• Wednesday 20th September 2017

The Rules of Golf

Posted by: Iain Carter | Date: 10/02/2017

By Iain Carter.

While playing golf with my mate Len, he told the me the story of the first time he played the alternate shot foursomes format. Len was new to the game and not terribly au fait with the nuances of the rules. On this particular day, his partner knocked the ball into a lake. This chap then showed he was even less cognisant with the rulebook with his erroneous interpretation of what should happen next. He reasoned that because they were now liable to a one shot penalty, that stroke took account of what would be Len’s hit and so it should remain his turn to play.

Len’s partner then proceeded to dispatch his next shot straight back into the drink – and, yes, they again went on to make the same rules breach. It was only when they returned to the clubhouse that the pro, between fits of giggles, explained where they had gone wrong. The reason Len was telling me this tale was because we were discussing what is likely to prove an historic shift in the rules of golf when they are next published.

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The current 231 page rulebook is in the process of being ripped up by the R and A and USGA and every one of the 34 rules that govern the game is under review. We should know more in the next month as the two bodies who run the game will put out their ideas for a consultation period.  At this point all golfers will have the opportunity to submit observations. And after the plans have been reviewed they will be modified as necessary and are expected to come into being in 2019. Already we have heard some of the ideas being considered. For example, they are looking to cut the time allowed to look for a lost ball from five to three minutes to benefit pace of play. Golfers may also be allowed to drop a ball from any height, rather than level with the shoulders.   Being rather vertically challenged, I had never considered before how the rule discriminates against taller players.

Currently you are only allowed to repair pitch marks on greens, spikemarks on the line of a putt are bad luck – or “rub of the green” as the rulebook terms it.  This looks likely to change under this initiative and we will be able to attend to them as well. The authorities are also looking at the designation of lakes and the like with more emphasis on lateral water hazards designated by red markers.

Let me confess, I have just spent the last ten minutes trying to make sense of the rulebook on this matter and it is not straightforward, even to someone who has been playing the game for the last 40 years. Here’s the definition of a lateral water hazard: “… a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the committScreen Shot 2017-02-10 at 10.25.44ee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with rule 26-1b.”

So that’s clear then.

The definition then lumbers into the exact meaning of the “margin of the hazard” and there are three further notes on the subject.  It is largely impenetrable stuff for those of us not blessed with the sharpest of legal minds. Yet, even though this is a simple ball an stick game, it has to be this way because of the innumerable possibilities of what might happen over the vast and variable weather dependant terrain of a golf course. The language has to be precise but cumbersomely complex to cover the countless eventualities inherent in the game.  So this overhaul is a huge challenge, but one that needs to be met.

If golf wants to attract new players and retain existing ones then its rules have to be simpler and easier to understand.  They also need to be fair and just, to make the game as appealing as possible. Clearly Len’s misfortune in his early golfing days did not put him off our great game, but a less resolute player might have been lost to golf through a simple lack of understanding. Mind you, I should also tell you that two holes after our conversation Len erroneously played my ball which also led to me hitting his (definitely his fault!).

It was a single stableford and both of us ended up entering blobs on our scorecards for the hole in question. Some things never change.