The Rules of Golf and the superintendent

A greater familiarity with the Rules of Golf can help superintendents better understand the game and make them more confident in marking the course.

Jack D. Fry, Ph.D.

Read this story in GCM's digital edition

 Rules of Golf figure 1
 Rules of Golf figure 2

Although golf course superintendents may sometimes forget, it’s all about a game. And, like it or not, this game has a set of rules, and the Rules of Golf (3) are rather lengthy, and at times, difficult to understand. Until about 10 years ago, I had little knowledge or interest in the Rules, although I routinely taught classes to students who were hoping to become golf course superintendents. It was only after my son became competitive in junior golf that I began to really take notice of the impact the superintendent has on the Rules.

In early 2013, a survey was developed to get a better understanding of golf course superintendents’ perception of the Rules, to find out who at the course oversees marking of the water hazards and to test superintendents’ knowledge on some basic Rules related to course maintenance.

The electronic survey was developed at Kansas State University and was made available online for superintendents to complete between March 25 and May 24, 2013. The link to the survey was included in a GCSAA This Week update to all members and was also made available through various electronic media, including and distribution through Twitter. As an incentive to complete the survey, one participating superintendent was randomly selected to win a case of red hazard marking paint, courtesy of Standard Golf of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

 Rules of Golf photo 1
 Rules of Golf photo 2

Superintendents should be familiar with the golfers’ options should they encounter movable (top) or immovable (bottom) obstructions.
Photos by Jack Fry

In addition to the questions noted on the figures in this paper and the Rules questions in Table 1, superintendents were queried on: their perceived knowledge of the Rules of Golf on a scale of 1 (ignorant) to 5 (PGA Tour rules official); whether they had taken the USGA/PGA threeday Rules seminar; and whether they had been through one or more presentations on the Rules of Golf. Although some basic statistics were run on the numbers, the survey was not all-encompassing as it ultimately sampled a relatively small group of superintendents. Nevertheless, the response across a wide geographical area was impressive.

The survey was completed by 177 superintendents across 10 countries and 42 U.S. states. Of those surveyed, 39% were from private facilities, 23% from daily-fee, 20% from municipal, 8% from resort, and 10% from other (most of which were described in comments as semiprivate). Over three-quarters of those surveyed were at 18-hole facilities, with the remainder evenly distributed across 9-, 27- and 36-hole facilities.

Perception of the Rules

Over half of the superintendents surveyed thought that it was extremely important for them to have a good understanding of the Rules of Golf (Figure 1). However, it was surprising that 38% had never been through any presentation on the Rules. The USGA and PGA jointly offer a three-day seminar on the Rules at locations throughout the U.S. each year, but only 10 superintendents (6%) surveyed had taken that seminar. Superintendents seeking more information on the Rules have many options available. If a three-day seminar is too much, the USGA and PGA also offer a shorter, two-day seminar. State and local golf associations also frequently offer Rules seminars. In the past, GCSAA has offered webcasts and half-day and two-hour seminars at the annual conference that address interactions between superintendents and the Rules.

 Rules of Golf figure 3
 Rules of Golf figure 4

Over 60% of the superintendents indicated that golf course maintenance practices have a significant or tremendous impact on the Rules (Figure 2). I have grown to appreciate the impact superintendents have on the Rules, and have highlighted some of these in a column (“Through the Green”) that has appeared every other month in GCM since February 2013.

Marking hazards on the golf course

In order for a golfer to properly follow the Rules, water hazards and lateral hazards on the course must be marked with stakes and/or painted lines. Stakes are used to identify the hazard to the golfer from a distance, whereas the painted hazard line defines the margin of the hazard. Just over 50% of the superintendents surveyed indicated that stakes were present on their golf course, but lines were painted only before important tournaments (Figure 3). About 24% of superintendents had stakes on the course, and painted lines regularly, and 7% said they paint, but don’t use stakes.

Regarding who marks the golf course, 71% indicated that the golf course superintendent (maintenance staff) marked the course, whereas 19% indicated it was the golf professional (pro shop staff) (Figure 4). About 3% said the course would only be marked by a golf association before an important tournament. Just over 7% indicated “other” when asked who marked the course, and nearly all of them indicated it was a team effort between the golf professional and superintendent. Taking this into account, 80% of the superintendents surveyed were involved in marking the golf course, either individually or cooperatively with the golf professional.

Knowledge of the Rules

 Rules of Golf photo 3
 Rules of Golf photo 4
 Rules of Golf photo 5

(Top and middle) Well-marked hazards prevent golfer confusion on how to proceed.
(Bottom) Unrepaired divots are not “ground under repair,”
and golfer education on divot repair can pay off.

The quiz consisted of 10 questions on the Rules of Golf that had some relationship to maintenance of the course (Table 1). There were five multi-ple choice questions and five true/false; some of these questions were taken from “999 Questions on the Rules of Golf ” (1). Before taking the quiz, over 90% of those surveyed considered themselves to have average or better knowledge of the Rules. Some of them were correct. The average score on the quiz was 68%, with the low score 30% and the high 100%. As a group, the most frequently missed question was No. 1, which addressed the definition of a loose impediment. By definition, soil and sand are only loose impediments on the putting green.

Only 50% of the superintendents gave correct answers regarding the player’s options if the ball crosses a yellow line as it enters a water hazard (question 3, Table 1). Because they so often work with establishing hazard lines on the golf course, marking hazards and the golfer’s options after entering a hazard are areas where more education is needed.

There was a positive correlation between how superintendents ranked themselves in knowledge of the Rules, and the score they received on the quiz. In other words, if they thought they knew more, their quiz score reflected that. It’s also interesting to note that superintendents who indicated that they had been through one or more presentations on the Rules had a higher average quiz score (72%) than those who had not (61%).

As a superintendent, you may be intimidated by the Rules of Golf, but don’t fret. Improving your knowledge of the Rules will pay off, especially those Rules that interact directly with course maintenance. Establishing a foundation of knowledge of the Rules will allow you to better understand the game that is responsible for your employment. In addition, you’ll be more confident in marking the golf course, and in communicating with the golf professional and golfers.

How do you start? Keep a copy of the Rules of Golf 2012-2015 in your office. Spend some time looking over the definitions. Here’s a list of Rules that is a good place to start (you will affect all of these with course maintenance practices): 13 (Ball Played as it Lies), 16 (The Putting Green), 23 (Loose Impediments), 24 (Obstructions), 25 (Abnormal Ground Conditions, Embedded Ball, and Wrong Putting Green), and 26 (Water Hazards).

Want to be a better superintendent? Improve your knowledge of the Rules.


Thanks are extended to Steve Tyler, Standard Golf, for providing the hazard marking paint to the winner of the random selection. I appreciate the assistance of Scott Hollister, GCSAA, and John Kaminski, associate professor at Penn State, in distributing the link to the survey. Finally, thanks to Kenton Peterson, Ph.D., for assisting in analysis of the survey data.

Literature cited

  1. Rhodes, B. 2010. 999 Questions on the Rules of Golf. G2 Entertainment Ltd., Kent, United Kingdom.
  2. United States Golf Association. 2011. Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2012-2013. USGA, Far Hills, N.J.
  3. United States Golf Association. 2011. Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status 2012-2015. USGA, Far Hills, N.J.

Jack Fry is a professor in the department of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.