Out of Bounds: The C-word and its undoubted place in all levels of golf

Cheating is the antithesis of the moral code that exists in golf, but people still do it

Scotland’s Elliott Saltman (pictured) received a a three month suspension from the European Tour in 2011. Photo: Getty Images

What would you do if it happened to you?

Have you turned a blind eye when a player in your four-ball has grounded the club in a bunker?

Has there ever been a time when someone has taken a fresh air and, after he’s taken another “practice swing” in pretending the initial attempt wasn’t for real, did you also collude in the charade?

Or what if someone noticeably marks the ball in the wrong place on the green?


Then, there’s the case of someone who is clearly mathematically challenged and has forgotten the number of shots taken to play a hole.

“Four for me!”

“Sure about that?”

A furrowed brow, some movement of the head as each shot is replayed. “Sorry, five!”

But what do you do if he or she sticks at four? And you know differently. This is covered in the Rules of Golf, with Rule 6-6a outlining the duty of the marker to check each score with the player but Rule 6-6b providing for the marker’s signature of verification. If in doubt, don’t sign. In that instance, it is up to the committee to resolve the matter. The onus is now on them.

There is a five-letter word in golf – C-H-E-A-T – that is so rarely used because it is akin to an accusation of a most grievous crime being committed.

Cheating is the absolute antithesis of the moral code that exists in the sport, be it in the amateur or the professional game. Men, women, young and old, all play (supposedly) by that code of honour. There is an integrity that is in-built, established from the time that a player first plays.

But cheating happens, in many guises because golf is a game of many shots played not always on the fairway or in clear line of sight, and the onus is on the player marking the card to make the hard call if convinced of any wrongdoing. That means a refusal to sign the card and effectively handing the matter over to the committee running the competition, regardless of what happens afterwards, allows for a clear conscience.

The stigma of being caught out as a cheat, or any aspiration as such, is often sufficient to deter players. But it is not always so, and the argument that prizes are too attractive – in club events – is not so applicable any more with the GUI and the ILGU keeping a watching brief on what exactly captains put up on their big day annually.

Is cheating widespread? Personally, I don’t believe so. Yes it remains an issue, but the route is there for markers and playing partners to call it. And the onus is on the marker to call it, rather than to turn a blind eye. Conflict is often difficult, but sometimes it is the only way to find a resolution.

And the five-letter C-word is not one confined to the ordinary player. If anything, the huge prizes – and tour cards – that exist on the professional circuits mean that temptation can occur: which is why the actions of Stuart Davis and Marcus Higley should be the examples used in explaining the duty of every player convinced that a wrong must be punished.

It is all of six years since a Scottish golfer by the name of Elliot Saltman was suspended by the European Tour. In this instance, there was no such thing as video recall or slow motion definition pictures.

Davis and Higley were playing with Saltman in the Russian Challenge on the Challenge Tour and refused to sign his card after both were convinced that he incorrectly marked his ball on a green. It was said he replaced his marker at eight o’clock rather than 12 o’clock and materially changed the direct line of the putt.

It marked a low point in Saltman’s career – he was subsequently suspendedby the European Tour for three months, in a season when he’d acquired his full tour card – but the actions of Davis and Higley served as an example of why you should always call it as you see it. So it was then, and so it is now.