I have seen things on a golf course that have made me cringe harder than I’ve ever cringed. Like the player who, when coming across his ball in the rough, spread open the leaves like Moses. He genuinely thought he could do it.
I’ve had to walk veteran golfers – these are people who have been members most of their lives – through the simplest of things.
We’re not talking complex sub-sections here. We’re talking where to drop a ball from a penalty area, nearest not nicest point of complete relief, and why you can’t just extract your ball from miles deep in a bush and take lateral relief by the side of a fairway.
These players aren’t cheating. If you asked them, they’d tell you they follow the rules to the letter. They believe it with all their hearts. The problem is they just don’t know the rules.
I was once one of them. I’ve made every mistake they have and I always thought my integrity was beyond reproach. I was ignorant and so, it pains me to write, are some of you.
I asked a refereeing pal of mine who’s been in the game a long time how he coped during a regular club competition when he’d see carnage going on all around him. He told me he’d simply learned not to look.
And yet, I am troubled. I’m bothered wondering how many times a player has won a tournament while inadvertently breaking the rules. I’m bothered by all the competitors who have been potentially ‘robbed’ of a prize, because others in the field didn’t know what they were doing.
And I’m bothered that the more we play to these ‘club rules’, the stuff that golfers think they can do but couldn’t be more wrong about, we perpetuate that lack of knowledge.
Don’t believe me? People still insist to me that they can declare their ball lost. You haven’t been able to do that since 1964.
Do what you want in a knock about. Prefer your lie, forget about stroke and distance, tee it up in the fairway for all I care. Strike your ball in absent minded blindness. Whatever makes you happy.
But when everyone pays their money or puts a card on the line, we need to hold ourselves to a better standard when it comes to knowing the rules. We need a basic level that everyone can cite.
So what’s the answer? I’d make every player who takes part in a competition complete the R&A’s Rules Academy.
Before you start bleating on about cost, it’s free. It covers the things that happen most on a golf course and, at the end of it, you can do the official R&A Level 1 exam.
It’ll take you an evening if you do from it start to finish but you can also go through it at your own pace.
Don’t tell me you haven’t got the time. You seem to manage the four hours required for a round every week easily enough.
You can’t play in a competition without a handicap. I’d make every golfer who wants to tee it up when a prize is at stake show they’ve passed that exam.
Then we’d all know what we were doing. And wouldn’t the competitive game be the better for it?
I’d go further when it comes to a few committees. Some of the stuff they do is head-scratching.
From disqualifying players for not putting a date on the scorecard (for the last time you can’t do it), to just inventing Local Rules for the sake of convenience, if you’re setting the rules or enforcing them at clubs you need to be held to a higher standard still.
The home unions hold regular seminars designed to precisely provide this service, with a Level 2 Rules of Golf exam at the end that will enable you to handle many of the queries that can end up at your doors.
I’d make this a requirement of getting involved. I know you’re all volunteers, and I commend you for it, but what’s the point of handing out decisions if you’re not up to the task?
The days of ignorance, of dodgy drops, and whispers rules, need to come to an end. We could make it happen in one night. So let’s do it.
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