Have you ever heard of this term as it relates to golf? You probably have not as “Backstopping” is not one of the Definitions in the Rule Book. Nevertheless, this term has become the subject of some discussion in golf circles recently. “Backstopping” occurs in stroke play when one player does not mark and lift his or her ball near the hole, thereby giving another player the opportunity of using it as a “backstop.”
The adjacent photographs illustrate a backstopping scenario. In the first photograph, Player A, using an orange ball, has played a quality shot to within a foot of the hole. Rather than going forward to the hole to mark and lift his ball, he waits as his fellow-competitor, Player B, plays a chip shot from off the green.
The next three photographs show Player B’s chip shot (the white ball) approaching the hole, striking and moving Player A’s ball, and then ending up only 15 inches from the hole!
Here are the Rules that touch on this scenario. First, Rule 18-5 [Ball at Rest Moved by Another Ball] states, “If a ball in play is moved by another ball in motion after a stroke, the moved ball must be replaced.” Thus, Player A would be required to replace his orange ball on the spot where his ball originally came to rest near the hole.
Rule 19-5a [Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped by Another Ball at Rest] advises, in part, “If a player’s ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by a ball in play and at rest, the player must play his ball as it lies.” Thus, Player B would be permitted to putt his white ball from where it came to rest after it collided with the orange ball of Player A.
About now, you might be wondering, “So, what’s the problem with backstopping? If I was Player B, I’d take that result every time!”
Well, the problem arises given Rule 22-1 [Ball Assisting Play] which states, “Except when a ball is in motion, if a player considers that a ball might assist any other player, he may: a. Lift the ball if it is his ball; or b. Have any other ball lifted. In stroke play, if the Committee determines that competitors have agreed not to lift a ball that might assist any competitor, they are disqualified.” [Emphasis added]
From an officiating standpoint, the issue becomes one of determining whether the players have agreed not to mark a ball in order to possibly assist one of the players. If one of the players does not mark his ball near the hole simply because he wants to help a fellow-competitor, but without an agreement to do so between the parties, there is no penalty. The appearance of an agreement does not necessarily mean that an agreement has been made! A nearby Rules Official, upon observing that a ball has been left unmarked near the hole and in position to possibly assist a fellow-competitor, should intervene and have the ball marked in order to protect the field. Upon completion of that hole, that Rules Official should then have a quiet word with the players involved to make sure that they are aware of Rule 22-1 and its disqualification penalty. Also, the players should be advised that any subsequent observation of “backstopping” may be taken by the Committee as evidence of an agreement between the players that would then be a breach of Rule 22-1.