Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Rules of Golf Unlimited

If you play by the rules or at least think you play by the rules, read on.  If you don’t and don’t care – well, I kinda wish I could join you.  You see, the rules of golf are WAY TOO COMPLICATED!  I’ve been playing the game for over….well, a very long time… and there are still occasional situations when I’m not certain what the ruling would be. 

The Rules of Golf are archaic, confusing, and sometimes obscure.  The USGA and the R & A started jointly making and publishing the rules in 1952.  I’m not completely sure about this, but I don’t think there has been a substantial  reassessment of the rules since.   Think how much the game has changed!  When I began to learn the game, my father taught me one principle that was far more important than any one rule – honor.  Golf is a game of honor.  Over the years and after hundreds and probably thousands of “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” the concept of honor being foremost has been diminished.  With each decision on each obscure little situation the integrity of the Rules as a whole is eroded. 

Today, if you’re playing in sanctioned tournament and have an odd situation it’s likely that someone in your group is going to claim to know the ruling and they’ll be certain they are right.  Now if you are uncertain about what to do, that can be welcomed since it eliminates conflict within the group and keeps play moving.  Of course there’s always the off chance that someone some distance away will observe what has happened and take a different view and even make a complaint at the scorer’s table.  Then there’s also the chance that the ruling you agreed upon within the group was wrong and you could be disqualified.  Honor in golf is as much about trusting your fellow competitors as it is about being honest and forthright in your own game.  Too often, players interfere or question when there is no good reason to suspect that the player has done something that is not within the rules.  Last year, I was playing in my golf  league which is match play.  The weather was dry and there was no reason to assume that my ball might have picked up mud or other debris on it.  My ball was on the collar and my opponents ball lay just beyond me in the rough on a line with the hole.  She asked me to mark my ball and remove it.  I did so and as I stood and watched her play her shot, I thoughtlessly tossed the ball back and forth between my hands.  After she played, another player in my group claimed that I could be penalized for what I just did.  I thought she was kidding.  I knew that I could not clean my ball, but I also knew that my ball had nothing on it and that my actions were not in any way affecting the surface of the ball.  But she insisted that after marking your ball when it is off the green you must hold it between your thumb and forefinger out in front of you so that your opponent can see that you aren’t doing anything to clean it.  Again, at first I thought she was joking, but then I began to second guess myself.  It was only after questioning the Pro after we finished and then following up to confirm with a USGA rules offical a couple of weeks later that I was relieved to know that I was right and there is no prescribed way that the ball must be handled.

Now this example is particularly poignant to my case.  There is no honor in accusing a fellow competitor of a rules violation without being absolutely certain yourself.  Golf has promoted the idea that each player has a responsibility to the field in a stroke play tournament to assure the Rules are followed.   For too many people this means that they should act if they are suspicious.   Too often, people make accusations based upon an obscure rule they violated or were accused of violating (as was the case in my example).  I sometimes think that there are people out there that relish the chance to show their “superior” Rules knowledge by “catching someone”.  Perhaps its more of a masque for their own poor knowledge and lack of judgement.

This is but one aspect of my issues with the Rules and the way they are applied.  However, I do believe as my father told me long ago that honor is at the root of this game and we need to rein in the Rules and restore the power of the game to its players.

I would guess there are relatively few people playing the game today that know the rules well enough to complete a round without at least one violation.  Furthermore, I estimate that less than 1% of all golfers are equipped to make rulings to the satisfaction of the USGA.  The first statement is an indictment of the rambling, confusing nature of the Rules, while the second is an indictment of the USGA and its thirst for power and the almighty dollar.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with the USGA.  They have not held me back in any way, in fact, personally and professionally they have been completely fair.  However, the longer I observe the game and its growth (and recent stagnation) the more I feel that the USGA’s policies are at the root. 

For much of the 20th century golf was a sport for the wealthy and known to be very expensive and exclusive.  About the time the USGA and R&A began cooperating on the rules, things began to change and by the time Arnold Palmer was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame the game was accessible financially to nearly everyone.  When I was growing up “real” golfers played more than once a week – my father played nearly every day for over 40 years.  Today that’s a pipe dream, unless you can afford a club membership or season pass.  There’s a lot more than too many rules wrong with this game, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. 

I for one want to see simpler rules that speed play.


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