The Most Common Rules Inquiries of 2016 December 28, 2016 By Kathryn Belanger, USGA

Water hazards were a frequent topic of Rules inquiries received in 2016. (USGA/John Mummert)

Every year, the USGA Rules Department answers thousands of inquiries about the Rules of Golf. The questions come from golf associations, golf professionals, clubs, Committees in charge of competitions and players at every level of the game. In 2016, more than 11,000 inquiries were answered by our staff. 

Last week, we reviewed the Rules that were addressed the most frequently during the USGA’s 2016 Open championships. Let’s take a look now at the Rules that generated the most questions to the USGA inquiry service.

Here are the five Rules that generated the most inquiries in 2016.

  • Rule 26-1 – Relief for Ball in Water Hazard (approximately 400 inquiries in 2016): While we all try to avoid water hazards, every golfer’s ball will eventually find one. A common question we received in 2016 was whether a player may proceed under the flagline drop option (covered in Rule 26-1b) when their ball is in a lateral water hazard. This Rule allows a player, under penalty of one stroke, to drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point the ball last crossed the hazard margin between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped. We like to call this the flagline option, and it is available for lateral water hazards as well as water hazards.

    Our “Rules of Golf Explained” video below provides several examples of how a player can take relief from a water hazard.   



  • Rule 24-2 – Immovable Obstruction (approximately 390 inquiries). Obstructions are man-made, artificial objects on a course. While some can be quickly and easily moved out of the way (movable obstructions), others are immovable. Common examples include cart paths, sprinkler heads and water fountains. When an obstruction is immovable, the Rules provide relief without penalty when it interferes with the lie of the ball or the player’s stance or swing. Often, players want to take relief when the obstruction is only on their line of play. Except when the ball lies on the putting green, free relief is not available when an obstruction is only on the line of play. In order to take free relief, the player must be physically interfered with by the obstruction as described above.

    When a player takes relief from an immovable obstruction and their ball lies through the green (all areas of the course except for hazards and the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played), the ball must be dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, and not nearer the hole. Uncertainty about identifying the nearest point of relief leads many players to reach out to the Rules Department. The “Rules of Golf Experience” breaks down this challenging concept into easy-to-understand steps here. 


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  • Rule 18-2 – Ball at Rest Moved By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment (approximately 350 inquiries). We receive many questions regarding a player who has accidentally moved their ball and is unsure how to proceed. If a player accidentally moves their ball in play, they must replace the ball and incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2.

    A common scenario is a player accidentally hitting their ball during a practice swing. The player has not made a stroke since they did not intend to strike the ball. If the ball is in play, a one-stroke penalty is incurred and the ball must be replaced. If this occurred on the teeing ground when starting play of a hole, there is no penalty because the ball was not yet in play. In that case, the player needs to play a ball from the teeing ground to start the hole.

    Earlier this month, the USGA and The R&A announced a new Local Rule that eliminates the penalty for Accidental Movement of a Ball on a Putting Green. This Local Rule goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017, and details can be viewed here. 



  • Rule 14-1 – Striking the Ball (approximately 345 inquiries). Rule 14-1a and Rule 14-1b have proven to be frequent sources of inquiries. A common myth involving Rule 14-1a (Fairly Striking the Ball) is that a player cannot reach across the hole to tap the ball into the hole. As long as the player does not push or scrape the ball (i.e., they fairly strike the ball), this is allowed.

To see this myth debunked, along with many others, visit the “Rules of Golf Experience” here.

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In 2016, The R&A and USGA adopted Rule 14-1b, which prohibits anchoring the club while making a stroke. As golfers adapted to the new Rule, the Rules Department provided guidance to many who reached out. The most important thing to note about Rule 14-1b is that it is not an equipment Rule. The Rule focuses on how a golf stroke should be made, which means that a player can use any conforming club, including long and mid-length putters. The concept of a free swing is an essential characteristic of the stroke. Below are some additional resources on 14-1b, as well as insights into how some of the world’s best golfers have adjusted since the new Rule went into effect:

Anchors Away: Rule 14-1b in Action

Anchoring: Understanding Rule 14-1b

  • Rule 14-3 – Artificial Devices and Unusual Equipment; Abnormal Use of Equipment (approximately 340 inquiries). Rule 14-3 provides the dos and don’ts of equipment and artificial devices. The use of distance-measuring devices (DMDs) is often the topic of inquiries. A player may use a DMD to measure distance, provided the optional Local Rule has been adopted by the Committee. As a result of a 2016 Rules change, a DMD may have additional functionality that can measure or gauge other conditions that could affect a player’s play, such as slope and wind speed, so long as any such additional function is not used during play. 

Many players do not know they are permitted to exchange distance information because it is considered to be public information rather than advice. If a player forgets their DMD, it is permissible to ask another player to shoot the distance, or even to borrow the DMD. But beware, there is no obligation to comply with the request, even though good etiquette and sportsmanship suggest a player should.

For more information on DMDs, visit our resources page.

If you have a Rules of Golf question, we want to hear from you. You may contact the Rules Department directly at (908) 326-1850 or

Kathryn Belanger is the manager of Rules communications for the USGA. Email her at

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