Be careful where you tee off

The teeing ground extends from a straight line between the front of the two markers to two club lengths behind it. A player is required to tee up within that area, but may stand outside it.

Sounds simple, but a question arose recently when a fan thought Padraig Harrington had teed off in front of the marker in the Wells Fargo Championship. After rules officials along with Harrington and Phil Mickelson went back to the tee and looked at television replays, there was nothing conclusive shown and Harrington was not disqualified. Harrington did admit that while he usually gave it a good yard, he pushed it this time because he was trying to force a 6-iron. He even moved back once to make sure he was OK.

The penalty for playing outside the teeing ground in stroke play is two strokes and the player has to rectify the mistake before teeing off on the next hole or before leaving the putting green if it happened on the last hole. If not, he is disqualified.

In a Northern Texas PGA event, a group teed off on No. 15 instead of No. 11, located right next to each other. They discovered the error after reaching the tee on No. 16 and that’s when I was called. I sent the players back to No. 11 with two-stroke penalties. The strokes played on No. 15 did not count. If they had gone ahead and teed off on No 16, they would have been disqualified.

The situation is different in match play; there’s no penalty, but the opponent may require the player to cancel the stroke and play a ball from within the teeing ground.

In a NTPGA match play event, a pro hit from the wrong tee, but the ball went OB. His opponent did not cancel the shot, but the Decisions on the Rules of Golf revealed he had to accept a stroke-and-distance penalty drop a ball, not tee it up, as near as possible to the spot where he played the original ball.

What happens if competitors come to a tee and the markers are missing? I once got a call about this in a mini-tour event where I was serving as a rules official. The correct procedure, of course, was to discontinue play until I arrived and that is what the players did. Competitors might be able to make a case to a committee for continuing play if there was sufficient evidence— paint marks or depressions on the ground indicating where the tee markers had been located.

What if only one marker is missing and it is easy to determine where the other one should be? While it is still advisable to discontinue play, there is some leeway for competitors who don’t. If the committee is satisfied that the competitors did not gain an advantage from the area they judged to be the teeing ground, the committee could, in equity, accept any scores. 

The tee markers are deemed to be fixed when a player is making his first stroke on the teeing ground of the hole being played. If a player moves a tee marker because it interferes with the lie of the ball, his stance or his area of intended swing, the penalty is two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. If a player moved the markers because they are too close together, too far back, aimed in the wrong direction or some similar reason, he could be disqualified. No penalty would apply if he accidentally kicked one of the markers or even if he intentionally kicked it or struck it with a club in anger. He would just need to replace it.

The tee markers are movable obstructions after that first stroke. For example, when an approach shot lands on the next teeing ground, a player could move them to make his next stroke if they interfered with his stance or swing.

While some like to joke that you are hitting two when it happens, if a player happens to knock the ball off a tee when addressing it, there is no penalty and he may re-tee the ball. If this had happened to one of the novices I played who whiffed the first try, he would have incurred a one-stroke penalty.

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