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Rules of Play

This page was last updated 4/26/2011

  Rule 1 - Eligibility
  Rule 2 - The Committee
  Rule 3 - Rules of Play
  Rule 4 - Conduct
  Rule 5 - Handicaps    (revised 2003)
  Rule 6 - Teams
  Rule 7 - Schedules

  Rule   8 - Competitions
         8A - Stroke Play
         8B - Match Play
  Rule   9 - Moving or Lifting a Ball in Play
  Rule 10 - Lost Ball and Ball Out of Bounds
  Rule 11 - Annual Awards
  Rule 12 - Protests

Rule 1 - Eligibility

To be eligible for membership in the National Instutes of Health Golf Association (henceforth referred to as the NIHGA), individuals must meet the NIH Recreation and Welfare Association membership requirements and hold a current membership in that association.  Annual NIHGA dues will be determined by the NIHGA Board of Directors which is comprised of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, handicapper and the various team captains.  (Note:  There are various categories of membership defined in the R&W by-laws:  (1) Regular:  All DHHS employees, contract employees, and others - - employed by or at the NIH, except R&W employees;  (2) Lifetime;  (3) Complimentary - patients at the Clinical Center;  (4) Participating - Others who only participate in R&W Association sponsored activities.

Rule 2 - The Committee

"The committee" referred to in the USGA Rules of Golf shall be the NIHGA Board of Directors.  However, if an immediate ruling is necessary during a tournament, the tournament director or his/her representative may co-opt a committee consisting of himself and at least two other NIHGA members, or the host pro and/or his assistant, and render a decision.

Rule 3 - Rules of Play

All play shall be in accordance with the USGA Rules of Golf, as amended by the local rules of the course being played, except as provided in the NIHGA Pules of Play.

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Rule 4 - Conduct
A. The use of any course the NIHGA members might play is a privilege.  Conduct of the players, therefore, must be beyond reproach and the rules of the game and of the course must be fully observed.
B. Good care must be taken of all courses played.  All divots must be replaced, all ball marks on the putting greens must be repaired, all sand traps must be raked and akk riding and pull carts must be kept well away from the putting greens, sand traps and tees.
C. The Board of Directors may discipline any player or team for misconduct after an appropriate inquiry.  This may include suspensioin for one or more outings.
D. Guest Policy:  (1) Only individual NIHGA members may introduce guests.  (2) No person eligible for NIHGA membership may play as a guest more than twice a year.  (3) Members must play with their guests and be responsible for their conduct.  (4) Not more than two guests shall be included in each foursome.  The word "guest" shall be written on the scorecard to indicate that he/she is not an NIHGA member.

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Rule 5 - Handicaps

See also
Handicap Procedures
A. Official NIHGA handicaps shall be used for all events.
B. Only NIHGA stroke-play scores shall be used in computing NIHGA handicap indexes.  Match-play scores will not be used in the computation of handicaps.
C. UPDATED for 2005:  A "new member" is one who has not turned in a valid 18 hole score card in any NIHGA stroke-play event during the previous two seasons.  This includes former as well as active/inactive members with NIHGA handicaps who did not play during the prior season.  No handicap index is computed until a new member has submitted scores from two NIHGA outings.

If the player has an established USGA handicap index, from a golf club or an internet handicap provider (Yahoo or other), we accept it for use until the player has recorded two NIHGA scores.  The team captain will be responsible for submitting a copy of the USGA handicap to the handicapper.  After the player's second outing, the NIHGA handicap will be used.  A new player who does not submit a USGA handicap index will receive a zero handicap for his/her first two rounds.

D. The following NIHGA handicap computation system will be used:  The handicap differential is computed using the adjusted score, the USGA rating and the slope for the tees the player used.

           differential = (adjusted score - course rating) x 113 / slope

The result, which can be either positive or negative, is rounded to the nearest tenth.

The handicap index is then computed by averaging the differentials specified in the following table and multiplying that average by the specified percentage.  That result, rounded to the nearest tenth is the handicap index.

No. of NIHGA
No. of Differentials
to be Averaged
of Average
0 None ---
1 None ---
2 Low 1 75%
3 Low 1 75%
4 Low 2 80%
5 Low 2 80%
6 Low 3 90%

