Written by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair.

First published in 2017. Updated to conform to the new Rules.

Multiple penalties and Resolving Rules Issues During a Round

Recently, a player preparing to hit her ball in the rough, took a practice swing and accidentally caused her ball to move about an inch. By the Rules, she should have taken a 1-stroke penalty and replaced her ball (Rule 9.4). Instead, she did not replace the ball. She hit it from where it had come to rest after she had caused it to move. By doing that, she also breached Rule 14.7 (Playing from Wrong Place), which specifies a 2-stroke penalty for hitting a ball from the wrong place. 

Should the player then have received 3 penalty strokes – 1 for causing the ball to move (Rule 9.1) and 2 additional penalty strokes for playing it from the wrong place (Rule 14.7)? 

Simple logic would suggest that yes, she should get 3 penalty strokes. However, in the Rules of Golf, there are special cases involving multiple penalties where the total penalty is not the sum of the separate infractions [Rule 1.3c(4)]. In general, in these cases, an upper limit of 2 penalty strokes is applied. The situation discussed here happens to be one of those cases, and the total penalty is not 1 + 2 = 3, but 1 + 2 = 2!

The problem for those of us who are not rules experts is to know whether our particular situation falls into this special category. In general, if the two breaches resulted from unrelated acts, the player would get the sum of both penalties. For example, making a practice swing in a bunker that touches the sand (2-stroke penalty) and also bending an overhanging branch that interferes with the player’s swing (2-stroke penalty), would result in 4 penalty strokes. But, making several swings in a bunker that touch the sand would result in only 2 penalty strokes (Rule 1.3c(4)). 

It is fairly easy to see that the above example (causing a ball to move: 1-stroke penalty and then hitting the same ball from the wrong place: 2-stroke penalty), falls within this special class of multiple penalties. The player breached 2 rules in sequential acts – causing the ball to move (Rule 9.4), and then instead of replacing it, hitting it from its new position (Rule 14.7). This would result in a total of 2 penalty strokes.

However, there are many cases where it may not be clear whether this multiple penalty limitation should be applied. There may also be other situations not involving multiple penalties where you are uncertain how to proceed according to the Rules.  The best thing to do if you are in doubt about any Rules situation is to follow Rule 20.1 (Resolving Rules Issues During Round). This is an important Rule to know. The methods for resolving Rules issues during Stroke and Match play are different.  In stroke play, Rule 20.1 allows you to play out the hole with 2 balls, and then the Committee will decide which ball to count.  If you do this, you must first let your fellow competitors know you are going to play a second ball, and say before you hit which of the two balls you would like to count. In Match play, you and your opponent can agree on a resolution, even if it doesn’t comply with the Rules. If you can’t agree, either you or your opponent may make a claim to a Rules official after the round. 

The take-home message is: a) It’s important to know Rule 20.1; and b) When in doubt, report concerns to Rules Officials. You will notice that, whenever you turn in your scorecard to the officials at the end of a stroke play round, they always ask whether you used Rule 20.1.