News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 26, 2008

On and Off the Course: Original rules of golf have undergone changes

Jennifer Myers

TERRE HAUTE — In 1754 an event occurred which unknowingly would form a foundation of golf and how it is played to this day. The Gentlemen of Fife invited the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith to join them in forming the St. Andrews Society. The 22 men involved made a list of certain rules under which they wished to play. From then on, The St. Andrews Society (which would be named the “Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews” by King William IV in 1834) developed as the governing body for the rules of golf.

The original list was comprised of 13 rules, which they called “The Articles and Laws in playing the Golf.” Here is the original list [information came from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Golf, 1988 edition, page 16]

• 1. You must tee your ball within a club-length of the hole.

• 2. Your tee must be upon the ground.

• 3. You are not to change the ball which you strike off the tee.

• 4. You are not to remove stones, bones or any Break Club for the sake of playing your ball except upon the fair green and that only within a club length of your ball.

• 5. If your ball come among water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take your ball, and throwing it behind the hazard six yards at least. You may play it with any club and allow your adversary a stroke for so getting out your ball.

• 6. If your balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball till you play the last.

• 7. At holing, you are to play your ball honestly for the hole and not to play upon your adversary’s ball, not lying in your way to the hole.

• 8. If you should lose your ball by its being taken up or any other way you are to go back to the spot where you struck last and drop another ball and allow your adversary a stroke for the misfortune.

• 9. No man holing his ball is to be allowed to mark his way to the hole with his clubs or anything else.

• 10. If a ball be stopped by any person, horse, dog or anything else, the ball so stopped must be played where it lies.

• 11. If you draw your club in order to strike and proceed so far in the stroke as to be bringing down your club; if then your club shall break in any way, it is to be accounted

a stroke.

• 12. He whose ball lies furthest from the hole is obliged to play first.

• 13. Neither trench, nor ditch or dyke made for the preservation of the Links not the scholar’s holes or the soldier’s lines shall be accounted a hazard. But the ball is to be taken out, teed and played with any iron club. (Scholar’s holes referred to holes made by children in their play, according to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Golf.)

Many of those rules are still used today, although they are worded differently. Some have changed slightly, like No. 4. Now you may lift loose impediments on the green all the way to the hole, not just within a club length of your ball.

We must remember that these rules were first written for Scottish golf courses, more specifically they were adapted for the Society of St. Andrews Golfers from rules written for play on the Leith Links by the Company of Edinburgh Golfers. As time passed and more and more scenarios presented themselves, more rules and explanations were written.

The Rules Of Golf for 2008-2009 has 34 rules and three appendixes. Much of the length of the book is due to explanations of the rules and definitions of items mentioned. In order for a rule to be added or altered, any proposed change must be agreed upon by both the USGA and The R&A; Rules Limited. Rules changes come from two categories: improvements to the clarity of the rules and those that reduce or increase penalties.

After review a rules change was made that was in effect starting Jan. 1, 2008, of which golfers should be aware. Players can now lift their ball to identify it in a hazard. However, there is now a two-stroke penalty for playing a wrong ball from a hazard. This change was made because there were already other rules that allowed a player to lift his ball from a hazard, and because it will eliminate many difficult situations caused by the rule (such as when a player hits ball in a hazard that he thinks is his, but he hits it out of bounds or into another hazard, so he can’t ever be sure). It will also eliminate one large exception from the Rules. (

• • •

Quote of the Day: “You can play a damned good shot there and find the ball in a damned bad place.” — George Duncan, British Open champ, on St. Andrews.

Jennifer Myers can be reached by e-mail at