RULES OF GOLF – PENALISING A FELLOW COMPETITOR

A large majority of Members have a better than average knowledge of the Rules of Golf, so I am confident that many of you will relate to this situation;

As I am getting more proficient in the rules, I try to point out a number of Rules matters during play and obviously after the round when situations are described by participants. Take as examples: a ball stuck in a tree, or a ball covered by leaves in a bunker moved during the search etc… Now a minority of fellow club members are less enthusiastic when they are playing in my fourball and here is their argument:

“Although we accept your Rules clarifications how many people on the course do you think would be aware that this is how the rules expect us to behave? So we’re getting assigned some penalties (or consequences) that no other player will inflict in their game; therefore, when playing with you, we are getting an unfair disadvantage towards the rest of the field”.

Quite original no? Obviously I take it in good spirit and in a sporty manner, however if you could suggest some great response (other than “the Rules are the Rules”) that would be highly welcome!

Obviously, this is a situation that I and more knowledgeable golfers are regularly faced with. In fact, I often excuse my high handicap by saying (jokingly) that it is because I know the Rules so well and constantly have to penalise myself. I had no totally satisfactory response to offer the above argument. A similar argument is advanced by those who believe that tournament officials should pay no heed to the ‘TV armchair officials’, who phone in when they observe a breach of Rule by a player; because that means that the top players, who naturally are featured more on television than their ‘journeymen’ counterparts, are therefore disadvantaged. My response to this argument is that if they consider it carefully most players would prefer to be properly penalised for an observed breach than to bear the stigma of repeatedly seeing it highlighted on social media if they ‘got away with it’, especially if they subsequently featured in the prize money. The English, European Tour Pro, Matthew Southgate, endorsed this point of view recently, after being hit with a penalty of four strokes, following a Rules incident where a leaf blown across the putting green diverted his ball in motion away from the hole and he did not take the putt again, as is required by Rule 19-1b;

“If I’d known the ruling, I’d have been the talk of the town for the right reason. I’d have replaced it, hit it in for a four and everybody would have said, ‘what a great Pro, what great knowledge of the Rules’. I would have had credit, instead of sympathy. And people also say I was unlucky because I had the cameras on me at the time. But if they weren’t, I’d have a PGA Tour card and I would have it by breaking the Rules. And imagine 10 years down the line when a leaf hits someone else’s ball and I’d see it and think, ‘that’s what happened to me and I shouldn’t be here’. How bad would that feel?”

So, returning to Club and Society competitions, it is my experience that most serious golfers, no matter what their handicap, prefer to constantly improve their understanding of the Rules, anticipating that this will also help them to reduce their handicap. There is no doubt that one of the easiest ways to remember a ruling is to have incurred a penalty for breaching it; another is when a fellow competitor interrupts you to prevent you from breaching a Rule, which is permitted, as information on the Rules of Golf is not advice.

This is my thoughts on how the game should be played;

“…. 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 Club Championship, 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 [at Whistling Straits in 2010], or as 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.”