Rules of Golf should be banished to Room 101

Personally I would have one page of rules and 10 pages of etiquette and behaviour


There’s a programme on the Beeb called Room 101. In it people you have vaguely heard of or you sort of recognize (celebrities, that is what they are) offer suggestions for things, people or yokes that they wish to throw down a big hole that connects to the oblivion of room 101.

When, eventually, my lifetime plan of becoming a celebrity takes hold and I get invited onto the programme I have my candidate for Armageddon all parceled up and ready for the trip.

Well, technically, my candidate is currently gathering mould in a long-abandoned golf bag in a shed at the bottom of the garden.

My candidate is the Rules of Golf.

“But why, Martyn, why for Ben Hogan’s sake, why?” I hear you cry.

Well ,I will explain.

Their marbles
Firstly, no one in full possession of their marbles has ever read, studied and inwardly digested the Rules of Golf. There are 200 pages of them and a further billion pages of decisions, arbitrations, rulings and judgements.

I have got by, for almost 60 years now, playing golf at various competitive levels without reading the rules.

My trophy cabinet of three electric carving knives (perfect for me, the vegetarian golfer), a wifi speaker, three clocks encased in glass and, the zenith, The Presidents Prize, Woodford Golf Club, 1963 were all won on the back of total ignorance of the rules of the game I was playing.

Thus, we might deduce, they were probably illegally gained ‘cos who knows what laws I transgressed whilst I was being triumphant. I don’t. I suspect that I am not alone in operating in this netherworld of playing golf without being quite sure of the finer details of the game I am playing.

The truth is that absolutely no one except one particular acquaintance of mine, knows the rules. And I’m not sure about him. After all, I only have his word for it.

Since last week we know that Rory McIlroy doesn’t know the Rules of Golf. We have known,since last year’s Masters,that neither does Tiger Woods.

Being sliced
Nor does poor Simon Dyson who is currently being sliced in bits for doing something that would come naturally to any ordinary person.

Tapping down a spike mark. Who wears spikes these days apart from Miguel Angel Jimenez?

Now if Simon Dyson had brushed some of Miguel Angel Jimenez’s cigar ash off the line of his putt then that would have been okay – assuming he had brushed in the manner prescribed by the R&A.

Neither does Pádraig Harrington who illegally fixed a pitch mark which was just off the green and was deemed to have improved his lie. Which was a lie in itself, of course. He was just being considerate of other golfers, which is as it should be.

Neither, it seems, do Senior Tour players know the Rules of Golf. You would think with all their years of experience they would.

But no, they don’t. I was only told today, as part of the deep background research The Irish Times demands for these exposees, that a Senior Tour golfer was recently seen on TV consulting with a referee as the senior player didn’t know his arse from his elbow rules-wise. So the referee was consulted. And he decided.

And according to the commentators on the television box the referee got it wrong too.

Know the rules
So that is professionals, senior professionals and professional referees – they don’t know the rules.

But then maybe the TV commentators know the rules. Except, apparently, after the episode with the senior professional and the referee they disagreed over the matter. So the TV commentators don’t know the Rules . . .

But what about the R&A themselves. surely they know the Rules of Golf? No, apparently they don’t.

That friend of mine, He Who Has The Wisdom, (so he says), organised a couple of quizzes based on the Rules of Golf.

Oh yes, you should hang out with me and my friends – life in the fast lane. He told me that when he got the idea he wrote to the R&A who kindly sent him, in return, 20 questions and answers for his quiz.

Unfortunately, he said, one of the answers they sent was wrong. So even the R&A don’t know the rules. Neither, of course, did the participants in his quiz. But we knew that already, didn’t we.

So if no one knows the rules then, pray tell, what is the point of them?

Why are they necessary? Golf is simple. Hit ball, with suitably approved equipment, from tee A to hole B. Count the number of times you hit the ball and that is it.

If you get waylaid in the process by an offending, bush, lake, dinosaur print or any other obstruction chuck another ball down close by, not nearer the hole and add a shot to your score. End of. No need for a zillion debates on what is fair and what isn’t.

All playing
Nothing in life is fair but if we are all playing the same course then we all have the same chance to wind up in a bush, lake or hole made by a burrowing animal.
Then you can add a bit about not taking advantage and that would be it, really. Golf as it is played every day by thousands of people who have never even seen the Rules of Golf, yet alone read them.

Peter Dobereiner, the late and actually great golf correspondent of the Observer claimed that there were two things which would improve the game of golf.

Demon putter
The first was that the size of the hole should be increased so golf became more about hitting shots rather than being a demon putter.

The second was that the Rules of Golf should be written on the back of the scorecard. He was not wrong.

Personally I would have one page of rules and 10 pages of etiquette. If anything ruins the game it is people who don’t know how to behave on a golf course, not people who don’t know the rules. I’ll write about that next year.

That is a threat, not a promise.

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