One of the most commonly misunderstood, ignored, or unknown rules in golf is the proper order of play, especially on or around the green. Most of the rounds of golf I play are of the “casual” variety, and I prefer to play with other “ready-golf” disciples, so the order of play and pitch perfect etiquette aren’t really a big deal on those occasions.
However, in a rare stroke of clarity and precision, Rule 10 sets forth the correct procedure for determining the proper order of play on the golf course. Though broken down into three subdivisions and an unwieldy 15 Decisions, Rule 10 isn’t overly bogged down with too many defined terms, exceptions, and contingencies.
Rule 10-1 deals only with rounds played under the rules of Match Play. Pretty much even the most casual golfer, whether through knowledge of the Rules, respect for etiquette, or simple common courtesy, gets the first part of Rule 10-1 correct.
The first part of Rule 10-1 deals with the proper order of playing the next hole from the tee.
10-1. Match Play
a. When Starting Play of Hole: The side that has the honor at the first teeing ground is determined by the order of the draw. In the absence of a draw, the honor should be decided by lot. The side that wins a hole takes the honor at the next teeing ground. If a hole has been halved, the side that had the honor at the previous teeing ground retains it.
Unless someone is incredibly deliberate getting from the green to the tee or has stopped to throw the cart girl a little patronage, this usually isn’t much of an issue. However, around the green is where the rule is most commonly botched.
The issue came up on our recent trip to play Longaberger G.C. and Foxfire Players Club outside of Columbus, OH.
Our threesome was playing a $2.00 Nassau match play all weekend, and we had a situation where two players on the green were actually further from the hole than I was, with my ball lying just off the green.
Bryan looked to me to play up, and instead of doing what 99% of golfers would do and chip onto the green, I did what I do with annoying frequency: I took the opportunity to show someone else how “smart” I am.
I told Bryan and Matt that they should putt before I chipped up if we wanted to be correct about it.
It’s not that I have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Rules at this point. Rather, I learned by watching the WGC Match Play this spring that, indeed, whether a player’s ball is on the green or not makes no difference in determining who is the proper person to play next in a golf match.
10-1. Match Play
b. During Play of Hole – After both players have started play of the hole, the ball farther from the hole is played first. If the balls are equidistant from the hole or their positions relative to the hole are not determinable, the ball to be played first should be decided by lot. Exception: Rule 30-3b (best-ball and four-ball match play).
This has to be the most violated rule in golf in America, and frankly, perhaps the most harmless to violate. Even the Rule itself, in its third provision, gives golfers the cover of no-harm-no-foul, as long as playing out of turn isn’t strategic and is merely in order to save time.
10-1. Match Play
c. Playing Out of Turn – If a player plays when his opponent should have played, there is no penalty, but the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel the stroke so made and, in correct order, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).
There it is, plain and simple. The entirety of Rule 10-1. Whoever is furthest from the hole plays first. Period.
What has become commonplace on and around greens across America, i.e., letting everyone reach the green and then putting in order of furthest from the hole, rather than who is simply furthest away the hole, regardless of where the ball lies, isn’t in Rule 10 anywhere.
The Decisions on Rule 10-1 are limited mainly to obscure situations involving something truly out of the ordinary, like both players’ golf balls being in the same ground under repair and the like.
Even though 100% of you, Dear Readers, will continue to play in whatever order was customary for your regular golf group before you read this column, at least now you know.
And maybe, just maybe, you can pull this Rule from your memory banks at some opportune time to put the pressure on one of you competitors in a friendly skins game and save yourself a little money.