E. The maximum handicap index is 36.4 for men and 40.4 for women.
F. For each stroke-play outing, a player shall receive a handicap based on his/her handicap index and the USGA slope for the course and the tees being used by that player.
G. For each four-ball match-play event, a player shall receive 85 percent of his/her stroke-play handicap for the course being played.  This handicap shall apply even for a player without a partner.
H. Each player shall receive his/her full stroke-play handicap for all singles or three-ball matches.
I. When players competing against one another are playing from different sets of tees, the player using the set of tees having the higher course rating shall receive additional handicap strokes equal to the difference between the two course ratings.  Decimals are rounded to the nearest whole number, with a decimal of 0.5 being rounded upward.  This applies to both stroke-play and match-play events.  The handicapper shall supply a list of handicaps for each event in which white-tee players receive zero strokes adjustment and in which blue-tee and red-tee players receive a plus or minus adjustment depending on whether the rating for that tee is higher or lower thatn the white-tee rating.
J. UPDATED in 2010 with regard to senior tee eligibility: Men, normally, play from the middle tees and women play from the forward tees.  As a courtesy to NIHGA members, men may choose to play from either the back, middle, or senior tees and women may choose any of the four sets of tees.  A male member selecting the senior tees must have reached his 60th birthday on or before the date of his first NIHGA stroke play golf outing of the season.  A male member younger than 60 who has a disability may apply to the NIHGA for permission to use the senior tees,. 

The set of tee selections must be consistent throughout the entire golf season, including match-play events.  The selection of tees is to be made at the member's first golf outing of the season. Any breach of this rule, will be considered by the NIHGA, and penalties may include disqualification of scores and nonparticipation in individual and team NIHGA awards.

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Rule 6 - Teams
A. All teams in the NIHGA shall be made up of not less than 12 persons nor more than 25 eligible persons.  When all teams are up to maximum strength, the Board of Directors may increase the upper limit above 25.
B. New teams which apply to the NIHGA prior to the scheduling of the stroke-play season shall be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.
C. Noone may compete unless he/she is certified at that time by the treasurer or his/her designee as a paid-up member of the team for which he/she plays.

Rule 7 - Schedules
A.  Stroke Play:
  1.  The stipulated stroke-play round is 18 holes.  Each team must be represented by at least five players for each stroke-play outing.
  2.  The stroke-play season shall consist of eight playing dates.  Outings may be either shotgun start or scheduled tee times events as mutually agreed by the golf course personnel and the NIHGA scheduler.  For scheduled tee time events, starting times will be arranged in advance.  Members will be responsible for obtaining starting times from the appointed outing director. 
  3.  A player is considered late if greens fees are not paid at least 15 minutes prior to the announced shotgun starting time or scheduled tee time.  Breech of USGA Rule 6-3 (not ready to play at the appointed time) is disqualification, but NIHGA has waived disqualification as allowed by Rule 33-7for up to five minutes tardiness at his/her starting hole.  In a tee time outing, a late player will be permitted to join a later scheduled group with less than four players but with at least one other NIHGA member.
B.  Match Play:
  1.  A double-elimination match-play tournament will follow the stroke-play season.
  2.  After a match is started, play shall be discontinued only at the agreement of all players in a group except as provided in the USGA Rules of Golf.
C. Official NIHGA schedules and rules shall be furnished to each captain prior to the start of each season and shall be displayed on the NIHGA website.
D. All schedule events shall be played unless cancelled by the NIHGA or the host course (e.g., in the event of rain, natural disaster, war, etc.).

