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Golfers often grouse about the rules, but the official United States Golf Association (USGA) book, “The Rules of Golf,” should be your best friend. Open the cover, read it, get to know it and you will have a pal for life.
The rule book will help you through difficult situations; it will guide you through the swamps, rivers, bunkers and rabbit holes you may encounter on the course. It will not only help you deal with snakes and alligators and bulkheads, it will tell you what to do with fellow golfers who try to tell you what club to hit to that nasty island green.
Playing golf is more fun when you know the rules. You will play with confidence because when something bad happens (you shank your ball into someone’s yard just beyond a small white stake), you’ll know how to deal with it.
Last week, the Carolinas Golf Association (CGA) had one of its many annual rules seminars at The Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington. These rules sessions are conducted all over North and South Carolina to help golf professionals and amateurs learn more about the rules that govern the game of golf.
Jason Cox, director of Junior Golf for the CGA, conducted the seminar. Yeah, yeah, I can hear the yawns now. A rules seminar? I’d rather watch paint dry.
On the contrary, my friend, the seminar was fun, exciting and educational. There were questions from the audience and stories about real life rules disputes that decided tournaments (or bets). There was debate and laughter. Jason did a great job with a very enthusiastic audience.
“The Rules of Golf are reviewed and revised every four years,” Jason said. “It’s the same year we elect the president, so it’s easy to remember. The rules were revised in 2008 and the next revision will occur in 2012. In between, there are “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” that are put into a larger booklet. These help everyone understand real situations where the rules need to be interpreted.”
According to Jason, the first thing a golfer should read is Section II: Definitions, at the beginning of “The Rules of Golf.” Everything from “Abnormal Ground Conditions” to “Wrong Putting Green” is defined in these pages.
Golfers should read through these definitions to understand the rules. For example, “a ‘stroke’ is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a ‘stroke.’ ”
In other words, a golfer can balk without penalty. Just don’t let the clubhead hit the ball and you won’t be charged with a stroke. If you whiff, that counts as a stroke because you did not check your swing. If you strike the ball and it moves 2 inches, that’s a stroke too.
Some words are very potent in “The Rules of Golf,” according to Jason. “May” means something is optional, like Rule 4-4b, which states, “Partners May Share Clubs.”
“Should” means that a certain action is preferred, while “must” means exactly that. Rule 25-3b states that “If a player’s ball lies on a wrong putting green, he must not play the ball as it lies. He must take relief, without penalty as follows.…”
“Golf is the only sport where the players are their own referee,” Jason said, “so it’s important for everyone to learn the rules. If you know the rules, you’ll be more confident and relaxed when you play in a tournament, a guest day, or even in a Saturday pickup game.”
I thought I knew most of the rules but learned a lot during the seminar. For example, I learned when you turn in a signed score card, it is not a DQ or a penalty if you have totaled the score wrong. On the other hand, if you put down a wrong score on a hole, two things happen. If your score is lower than the actual score you shot on the hole, it is an automatic disqualification. If you put down a higher score than what you actually had, the higher recorded score remains. Your bad.
“Be careful when you write down scores,” Jason advised. “Check with the others in your group after each hole. You don’t want a big DQ.”
Now that many of us have range finders, sharing information on distance is fine and not a breach of rules. You can check your GPS and tell your group how far it is to the green and there is no penalty. You can look at a marked sprinkler head and do the same.
You cannot tell someone what club to hit, but you can tell that person how far it is to the green. Distances are considered common knowledge.
Rule 12 is about identifying your ball anywhere on the course. Today you can move sand or sticks or leaves to identify your ball in a bunker, but the golfer must only pull enough debris off the ball to identify it, then he must replace it. For example, if your ball plugs under the lip of a bunker, you can scrape away enough sand to identify the ball, but then you must put the sand back as it was before. Same with leaves. You can now move leaves in a bunker to identify your ball, but then you must put them back.
Previously, you were never to touch anything in a bunker. Now you can, but just enough to identify your ball.
Under the rules of golf, if your ball is sitting in the middle of the fairway covered with mud, too bad. You can scrape off only enough mud to tell if it’s your ball, but you must leave the rest. You cannot take out your towel and wipe the ball clean; you cannot put it in your pocket and then bring it out again, miraculously clean.
Some clubs adopt local rules that allow you to lift, clean and place your ball, but that is not permitted if you’re playing real golf by the real “Rules of Golf.” Many of the golf leagues in this area allow golfers to lift, clean and place year round. Jason told me that, according to the USGA, moving the ball in the fairway (sometimes called “winter rules”) gives the average golfer three fewer strokes on his handicap.
It makes sense. If you can always have an optimum lie on your fairway, you’ll get better scores and your handicap will be lower than you really deserve.
“You lose handicap strokes when you move the ball,” said Jason. “It’s better to play it down, because that’s how golf was meant to be played and that’s how handicaps are computed.”
So, dear golfers, get a rule book and read it. The latest edition has all the changes highlighted in red, so you can see what’s different now from when you last looked at the rules 10 years ago.
Also, go to the CGA Web site at www.carolinasgolf.org. It has schedules of all the 2009 CGA tournaments, junior golf listings, rules quizzes and the latest news on golf in the Carolinas. It’s a great place to surf.
GOLF GAB GROANER
A game in which a little white ball is chased around by men too old to chase anything else.
A game in which the slowest people in the world are those in front of you and the fastest are those behind.
Just like life, you strive for the green, but end up in the hole.
A game where you match your skill against your opponent’s luck.
A game where the secret is to hit the ball hard, straight and not too often.
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.