News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 20, 2009

On and Off the Course: The obscure of golf's rulebook

By Jennifer Myers

TERRE HAUTE — Golfers know that the rules that govern the game are abundant. The game originated in the 15th century on the links of Scotland, and somehow as time went on and people became more civilized, rules were adopted.

Apparently, bashing one’s opponent with a cleek was an unfair way to settle an argument. Since the Royal and Ancient first formed a Rules Committee in 1897, rules have been interpreted, added, updated and changed, giving us the “34” rules that we have today, although each of those 34 rules has amendments and decisions to go with them.

The rules governing relief from abnormal ground conditions have changed over time. The original sand bunkers were made by sheep making burrows to protect themselves from the strong Scottish wind.

Therefore, early golfers pretty much played the ball as it lied, and were not granted much in the way of relief. In 1812 and 1829 however, rules were written granting no relief for a ball in a rabbit scrape — the player must play it as from any common hazard — but from a rabbit burrow the player could drop behind and play with an iron.

Golfers at the Old Course in Scotland battled for control of the links with rabbit farmers until the 1820s, causing burrows and scrapes to be mentioned. The 1947 version of the USGA Rules of Golf adopted similar rules, allowing relief for holes, casts and runways made by a burrowing animal, a reptile or a bird.

What about goose excrement? While it’s not specifically mentioned in the USGA rules, I’m assuming that those courses that have to deal with that problem have a local rule about that. And if the courses haven’t publicized a local rule, hopefully common sense would prevail and all the players would agree that relief was the best option!

The replacement of broken clubs during a round can be another misunderstood rule. Basically, if a club is broken during the normal course of play, such as by hitting a tree on a follow-through, it may be replaced. A club broken in anger during a round cannot be replaced. A club being used as a cane that gets broken, it turns out, is considered to be during the normal course of play and it can be replaced.

Here are some other notes on the rules that I hear questioned often:

n If you inadvertently knock your golf ball off the tee at address, you may replace it with no penalty.

n If your ball lies near a rake in a bunker, you get relief from the rake since it is a movable obstruction. If the ball moves while moving the rake, it must be replaced with no penalty.

Even though the rules of golf are very thorough, not every situation can be covered. If playing partners do not know or can’t agree on a ruling, playing a second ball for that hole is usually the best way to proceed.

Quote of the Day: “ Golf was invented by some Scotsman who hit a ball, with a stick, into a hole in the ground. The game today is exactly the same, except that it now takes some ninety-odd pages of small type to ensure that the ball is hit, with the stick, into the hole in the ground without cheating.

— A.S. Graham