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Are Rules Made to be Broken?

By: Barry Rhodes | Tue 06 Jan 2015 | Comments ()

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, a typical reaction to hearing about a player who has been penalised after completing their round, for a seemingly minor infringement of a Rule, is that the officials should have turned a blind eye to it. This is even more obvious if the breach was reported by a television viewer or on-course spectator, which many golfers 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 is a regular occurrence, or by a fellow competitor or observer bringing it to the player/officials attention. Let me 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 without being penalised for it, 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 a major, such as the Dustin Johnson ‘bunkergate’ episode at Whistling Straights in 2010, or the result of a £2 wager between two high handicappers. 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 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 on the golf course, 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 perhaps more pertinently, who are you going to play with? It may be convenient for a regular group of three or 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.

To conclude, let me emphasise some of the many positives that have arisen from 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, whether for amateurs or professionals.
  • The game is self-regulated, in that players are responsible for knowing the Rules (Rule 6-1) and are expected to notify their marker/fellow competitors/opponent of any penalties that they incur.
  • 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, which help to ensure that most games are played in a truly sporting manner.
  • The practice of ‘sledging’ (verbal insults or intimidation of an opponent, as opposed to ‘banter’) is unheard of in golf.

Of all sports, golf is widely recognised to be the one where players are expected to exercise the highest level of integrity regarding any penalties incurred. On the rare occasions where a player does not own up to breaching a Rule and you are aware of it, your duty is to inform the player, so as to protect the interests of all the others in the competition. Of course, the best way to deal with breaches and to avoid unpleasantness, is to try and stop the player before they commit one. Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

No Rules, no knowledge; know Rules, know knowledge.

As always, good golfing,


Related Content:

Article from Barry Rhodes author of the book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf 2016’

Barry is author of the book, ‘999 More Questions on the Rules of Golf 2016’ and writes a regular blog of miscellaneous content on the rules of Golf at www.barryrhodes.com



Barry Rhodes

Barry is author of the book, '999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2012 - 2015' and writes a regular blog of miscellaneous content on the rules of Golf at www.barryrhodes.com

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