does not have a Local Rule allowing relief for immovable obstructions, you get no relief.

7 Match Play Rules

A match consists of one side playing against another over a stipulated round. In match play the game is played by holes.

We have two matchplay competitions, being the Darlington Cup and the Clayton's Plate. Early eliminations from the Darlington Cup may continue to enjoy the matchplay experience playing the Clayton’s Plate.

7.1 R&A Rules (excerpted)

[3.2 a] “Result of Hole and Match

“(1) Winning a Hole. A player wins a hole when:

  • The player completes the hole in fewer strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) than the opponent,
  • The opponent concedes the hole, or
  • The opponent gets the general penalty (loss of hole).

“If the opponent's ball in motion needs to be holed to tie the hole and the ball is deliberately deflected or stopped by any person at a time when there is no reasonable chance it can be holed (such as when the ball has rolled past the hole and will not roll back there), the result of the hole has been decided and the player wins the hole.

“(2) Tying a Hole. A hole is tied (also known as “halved”) when:

  • The player and opponent complete the hole in the same number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes), or
  • The player and opponent agree to treat the hole as tied (but this is allowed only after at least one of the players has made a stroke to begin the hole).

“(3) Winning a Match. A player wins a match when:

  • The player leads the opponent by more holes than remain to be played,
  • The opponent concedes the match, or
  • The opponent is disqualified.”

[3.2 b] “Concessions

“(1) A player may concede the opponent's next stroke, a hole or the match:

  • Conceding Next Stroke. This is allowed any time before the opponent's next stroke is made.
    • The opponent has then completed the hole with a score that includes that conceded stroke, and the ball may be removed by anyone.
    • A concession made while the opponent's ball is still in motion after the previous stroke applies to the opponent's next stroke, unless the ball is holed (in which case the concession does not matter).
    • The player may concede the opponent's next stroke by deflecting or stopping the opponent's ball in motion only if that is done specifically to concede the next stroke and only when there is no reasonable chance the ball can be holed.
  • Conceding a Hole. This is allowed any time before the hole is completed (see Rule 6.5), including before the players start the hole.
  • Conceding the Match. This is allowed any time before the result of the match is decided (see Rules 3.2a(3) and (4)), including before the players start the match.


“A concession is final and cannot be declined or withdrawn.”

7.2 [Simultaneous matchplay and Stableford] Once your match is determined, that game is concluded, possibly before reaching the 18th tee. When playing in a Club round, however, we will normally be conducting a separate Stableford competition. Your round should therefore continue over all 18 holes with each player submitting a personal Stableford score for the day.

7.3 Timing of match play games

An important aspect of the conduct of the match play competitions is the timely completion of each round. Outcomes deciding players successfully progressing through the rounds must be determined before subsequent rounds can take place. Rules for completion of rounds must therefore be strictly enforced.

St Leonards Rules regarding match play deadlines for competition

7.3.1 A match between players drawn to play each other comes on for play on the first occasion that both players are present to play a scheduled Club round in the range of rounds spanned by the relevant stage of the competition of which their match is a part.

7.3.2 [Playing earlier than the span of matches covered by a stage] Where the identities of players drawn to play a match become evident through normal development of the matchplay draw prior to commencement of the stage of the competition that spans the scheduled Club rounds of which their match is an element, they may, by mutual consent, play their match prior to commencement of the relevant stage.

7.3.3 [Alternative dates and courses] Players due to play a matchplay game can agree to play at a subsequent scheduled Club round within the range of Club rounds spanned by the stage of the competition of which their match is a part.

7.3.4 Players due to play a matchplay game can agree to play an alternative course and date to the scheduled Club rounds, within the range of Club rounds spanned by the stage of the competition of which their match is a part.

7.3.5 [Forfeit at scheduled Club round during a stage] A player who declines to play a willing opponent in a matchplay game when both players are present at a scheduled Club round in the period spanned by the stage of the competition of which their match is an element is deemed to have conceded the match.

7.3.6 [Forfeit at last scheduled Club round of a stage] Where a match remains to be played at the end of the period covered by the range of scheduled Club rounds of which the match is an element, and one player is present and willing to play while one player is unable to or declines to play the match, the latter player is deemed to have conceded the match.

7.3.7 [Changing date of scheduled Club round] The Committee reserves the right to alter the set dates on occasions on which a Club round is postponed or cancelled because of any circumstance including, for example, intemperate weather or other factors.

7.3.8 [Determining a winner] Where a match is not otherwise decided by the final scheduled Club round for completion of the relevant stage of the competition, the winner will be the side that last played a scheduled Club round on or before the relevant scheduled Club round on which the drawn opponent did not play.

7.3.9 [Resolving ties in match play.] Where a match play game results in a tie the winner will be the player with the best Stableford score, subject to rule, below. Should the Stableford scores be equal the count back rules (rule 8, below) will apply. In the interest of deciding matches on the course, if players are tied after their first game of match play, they may agree to play a further game. This game would be played the next time these players are both present at a scheduled Club round, so long as it is before the final round for completion of the relevant stage of the competition. Agreement to playing further games must be given freely. There is no element of compunction in this regard. Should circumstances be such that there is no possibility for a rescheduled match to be played at a St Leonards round, the players may agree to play other than on a scheduled St Leonards round, so long as it is before the final round for completion of the relevant phase of the competition. Again, agreement to playing further rounds must be given freely and without compunction. No matter how many games a pair of opponents may play in determining a match, should the result be a tie, the winner will be determined by rule 7.3.9, above. In the case of multiple games having been played, this rule will apply to the last game played.

7.3.11 [Pace of Play] In the interests of avoiding slow play, if both players have recorded ten strokes for a hole and neither has sunk their ball, the hole is halved for match play purposes. The cap of ten strokes is imposed to match the maximum number of strokes beyond which any possibility of scoring Stableford points is exhausted.


7.4 Handicaps in match play

Handicap concessions in match play are found using the match play index provided on the relevant course’s scorecard. Infrequently, a course does not provide a match play index on its scorecard. It is a St Leonards Rule that, for a St Leonards match play game played at a course whose scorecard does not show a match play index, our players should find their handicap concessions using the St Leonards standard match play index.

The St Leonards standard match play index is shown on our Scoring page. You can save the image from the website onto your computer or smart phone, should you wish to have a copy for reference.

8 Resolving ties

Where a winner needs to be found from any number of tied scores in any of our competitions (apart from the Bradman award), a count back will be performed. The relevant Stableford scores of the tied competitors will be matched over the back nine, then the last six, then, if necessary, the last 3 holes and finally, hole-by-hole working backwards from the 18th, in that order, to the point at which one player is found to have a better (ie, higher) Stableford score over the holes examined than the other tied player(s).

Our protocol for resolving ties in our Bradman novelty competition is to follow the same countback procedures set out above with the difference that the recipient of the award will be the player with the worst (ie, lowest) Stableford score.