Rule 8 - Competitions
A.  Stroke Play:
  1.  For each stroke-play competition, the team with the lowest aggregate net score for its five low individuals' net scores shall receive the same number of points as the maximum number of teams in the NIHGA (8 teams).  The team with the second lowest aggregate net score for its five low individuals' net scores shall receive one point less point and so forth, with the team receiving the highest aggregate net score receiving the lowest number of points.
  2.  In case of ties, the teams shall split the total points earned.  For example, if two teamstie with the lowest aggregate net score, they would split the total points earned by the first and second place teams (15 points) and receive 7.5 points each.
  3.  After completion of play, scorecards shall be totalled and deposited in the designated receptacle for collection by the handicapper.  Each member in the group (two, three or foursome) must sign the scorecard.  Failure to sign the card will result in disqualification of the score of the offending member.  The last name and first name or initial should be printed for each member.  The handicapper shall not be required to "guess" at identity but shall reject any scores not clearly ascribable.
  4.  STORM WAIVER:  Under ordinary circumstances, if a player fails to complete 18 holes, that player's score will not qualify for the team competition or for individual prizes.  In the event that lightning or flooding forces one or more groups of players to leave the course prematurely, and are not able to resume their rounds on that day, the Board of Directors may waive this requirement.  In that case, if a player was able to complete 13 or more holes, the player's score will be completed by the handicapper according to USGA Handicapping Rule 4.2 and counted for the team competition and individual low gross and low net prizes.  The waiver is not automatic, however.  The Board may,instead, decide that the conditions were not severe enough or of sufficiently long duration that the round couldn't be completed.
  5.  The stroke-play champion shall be the team that has won the most points in season play.  If there is a tie for first place, the two or more tied teams shall, with the assistance of the secretary, arrange for an 18-hole playoff.  Six members per team will play.  The best five net scores count for the team.  If a tie still occurs, the tied teams will engage in a sudden-death competition with two players per team, selected by the team captain or representative.  The tiebreaker will begin at the first hole or another hole designated by the host professional or representative.  At each hole the aggregate net score for each team's two players will be matched against the other team(s).  A team whose net hole score is hagher than the lowest will be eliminated and the last remaining team will be the victor.
  6.  STROKE LIMITATION:  The USGA Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) will be used to limit the number of strokes a player may take before picking up on any one hole in stroke play (only).  ESC is based on a player's handicap for the course being played with:
  • 0-9 limited to double bogey
  • 10-19           7 strokes
  • 20-29           8
  • 30-39           9
  • 40+            10
  •   7.  Every NIHGA member shall play with at least one other NIHGA member.  Breach of this rule will result in disqualification from any prizes and from the team competition.  However, the player's score shall be used for reckoning the player's handicap.
    B.  Match Play
      1.  Teams shall be seeded in the order in which they finished in stroke-play competition;  ties for seeding shall be settled by coin flip of the Secretary.  For uneven numbers of teams, the stroke-play champion will get a bye in the first round of match play.
      2.  Each of the two teams paired together (normally six players per team) will compete in three four-ball matches over 18 holes.  A team must field a minimum of three players or forfeit all points.
      3.  Teams shall compete for a total of three points.  One point shall be at stake in each of three four-ball matches.  Each match shall be played to completion.  Any four-ball match which is tied at the end of 18 holes shall continue in sudden-death until the winner is determined.
      4.  Players with the highest handicaps on each team shall compete against each other, the second lowest against each other and so forth with the lowest against each other.  When the team fields less than six players, its team captain shall determine which position(s) not to field, provided the players are still paired in order of their handicaps.  This rule may be modified only by agreement of the opposing captains.
      5.  The player in each group with the lowest handicap shall play scratch.  All other players in that group shall receive the difference between their handicaps and the lowest handicap.  Strokes are to be taken in the order assigned on the players' respective score cards.  As specified in Rule 5J, each player shall play from the teeing area which he/she used during the stroke-play season.
      6.  If there are fewer than eight teams, one or more rounds in the loser bracket will require that three teams play against each other in three-ball match play.  The Board may also choose to schedule a three-ball final match to limit the required number of rounds.  In three-ball match play, each team shall select six players to compete in six threesomes, with each team represented in each group.  The awarding of points in the three-ball matches is as described in Rule B.7.  The team with the most points is the winner and will advance to the next round.  In at least one case, the second round of a seven-team draw, there may be two winners, who will advance, and one loser.  If, after this three-ball match-play competition, there is a tie for the one winner position, or for the one loser position, each of the teams which are tied shall select its lowest handicapped player to compete in a sudden-death playoff, as described in Rule B.7.  Play will continue until the required winner and/or runner-up are determined.
      7.  In the event three teams are involved in the final round of match play, each team shall select six players to compete in six threesomes, with each team represented in each group.  USGA Rule 30 shall be applicable in NIHGA three-ball match play.  Each player shall play two separate matches, competing individually against each of the other two players in the threesome.  Each threesome shall play for a total of three points;  the entire match, therefore, shall be contested for a total of eighteen points.  The winner of each separate match shall be awarded one point.  If a match between two players in a threesome is tied at the end of eighteen holes, the players shall split the point at stake.  Teams need only forfeit those points at stake in threesomes in which they are not represented.  If, after this final round, at least two teams are still tied for first place, each of the tied teams shall select its lowest handicap player to compete in a sudden-death playoff.  This playoff shall begin at the first hole of the host course unless otherwise determined by the host professional or his designee. All such playoffs shall be completed on the same day except as provided in the USGA Rules of Golf.
      8.  Only those players who have official NIHGA handicaps and have competed in two or more outings during the stroke-play season will be eligible for the match-play tournament.
      9.  In the event of discontinued play, a match shall be considered official if at least twelve holes have been played and the match is not tied.  Otherwise, the match shall be resumed, with the consent of the host course, with each group restarting at the hole on which the group discontinued play (by teeing off again) and the match shall be continued until one side is down more holes than remain to be played.  Lacking the consent of the host course, any match not considered official shall be rescheduled from the first tee at a time and place determined by the Secretary.
      10.  The match-play champions shall be the team that has completed the double-elimination tournament with less than two defeats.
      11.  Team captains should have their teams present and the pairing completed prior to the scheduled tee-off time.  Each team must have a minimum of three players physically present at the first tee prior to the first tee time scheduled for their match.  Any team or teams failing to comply with this rule shall be disqualified. (NOTE: "captains" include representatives).
      12.  USGA rules, in particular, Rule 30, "Three-Ball, Best-Ball and Four-Ball Match Play", local rules govern all applicable match play except as modified by NIHGA rules.
      13.  A late arrival may catch up with his/her group but not play the hole(s) he/she has missed.  Once his/her group has left the teeing area, he/she must wait until the next hole in order to join the group.

