Unforced Errors and Rules of Golf

By Scott Shaffer, BGGA Master Coach

Everyone who plays golf knows the basic rules during a round.  Whether it is a tournament round or a fun round with your friends, most common rules are the ones dealing with hazards, water hazards and lateral water hazards. After those, the biggest penalty is probably hitting a ball out of bounds.

The definition of a water hazard is as follows: Any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of similar nature on the course.  All ground and water within the margin of the hazard are part of the water hazard. When defined by stakes or lines, the lines or stakes are yellow.

The definition of a lateral water hazard is as follows: A water hazard or part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible or the committee has deemed it impracticable to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with rule 26-1b.  Lateral water hazards are defined by red stakes or red lines.

Out of bounds is defined simply as follows: Beyond the boundaries of the course or any part of the course so marked by the committee.  Out of bounds is marked by white stakes or white lines.

The penalty for water hazards is one shot and depending which kind of water hazard, you proceed under the applicable rule. Most always you get to advance the ball forward and play closer than where your last shot was played in “most” circumstances. Out of bounds is, to a player, more penal due to the fact you only have one option. You do not get to advance the ball and there is a one-shot penalty. So you have to play from the position where you played your last shot.

There are a lot of other rules golfers encounter, but for junior golfers, those are the ones they seem to deal with the most. Bunkers and rough, depending on the type of grass and the length of it, are also hazards. I have heard the USGA say that hitting a ball in the bunker or the rough should be a half-shot penalty to the hole being played.  Although you are not penalized or counting a shot, you have to deal with a more difficult situation than you would if the ball was on the fairway or the green.

So, how do we use the knowledge of all these rules and lower our score?  When we play a hole, our first job is to identify a few things. Is it a par 3, par 4 or par 5?  How long is the hole? Most juniors I watch at first would know what type of hole, but not how far. Now, here is when the knowledge of the rules will help you make better decisions and lower your score. If you identify where the hazards of the hole are, we can now start to decide on a “higher percentage” target based on your own ability. Hitting a ball in the rough on the opposite side of the fairway of the out of bounds is a better option than teeing up the ball again with a stroke penalty.

Everyone who plays golf should know their dominant shot shape, and whether it’s a draw or fade. Adjusting your target line so the ball has the opportunity to land in a safer position is the goal of any shot. It might even mean not hitting a driver on par 5’s or longer par 4’s.  It seems simple but difficult to do during a round of golf or during a tournament. In tennis, they call them “unforced errors”.  If you can eliminate some of your “unforced errors” in a round you will absolutely lower your scores.  So, get into a process of identifying the hazards or out of bounds on a hole before you start to grab a club, adjust your target line to higher percentage targets and you should start to see that you make less unforced errors and have lower scores.