Golf is a game of uncertainties. It is enjoyed by millions of people on thousands of unique playing fields under a handful of different formats. This is indeed why many people love the game. Nearly every round comes with a new story or circumstance that you’ve never experienced. Variety and excitement supplant predictability and routine.
By providing extensive guidance to players and officials, the Rules of Golf aim to cover many of these complexities. How many sports offer a solution when an alligator interferes with play? Where else can you find a “practical joker” referenced in a game’s formal code. The more you dig into the Rules of Golf, the more you realize how many uncertainties are left to consider. For precisely this reason, the USGA Rules team sets aside time to explore the depths each day at 2:30.
Questions drive the “2:30 Meeting” – ones that arise among Rules staff members, others that originate in amateur or professional tournaments and, most frequently, those that are derived from the thousands of email and phone queries the USGA receives each year. These questions spark debates among staff members and, more importantly, help the USGA apply the Rules in a consistent manner.
In the brief sample exchange below, a few staff members reach a deeper understanding of Decision 20-2b/2, which helps answer an email inquiry and ensures the proper application of this Decision in the future:
Kathryn Belanger: This one involves Decision 20-2b/2 – this idea of measuring through an obstruction. So, in this case, we have a ball at the base of a retaining wall and there is land covered with high grass on top. If the ball is at the base of it and the player wants to declare his ball unplayable, they can measure through the wall – straight through the wall – but they can’t measure through the ground, correct?
Craig Winter: Yeah, that’s how I see that Decision giving us an answer. You don’t have to account for every single bump in the ground, but you certainly can’t “measure through the ground” to give yourself that extra distance.
CW: I think we would look at ground that is really bumpy, and you lay a club down, and that gets you just out from under a tree; we’d say that’s OK.
David Staebler: We don’t need you to go up and down with the club to take into account each bump.
CW: And then this Decision gives us that extra authority to measure across ditches or through walls. In this case, if it is indeed a wall you can go ahead and measure right through it. Or estimate, which is ultimately what you’re doing.
KB: Right, so they can estimate through the wall but they can’t then also cut through the ground under it?
DS: Unless your ball is somehow under the ground in an obstruction. Then we let you come straight up to the surface.
CW: Yes, there are some exceptions.
On occasion, things can get pretty entertaining. These three questions popped up all within a 10-minute timeframe last week:
- "Would this ruling change if the pull cart carried two bags?”
- “Does everybody agree that a crayfish is a burrowing animal?”
- “If it’s my opponent’s dog, is it no longer an outside agency?”
Much like doctors use “rounds” to care for their patients, the Rules staff leans on the “2:30 Meeting” to serve golfers and officials who present unexpected, but vital questions about the governing code. Other than its starting time, the meeting is as unpredictable as the game itself.
Speaking of which, my watch says 2:30 and I better not be late. One of these days, I’ll invite you to join.
Joe Foley is the manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.