A youngster's disqualification from a prestigious Yorkshire Union county competition set social media alight. But, as Steve Carroll explains, there was little room for manoeuvre

Sometimes in golf there are situations where it seems no one can win – Charlie Littlewood’s disqualification feels a case in point. The youngster was ruled out of the Yorkshire Boys’ Championship at Scarcroft last week when he missed his tee time at the West Yorkshire club by 15 minutes.

The car in which the Rudding Park-based player was travelling hit a pothole and the tyre couldn’t be repaired to get to him to the course on time.

Worse luck, it was his final Boys’ championship.

Once the news got out, helped by a tweet from the Pete Cowen Academy, there was plenty of warmth on social media for the youngster – and some harsh words for the county Union that made the decision.

Littlewood, and his family, handled the situation with grace and that is to their credit.

But, and I realise this is going to open my timeline to considerable flak, I also feel sympathy for the Yorkshire Union, who were caught in a Catch-22 situation.

Call it whatever you want – and plenty have – but the Rules of Golf gave them little room for manoeuvre.

Rule 5.3a is clear. Players must be ready to play at the starting time set. A competition committee can consider exceptional circumstances but, again, an interpretation to the Rule leaves you in no doubt as to what they are.

“The term ‘exceptional circumstances’…does not mean unfortunate or unexpected events outside a player’s control,” it reads.

“It is a player’s responsibility to allow enough time to reach the course and he or she must make allowances for possible delays.”

It adds: “Examples of circumstances that would not generally be considered exceptional include…the player gets lost or his or her car breaks down on the way to the course.”

Much of the angst appears to focus around the fact that the situation involved a junior, and the idea we should accommodate them else find ourselves at risk of not ‘growing the game’.

I do disagree with the assertion made by some that this was a ‘fun’ event. This is the county’s premier event for Under-18s. It is not a club knock.

And anyone who thinks the Yorkshire Union officials relished ejecting a player from the tournament simply do not understand the time, effort, and dedication that is put into staging these events by people who are largely volunteers. They are also highly experienced and qualified.

I wonder if there would have been the same outrage if this had been an adult event.

The Rules make no distinction about age. Neither should they. The point is that we all play by them – pro, amateur, adult and junior alike.

You might not like the Rule concerned, and it’s your right to disagree and to argue it should be changed – as Nick Huby, of the Academy, is suggesting.

The Rules are a moveable feast and, as the 2019 edition has shown, they can be subject to significant alteration.

But while they are in place, I’m not sure we want to go down the avenue of asking committees to decide which they want to enforce and which they don’t.

An interesting point of debate could be found in the circumstances that surround how the game is played as we adapt to Covid-19.

Players had been asked to arrive at the club no more than 30 minutes before their tee time. Could that have provided the committee an avenue for consideration?

With a tight window, the opportunity for misfortune obviously increases – compared with a tournament in ‘normal’ times where a player might arrive more than an hour before their tee time to register and warm up.

But can we really say that this instance should be regarded as ‘exceptional’? Was 30 minutes not enough time to be ready and prepared? Weren’t the players told what was expected of them in the pre-tournament information sent out?

This is surely the quandary the Yorkshire Union officials had to consider as they weighed up what to do. It’s a difficult situation for all concerned.

What do you think about the decision? Are the Rules always right or should allowances have been made? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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