Why is it that a large number of Joe or Josephine Publics suppose that rules, not just the Rules of Golf, are primarily made for others and don’t really apply to themselves? Cases in point are exceeding speed limits, parking in restricted areas, incomplete income disclosure on tax returns, exaggerated expense claims and using a mobile phone in the Clubhouse. In golf, it seems that every time we hear of a player being penalised for an infraction of a Rule, a typical reaction is that the officials should have turned a blind eye to it. This is even more obvious if the breach has been reported by a television viewer or on-course spectator, which some claim is unfair, as it means that the more well-known players, who appear on our televisions most regularly, are being scrutinised more closely than the outsiders. I take a different view in that I want every breach of the Rules to be fairly penalised, either by the player calling it upon themselves, which I am pleased to say regularly happens, or by a fellow competitor or observer bringing it to the player/officials attention. Put it this way, I have never got close to winning the Captain’s prize at my Club, but if by some miracle I was to come second and then find out that the winner had breached a Rule and had not been penalised, I would probably be apoplectic. Now this may seem an extreme example, but in my mind, exactly the same principle applies whether the avoidance of a penalty incurred affects the winning of the PGA Championship, as it might have done with Dustin Johnson, or the result of a $2 dollar wager between two hackers. The only way to fairly compete in any sport or game is for the players to be playing to the same Rules. There has to be a level playing field.
So, why are the there so many Rules of Golf and why are they so convoluted? Consider that they have evolved over a period of over 250 years and far from being the creation of a few blue blazers in the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse at St. Andrews they amalgamate the combined experiences of around 140 national affiliated organisations, who in turn reflect the experiences of the Clubs and their members that they represent. The procedure is that if a Golf Committee anywhere in the world has any doubt about a ruling, then a representative of that Committee can submit written details to the USGA (United States and Mexico) or the R&A (anywhere else in the world). These Ruling Bodies receive about 3,000 such requests every year. Naturally, most rulings can be made from the current Rules of Golf or Decisions on the Rules of Golf. However, when a new situation arises, then it will be referred to the Rules of Golf Committee who meet twice a year to discuss any revisions that may be required. After consultation with amateur and professional golfing bodies worldwide revisions may be made to the Decisions, which are published every two years, and/or to the Rules of Golf, which are published every four years. The large number of the Rules and Decisions is therefore a result of the need to provide consistent rulings on any possible situation that may possibly occur, regardless of geographical location, climate, topography, or any outside influences that could pertain.
If you don’t accept the Rules of Golf, as enforced by the USGA and R&A, then whose Rules are you going to use and just as importantly, who are you going to play with? It may be convenient for a regular flight of four players to play to their own ‘casual’ rules, but as soon as they want to play a little more competitively they are going to run into trouble. If you are not playing by all the Rules of Golf, no matter how silly they may appear to you, you are not playing golf.
Finally, let me emphasise some of the many positives that have arisen due to the strict way in which the Rules of Golf are applied;
- There is one unified set of Rules that applies to every official golf competition worldwide.
- The game is self-regulated in that players are responsible for knowing the Rules (Rule 6-1) and call any penalties incurred on themselves.
- The large majority of golf rounds are played without the presence of referees, umpires or officials.
- In addition to the Rules of Golf there are well-defined matters of etiquette, as a result of which most games are played in a truly sporting manner
- The practice of ‘sledging’ (verbal insults or intimidation of an opponent) is unheard of in golf.
- Of all sports, golf is recognised as the one where players are expected to exercise the highest level of integrity.
No Rules, no knowledge; know Rules, know knowledge.
* I am aware that it was actually a PGA Tour byelaw that Jim Furyk breached when he missed his tee time at the Pro-Am. However, this arises from Rule 6-3; “The player must start at the time established by the Committee.”
Barry Rhodes is;
- Author of the book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’
- Author and narrator of the CD, ’99 Golden Nuggets to Demystifying the Rules of Golf'
- Content provider for the iPhone application, ‘Golf Rules Quiz’