The use of assistive devices raises the question of what constitutes taking the stance. This is a critical element in determining relief from an immovable obstruction (Rule 24-2) and abnormal ground conditions (Rule 25-1) and whether a player is subject to penalty if his ball moves prior to his making a stroke. The following Definition is recommended:
Taking the “stance” consists in a player who is using an assistive device placing the device and, if applicable, his feet in position for and preparatory to making a stroke. The assistive device is deemed to be part of the player’s stance.
By analogy to Decision 6-4/4.5, someone, including another caddie or player, who assists a player with the retrieval of his ball is not acting as the player’s caddie. Such an act does not constitute a breach of Rule 6-4, which prohibits a player from having more than one caddie at any one time.
The interpretation of what constitutes a player “fairly taking his stance” is one of the most difficult judgement calls in golf. Whereas most of the Rules are objective, this Rule is highly subjective. Decision 13-2/1 (Explanation of “Fairly Taking His Stance”) lends some clarification to this phrase, but significant grey areas remain.
The disabled golfer who is using an assistive device is entitled to bend or even break the branches of a tree or bush in order to fairly take his stance. However, he may not use the device to deliberately hold back branches that would otherwise interfere with the area of his intended stance or swing, or line of play. There is not, nor will there probably ever be, a substitute for the judgement required to interpret this Rule.
The use of assistive devices by disabled golfers does not constitute building a stance within the meaning of the term in Rule 13-3. Another issue relating to this Rule concerns the following query: If a player builds a stance so that his supporting crutch does not slip during the swing, is he in breach of this Rule?
This is an interesting question, because the answer is also dependent on the concept of “fairly taking his stance” (Rule 13-2).
A player who “builds a stance” by creating a raised mound of soil against which he braces his crutch would be in breach of Rule 13-3 for building a stance. However, a certain amount of “digging in” with the feet is permitted. By analogy, this would allow for some “digging in” with an assistive device in an effort to prevent slipping, but there is a point beyond which the player would be in breach of “fairly taking his stance.” As noted in the discussion of Rule 13-2 above, this is a very subjective determination that the Committee must make after considering all of the circumstances.
Decision 13-4/0.5 clarifies that a player may not gain additional information about the condition of a hazard through actions other than those that are necessary to allow him to reach his ball and take his stance. Therefore, a player who enters a hazard with canes or crutches would not be in breach of Rules 13-4a or 13-4b, provided his actions are not intended to test the condition of the hazard.
Prior to the stroke, it is permissible for a disabled golfer to accept physical assistance from anyone for the purpose of positioning himself or any assistive device that he is using. The provisions of this Rule apply only while the player is making a stroke.
Assistive devices are considered artificial devices or unusual equipment under Rule 14-3. However, a player is not in breach of Rule 14-3 if (a) the device is designed for or has the effect of alleviating a medical condition, (b) the player has a legitimate medical reason to use the device, and (c) the Committee is satisfied that its use does not give the player any undue advantage over other players.
In view of the proposed Definition of “Stance,” it is recommended that Rule 16-1e be modified to read:
e. STANDING ASTRIDE OR ON LINE OF PUTT
The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot or any assistive device touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.
Exception: There is no penalty if the stance is inadvertently taken on or astride the line of putt (or an extension of that line behind the ball) or is taken to avoid standing on another player’s line of putt or prospective line of putt.
See same entry under Golfers Requiring Wheelchairs.
See same entry under Golfers Requiring Wheelchairs.
The amended Definition of “Stance” would entitle a player to relief from an immovable obstruction or an abnormal ground condition if, in fairly taking his stance, the obstruction or the abnormal ground condition interfered with the positioning of his assistive device. However, the Exceptions under Rules 24 and 25 would preclude relief for a player who has interference from these conditions as a result of placing his assistive device in an unnecessarily abnormal position for the required shot or using an unnecessarily abnormal direction of play.
It is a fact that one able-bodied golfer may attempt and successfully execute a stroke with a ball that another able-bodied golfer may have deemed unplayable. It is also a fact that the disabled golfer who requires the use of canes, crutches or any other type of assistive device may occasionally be unable to make a stroke at a ball that the able-bodied golfer could play. For example, a player using crutches may need to deem a ball that lies on a steep slope of wet grass unplayable in an effort to eliminate the possibility of injury from a fall. However, this situation is not any different than a case where the balls of two able-bodied golfers lie on a gravel cart path, that has been declared an integral part of the course, and one player makes the stroke and the other player deems his ball unplayable, thus obviating any chance of an injury from flying gravel.
One might argue that because the situations noted above are potentially dangerous, Decision 1-4/10 (Dangerous Situation; Rattlesnake or Bees Interfere with Play) should apply, and the player should be entitled to free relief as prescribed by that Decision. While the situations described in the preceding paragraph are potentially dangerous they are not analogous to the circumstances contemplated or the answer offered in Decision 1-4/10. That Decision concerns the player who encounters a dangerous situation that is both totally out of his control and unrelated to the normal playing of the game (see Decision 1-4/11). Additionally, it presupposes that the player’s ball is in a playable position. If this were not the case, the player would have to proceed under the unplayable ball rule incurring a penalty stroke, rather than obtaining free relief as prescribed by the Decision.
Ultimately, all players must exercise their best judgement in determining whether they are placing themselves at risk by making a particular stroke. If they are, then their best option may be to deem the ball unplayable. Rule 28 must govern in these situations. Providing relief without penalty in any instance in which there may be a potential for injury will create an unmanageable situation ripe with the potential for abuse.