Weeding out the cheats: Taking on the role of a rules secretary

The Scoop

Getting to grips with the 2019 rules has had unfortunate consequences for Steve Carroll. Our club golf editor reveals he has been saddled with an unenviable job

I’m stuck in a four-way discussion that is getting more daggers drawn with every second.

Veins aren’t quite popping yet, and no one has reached for their 7-iron, but there is definitely a deepening shade of crimson appearing on a couple of the foreheads.

I want to be involved in this as much as I’d like a particularly bad case of winter flu, but my presence is mandatory.

The trio momentarily cease bickering, turn to me in unison and ask those four words I dread: “What do you think?”

The worst of it is I knew this was coming. Delivering NCG’s content on the 2019 Rules of Golf changes had an unfortunate side effect: I’m now everyone’s go-to for an expert opinion.

But all I’ve done is one thing more than most club golfers – which is to actually read the rule book – and that has made me ‘qualified’ to take on the role of Sandburn Hall’s new rules and competition secretary.

Now before you play the world’s smallest violin for me, I did not accept the role oblivious to the trauma I was likely to face.

For it has struck me in my two decades as a club member that when it comes to talking to people about the decrees that bind us, you are sure to encounter three types of player – thorns, if you will, amid the otherwise lovely roses.

So far I have not been disappointed…

1. The ignorant

This crowd are your meat and drink as a rules official in competitions. You see, there is this thing called ‘club rules’.

It’s how that fourball who have been going out every Saturday morning since Britain invaded Suez play the game.

How many of the rules they stick to – or just know – depends on some of the personalities in the group, but, largely, they are playing a bastardised version of the game that only exists in their heads.

It’s the one that allows them to mow a lawn behind their ball in the rough, or take creative drops from unplayable positions in a treacherous gorse bush.

A long time ago, I had a ‘discussion’ with a player who grounded his club while trying to use a chipper out of a bunker.

Now we can debate the folly of that shot another time but what caused the brouhaha was my insistence that you couldn’t touch the sand during the backswing.

Our idiot firstly insisted he could and, when this was falling on deaf ears, then opted for a new strategy of complete denial.

Not even the trail left by the arc of his club scraping through the wet sand could elicit a mea culpa.

2. The know-it-all

I recently asked a very senior championship referee how he managed to learn every law, subsection and interpretation included in the massive 520-page guide book.

His answer surprised me. He didn’t know them all, or at least not to the detail you might expect.

What he did know, though, was where to find the answers in that book. If he had a tricky decision to make, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do, he could locate the page he needed within seconds.

It struck me that he wasn’t so much a deliverer of the rules as a librarian.

Anyhow, what this leads to is this: if a person whose role it is to know the rules inside and out can admit that certain nuances escape him, what makes some members think they could put John Humphrys in his place on Mastermind?

If you’re going to ask me a question about the rules, I’m going to try and find the answer. What I’m not going to do, as we discuss the scenarios, is humour the know-it-all’s lexicon, which usually includes the following phrases…

Well, I think you’ll find…

You are completely wrong and you can ask [insert governing body here].

And my personal favourite:

You need to learn the rules of golf.

I know perfectly reasonable people whose tone of voice changes completely when there is the mere scent of a discussion about immovable obstructions.

3. The Cheat

rules of golf

At best a rogue or a bandit. At worst a full-blown cheat.

They prey on the weakness of most of us – a craven desire to avoid any kind of conflict.

After all, this is our leisure time. The last thing we want on an enjoyable four-hour jaunt with our mates is to get into a ruck.

But all of us know these people.

They’re the ones who miraculously find their ball 50 yards from where everyone else in the group watched it enter the cabbage, the ones who hardly ever turn out in a medal but swoop in and clean up a team comp and the ones who can never remember whether they’ve had a four or a five.

So how did it end up as a three on the scorecard?

The rules secretary would like nothing better than to march in like a sheriff in a western and clean up this goddamn town.

But, and it’s perfectly understandable, no one wants to stick their head above the parapet and scream “J’accuse!”

Without evidence you can only narrow your eyes and pretend you’re about to have CCTV installed on every tee and green.

Fortunately, like natural selection, the inherent laws of the club often deliver their own swift justice.

These cads won’t be expelled as members but neither will they find it easy to get a game as names disappear from the tee sheet whenever theirs appears.

Usually, browbeaten and haggard, they simply disappear around renewal time. Never to be heard of again, until the familiar cries of anguish are detected from a nearby club.

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