I like to play by the rules. I think most of us do. It’s that word – integrity – that sets golf apart from lots of other sports.
Wanting to follow the laws of the game, though, and being able to do so, have been two largely different things for many club players.
Yes, we all know what happens when we hit a ball out of bounds and we know we can’t ground our club next to our ball in a bunker. But do you know, for example, all the options available to you when considering taking relief from an unplayable ball?
Good on you if you do, but there are plenty of players with only a hazy recollection of their choices when it comes to some of the fundamental tenets of the Rules.
The R&A and USGA, as they build up to the updated Rules of Golf coming into effect on January 1 next year, have issued the Player’s Edition of the Rules.
It’s designed to be a shorter, more user-friendly, version and it will be the primary way we club golfers interact with them during our friendly rounds and competitions.
So does it make things easier? Will it help us get round the course without unknowingly committing a load of infractions?
I’ve had the Player’s Edition in my hands for a couple of days, and chatted to R&A rules chief David Rickman about it, so let’s take a look at how it might assist us all play the game as intended…
1. It’s less intimidating
Many of us are put off even before we start when it comes to the Rules. The old, full, version that appeared every couple of years looked like it easily fitted in your bag but it was an unwieldy beast. It weighed in at 230 pages and probably could have been double that.
It was absolutely crammed with text. It took two pages just to explain how to use the book and even the ‘Quick Guide’ was eight pages long and required your full concentration.
Visually, the Player’s Edition is much more appealing. It’s 160 pages, the text is much more spread out and it’s far easier on the eye.
“One of my long established frustrations was when people said ‘the Rules of Golf are too complicated’,” said David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director – governance, a key player in the formation of the new Rules.
“When you ask the follow-up question, it became clear that the rule book was so intimidating that actually they hadn’t got past the front cover, or the index, or had tried to find the right answer but couldn’t.
“In some ways, those were the most frustrating episodes for me and so the new Player’s Edition, in particular, is seeking to address all of those issues.”
2. It’s much easier to read
I use words for a living yet still used to find parts of the previous books utterly incomprehensible. It was written in legalese, with sub section after sub section, and it took a keen understanding to get to the heart of what was meant.
There’s a reason why championship referees sit lots of exams – gaining a detailed knowledge is not straightforward.
The Player’s Edition, in this respect, is a revelation. The tone of writing has shifted from the third to the second person and this has a very humanising effect.
Take something very simple and early on in the book – the description of a matchplay competition.
Previously, this has read: “A match is won when one side leads by a number of holes greater than the number remaining to be played.”
This now becomes: “You win a match when you lead your opponent by more holes than remain to be played.”
See the difference? It’s now about you, your ball, your putt. And don’t worry, those who still want the Rules in all their glorious complexity will be catered for with a full edition available and free to download online from the R&A website.
3. A picture is worth 1,000 words
The Player’s Edition is packed full of illustrations – covering everything from defined areas of a golf course to taking relief from abnormal course conditions in a bunker.
These are remarkably helpful. I’ve been in countless arguments with playing partners during a competition regarding issues such as the correct place from which to take relief.
Now, there’s a straightforward diagram showing you exactly what you can do and what your options are.
4. You’re told what you can, rather than what you can’t do
That leads on to the next point. I always found the Rules to be a fairly penal document, whether that was the intention or not.
It always felt like ‘if you do this, you’ll be penalised this’. Of course, the punishments for transgressing the Rules remain but the Player’s Edition is far more about explanations and assessing available options.
So in the case of embedded balls, for instance, you’re told when you can take relief, shown an illustration of what an embedded ball actually is and then a further diagram on how to take that relief.
The penalty is outlined, in red, in one paragraph at the end of the discussion. That’s a huge change compared with previous books, where you’d see the teacher’s red pen – so to speak – leaping out of all parts of the wedge of text.
“We are trying to make the point that the rules are there to try and provide structure to the sport,” added Rickman.
“They are as much there to explain to golfers what they can do in various circumstances and their options. We are moving away from a more restrictive and negative perspective people might have – where the Rules are only about telling you what you can’t do when you get a penalty.”
5. No more leafing through pages trying to find the rule you need
There was nothing worse during a competition than being unsure about whether or not you were playing within the rules, getting the book out to make sure, and then getting into a blind panic because you couldn’t find exactly what you needed.
Your playing partners would get frustrated, people would be hanging around on the next tee and you’d eventually fudge it and hope you hadn’t disqualified yourself.
The Player’s Edition will definitely help in this regard. All of the 24 rules have their own clearly defined section. The purpose of the rule is simply explained before you move into various scenarios.
So if you’re looking to find out what happens with cleaning and lifting a ball, you turn to Rule 14, check out the summary and then immediately find out when and how you can do it.
In the 2016 Rule Book, by contrast, these procedures were spread out over various parts of 40 different pages.
You should be able to find most of what you need in the Player’s Edition but, on the rare occasions you can’t, you hop over to the full Rules for the more unusual scenarios.
“We were very keen that what we were giving the golfers is not an abbreviation,” explained Rickman. “It’s not simply a guide. It’s a fully functioning Rule Book.”
He concluded: “One of the big aspects is the digital release. As well as the website, there will be a free rules of golf app and that has both the Player’s and the full edition.
“So if somebody did come across something that was a bit unusual, and they go to the Player’s Edition and find it in one of these areas where we say ‘see the full rules’. They then just click on the link and it will take them there.”
What do you think of the new Player’s Edition? Have your say in the comments below or tweet @SteveCarrollNCG