June 6, 2008
Kevin Stevenson can really pound his golf ball.
Sometimes he just doesn’t know where it’s going.
On a recent Tuesday evening, the young Shawnee Country Club member was playing in a golf league match with his playing partner, Curt Rayner, the Rehoboth Beach sunglass store magnate.
Their team and their competitors were teeing off on the 346-yard par 4 fifth hole. It’s a dogleg right, with two bunkers pinching in at the corner of the dogleg about 140 yards from the green.
To the right of that bunkered corner sits the white tee box for the 179-yard par-3 fourth hole, where our foursome had just finished hitting our shots.
We heard a somewhat muffled shout of “FORE RIGHT!” Most of us ducked our heads or covered them with our hands, while listening for the sound of Stevenson’s golf ball.
It came soon enough, whistling over John Eustis’s head and bouncing on the paved cartpath behind him. As he turned to watch, the ball caromed high in the air a second time. It then dove into the huge, cosmos-filled flowerbed that lies between the fourth tee and the back tee box for the nearby sixth hole.
The cosmos and other wildflowers are very pretty now, with most of the blooms either yellow or a purplish red.
On the other hand, they’re also between 18 inches and two feet high.
Eustis saw exactly where the ball entered the flowerbed, but there was no finding Stevenson’s errant drive. He put a head cover from his driver near the spot where the ball disappeared.
Then the fun began.
After riding up to the flower patch, Stevenson and Rayner then drove back to the fifth tee. Stevenson hit a provisional ball, because the two teams couldn’t agree on what to do about his first drive’s results.
Eustis told them that he saw exactly where the ball went, and that based on his similar experience in a club championship tournament, Stevenson should simply drop a new ball just outside the patch, and play on without penalty.
The other foursome disagreed, with one player insisting that since Stevenson couldn’t find his first tee shot, he had to count it as a lost ball.
The discussion continued into the clubhouse later that evening, and I’m not sure what was the final decision for the match.
On the other hand, the Shawnee scorecard says the same thing as many other golf courses: “Free drop from flower beds, roadways, and cart paths.”
Even so, that statement doesn’t completely answer the question, because in this instance no one could find the ball after it landed among the flowers.
However, the current Rules of Golf suggest that clubs can adopt a Local Rule that deals with that wrinkle, or treat it under Rule 25 dealing with Abnormal Ground Conditions. “If it is known or virtually certain” that the ball is in the flowerbed, the player can substitute another ball, without penalty, and drop it at an appropriate spot adjacent to the area, no closer to the hole.
That sounds fair, but it starkly contrasts with the same situation facing golfers who hook their tee shots on Shawnee’s fifth or sixth holes. Several yards to the left of the fairway, the grass is now at least knee-high, creating a near-certain lost ball opportunity for golfers unlucky enough to hit one there.
It might be nice to have those areas marked as a lateral hazard, which would take a little bit of the sting out of landing a ball in the high stuff. That wouldn’t be quite as forgiving as the flowerbed rule. On the other hand, you do have the option of whacking away if you’d like, which the flower rule is designed to prevent.
John Purple, Jr. is a 2005 Cape Henlopen grad and standout member of the Viking golf team. The 4-handicapper now plays for Wilmington University, but continues to mess about on local courses when he can.
He recently scored his first hole in one at Kings Creek Country Club’s 138-yard eighth hole. Purple used a nine iron from the blue tees.
Sounds like he took a little off his normal shot.