How to Tell If You’re Being Cheated During a Round of Golf

Throughout golf’s entire history, it has had the reputation for integrity and for the most part, that is true. Unfortunately there are certain personalities or personality types that have no hesitation about trying to gain an edge. In this article are some tips for what to look for to hopefully prevent you from being cheated.

Cheating is defined as “to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.” Some forms of it are blatant and easy to identify, but other forms are quite subtle and extremely difficult to detect.

Having spent the majority of my life around golfers of various ability levels, I have seen it all. The thing that is really surprising is that the reason most people get cheated is they have this image of a cheater being a somewhat shady character that is relatively easy to identify. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is impossible to identify them on sight and they come in all ability levels from tour players on down.

One of my favorite stories gives insight into the lengths some people will go to in order to gain an advantage.

A young pro, in one of his first events, is standing by his ball in the rough about 230 yards from the flagstick. Visualizing the shot he wants to play, he looks down at his ball, then at the flag, then down at his ball, then at the flag. As he does, he taps his right foot up and down. His shoe just happens to be so placed that with each tap, the grass is compressed; the ball sits up better.

Finally, he looks at his caddie with his best-practiced, gimlet-eyed, flat belly stare. “What do you think it is?” he asks. “Two-iron?”

The caddie doesn’t blink. He’s been around, done his tour hard time. He checks the lie, the tapping foot. “Not yet,” he replies.

That’s just one example of how creative people can get when trying to gain an edge. By far the most common form of cheating is something most people are familiar with – “Sandbaggers.”


Sandbagging is having an inflated handicap that is not a true reflection of how good someone really is. The individuals that do this and learned very subtle techniques that are extremely difficult to prove in spite of the best efforts of the USGA and other organizations. If there was a way to totally prevent it, every golf organization in the world would use it.

Several pages could be dedicated to describing how people sandbag and it still wouldn’t change the fact that if they are determined they will find a way. The most common is when they are in a match and realize they aren’t likely to win, they end up always taking whatever their maximum allowable score is. If you are going to make par, they will rarely make bogey.

There is even a legal way to sandbag. At one club I had a group of golfers that always played together and in the winter, when the fairways were dormant, they would play from the back tees and play the ball as it lies. When spring arrived and the tournament season started they would win everything. They tournaments were never played from all the way back and usually invoked lift, clean, and place which was good for several strokes off their previous scores.

The good news here is that the other golfers in the club or league know who they are and will be happy to tell you.

While there is no magic solution for sandbaggers, here are some good tips on other forms of cheating to watch out for.

Golfers That Never Lose a Ball

They will miraculously find their ball in an area where no one is looking at the moment and it will generally be a decent lie. They will claim any ball you find as their own.

The best defense against these people is to always ask them what ball they were playing when you find one before they do. They will usually ask what you found or say they aren’t really sure or some other terrible excuse.

They Never Have an Unplayable Lie

These golfers never have to take a penalty drop because they can’t play the ball from where it is. They always manage to have an open shot. They are not stymied by trees no matter how deep in the woods they hit it.

They are Always Lifting Their Ball to Identify It

These golfers take advantage of the USGA rule that says you are allowed to identify your ball.

Rule 12-2, a ball may be lifted for identification. The player must announce his intention to lift the ball to an opponent, fellow-competitor or marker, and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift the ball and identify it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement.

This may be done anywhere on the course, including when the ball lies in a hazard (Rule 12-2).

The part that they don’t adhere to is letting you watch the whole process. By the time you get there, the ball has been replaced in a great lie. Fortunately the vast majority of golfers are not this way and would never think about cheating. Even if they did, hopefully their conscience would bother them so bad that it would ruin their game for the rest of the day.

Written by BP Staff

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