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    Rule 9 - Moving or Lifting a Ball in Play
    A. "Winter rules" or "preferred lies" will be permitted during all play.  Winter rules shall permit a player to improve his/her lie by moving his/her ball in the player's own fairway. providing the ball is not moved closer to the hole or more than six inches in any other direction.    The ball may be moved by a clubhead or it may be lifted by hand, cleaned (if desired) and placed in its new position.  No ball which lies in a rough or hazard shall be moved at any time except as permitted by USGA rules.
    B. Players may change balls on the green without declaring the ball unplayable.

    Rule 10 - Lost Ball and Ball Out of Bounds
    A. A ball which has been determined to have come to rest outside the defined boundaries of the course can be placed in the fairway on a line perpendicular to the centerline of the fairway and even with the point at which the ball left the course;  The point selected will be no less than five yards from the edge of the green.  Two penalty strokes will be added to the players score for the hole.
    B. If a ball is determined to be lost, the next shot can be played from the fairway and even with the point at which the ball was presumed lost.  The point selected will be no less than five yards from the edge of the green.  Two penalty strokes will be added to the players score for the hole.  No more than five minutes, from the time the player reaches the likely location of his/her ball, shall be spent searching for the ball.
    C. If a ball is known or thought to be out of bounds or lost, a player has the option to hit a provisional shot from the same spot to take a stroke-and-distance penalty instead of the two stroke penalty specified in paragraphs A and B.  The provisional shot must be hit before advancing to look for the possibly lost or out-of-bounds ball.  Going back for a stroke-and-distance penalty is not permitted.  If the original ball is found and is in-bounds, the original ball is the ball in play.

    Rule 11 - Annual Awards
    A. Trophies shall be awarded to the eligible members of the stroke-play championship team.
    B. Trophies shall be awarded to the eligible members of the match-play chanpionship team.
    C. The Directir's Cup shall be awarded to the member who has the lowest average gross score in his/her five (5) best stroke-play outings.  First-year members are ineligible for this award.  The winner of this award is not eligible for the most-improved player award.
    D. The President's Cup shall be awarded to the member who has the lowest average net score in his/her five best stroke-play outings.  First-year members are ineligible for this award.  The winner of this award is not eligible for the most-improved player award.
    E. The rookie-of-the-year award shall be awarded to the first-year member who has the lowest average net score in his/her five best stroke-pplay outings.
    F. A trophy shall be awarded for every hole-in-one by an NIHGA member competing in an NIHGA stroke-play or match-play event.
    G. A trophy shall be awarded to the most-improved player of the year, based on criteria developed and approved by the Board, upon recommendation of the Rules Committee.
    H. Awards shall be made to all Board members (officers and team captains, only) at the end of the season as a token of appreciation for their work during the year.

    Rule 12 - Protests
    A. All protests shall be forwaraded in writing to the chairman of the rules committee within five workdays of the match in question.  A copy of the protest shall be simultaneously sent to the opposing team captain.  The chairman shall then contact the opposing team captain and invite him/her ato submit a written rebuttal within three workdays.  The chairman shall then either convene the rules committee and reach a decision on the basis of the written statements alone or convene the committee and both paarties to the dispute to solicit verbal testimony in order to reach a decision.  No verbal testimony shall be sought or considered unless both paarties to the dispute are present at the time of the testimony.  The committee must, by majority vote, reach a decision within three weeks of receipt of the protest.  No member of the rules committee shall render any judgement pertaining to his/her own team.  In such cases, or when absence of a member of the committee would cause undue delay, the chairman shall appoint an ad hoc member who is agreeable to both parties.  If the chairman's team is involved, or if his/her absence would cause undue delay, the president shall appoint an ad hoc member who is agreeable to both parties and shall designate an ad hoc chairman.
    B. Any decision of the rules committee may be appealed to the board of directors if petitioned in writing by at least three officers of the BOD.  The appeal must be filed within five workdays of the receipt of the rules committee's decision, and the president must convene the board within five workdays of receipt of the appeal, and a final decision must be rendered at that meeting.  In such cases, no member of the rules committee nor involved party is eligible to vote and a two-thirds majority of all the members (exclusive of those ineligible to vote as noted above) is required to overturn the decisions of the rules committee.

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