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The Rules Are There To Keep Us Honest

Diogenes spent many of his daytime hours wandering through Greek markets carrying a lit lamp exclaiming that he was only searching for an honest man. History tells us that he never was successful. Truth be known, he’d probably have about the same success rate looking for a legitimate golf handicap wandering through the GHIN rolls of the FSGA and, yes, the entire USGA.

This is not to say that we’re all sandbaggers with a higher handicap than we deserve, albeit, there are many who fit into that category. The problem is there are more whose handicaps aren’t as high as they should be.

Why? Because we don’t always play by the rules. This is not to say that the golf is played by droves of cheats; the fact is, we don’t know the rules well enough to observe them. Therefore, we’re taking drops in the wrong places. We’re taking relief we’re not entitled to take. In the name of speed, we’ll drop a ball at the spot where a ball inexplicably went out of bounds, or was never found instead of returning to the spot from which the ball was originally played.

“It seems like everyone has forgotten about hitting a provisional ball,” posed Jack Pultorak, the FSGA’s Director of Rules and Competitions. “It’s a ‘just in case’ ball. Think of it this way, you’ve just hit a bad shot and now you have a chance to hit a free practice shot and correct it.” (Just make sure sure you say the word “provisional” out loud before hitting one.)

That’s just one of the examples available. Pultorak freely admits that golf is played under the rules of two separate games.

“There’s the competitive game where the rules are strictly enforced,” he said, “and then there’s the ‘Saturday foursome with your buddies’ game where rules are often what you think they should be for that day. That’s a bit different. I love it when I hear guys say, ‘we’re playing by winter rules.’ It’s Florida, there are no winters.

“This would be like you and I decide that even though Michael Jordan played with a 10-foot high rim, we’re going to play with one set at eight feet.”

Getting to know the Rules of Golf is not an easy task. Although the USGA and the R&A have made an effort to simplify the language, it’s difficult at best. The degree of difficulty may lie somewhere between deciphering the Magna Carta and the Internal Revenue Service’s tax codes.

Better yet, say you develop a working knowledge of the rules, then to read the application of said rules, you have to get the Book of Decisions, a tome of hundreds into thousands of pages (the number changes as the rules change) that interprets the rules to fit situations.

“A better idea,” offers Pultorak, riding to the rescue of what sanity golfers still may possess, “is to look at the front of the new rule book. There you’ll find a section called ‘Quick Guide to the Rules of Golf.’ I strongly suggest that golfers do that. It will get them on the right track.”

Pultorak does offer another pitfall for you to avoid.

“The biggest problem is the golfer who thinks he knows the rules, but doesn’t,” he said. “He knows just enough to be dangerous and that’s what he is, dangerous.”

If you were to key on certain rules and learn all their vagaries, Pultorak has three suggestions that you might want to study.

“Living in Florida, particularly with the rains in the summer, we should all be familiar with what to do if our ball is in casual water, but many times we’re not,” he said. “With all the water hazards we have on Florida courses, we should know the procedures for water that has red stakes, or yellow stakes, but we don’t. There are a lot more options than golfers think and some can really help for the next shot. The third is fire ants. Yes, you get relief from fire ants, but not red ants. There are a few variations to this situation.”

Pultorak is right on at least two of the three. Personally, I’m not going to get on my hands and knees to determine the particular breed of ankle-nipping miniature beast is surrounding my ball while waiting for a fleshy leg to gnaw on. The phrase “fire ants” works just fine for me.

Here’s a challenge for you. This summer, try your hardest to play at least five rounds by the letter of the Rules of Golf and compare your scores to the ones you’ve been posting playing relaxed and casual golf. You might be surprised.


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