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2023 Rules of Golf rules disputes

Are there some Rules of Golf it is acceptable to break?

Whether it’s on the pro tours or in our own club games, is there a view that the rules are there to be a guide, rather than adhered? Steve Carroll explains

 

Was the number of the club mouthed? Were there secret signals emanating from gloves? If you’ve come here for a dissection of events between Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, and their respective caddies at the Masters, you’re in the wrong place. Go here instead.

Everyone involved has denied it (repeatedly), the Masters tournament committee looked at it – twice apparently – and decided there was nothing to see.

It doesn’t matter now what anyone thinks. In this case, a decision has been made. The matter is closed.

What I did find interesting, though, was the reaction of some in the game itself and, of course, others on the internet about how it had been perceived.

Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but what appeared to emanate was the idea a practice could be so commonplace as to almost make it acceptable – even if it could be breaking a rule.

‘What difference does it make?’ ‘It’s no big deal!’ ‘Impossible to police!’ And, of course, social media’s favourite: ‘Who cares?’

But I do care.

As someone who has studied the rules, has the exam results and the officiating to prove it, and spends a lot of time writing about them, it’s always felt to me that there is a hierarchy in some people’s minds about what should be strictly adhered to and where some leeway should be given.

Moving a ball marker? Don’t do it. Dropping a ball down the trouser leg? Get out of the club. Fixing a number on a scorecard? Full-blown fisty cuffs.

But taking lateral relief even though you don’t know, or are virtually certain, your ball is in the penalty area? Wandering down and dropping a ball anywhere you like after one’s gone splashing into the water? Picking up a ball to identify it without marking it first? Going off ahead of your start time?

Of course, there are wildly different degrees of seriousness in these scenarios. All of them, though, are a no-no in the rules. All come with sanctions attached.

Brooks Koepka

On the occasions I’ve had to explain that to players, some have just looked incredulous. Surely I can’t get penalised for that?

I once gave myself a two-shot penalty for improving conditions affecting the stroke. I’d been close to a tree and, during a practice swing, had knocked a single leaf off a branch.

It was in the area of my intended swing. It was an attached natural object. It was probably still growing, and I’d broken it. I couldn’t repair the improvement. In my mind, however slight, it was a pretty clear breach of the rules.

When I explained it, though, people seemed genuinely stunned I would employ them so literally.

Going back to social media, you can always tell when the collective keyboards think a rule should be swerved and immediately re-written because they’ll come out with the classic “stupid rule”.

For me, though, rules are rules. Yes, they can be long. And, yes, they can sometimes be complicated. But they’re there to be observed, otherwise what’s the point?

Where’s the achievement in striving to succeed if you did it when bending or breaking what you know to be a rule?

That doesn’t mean you can’t use them to your advantage. But, for me, it does mean following them to the letter.

It’s pivotal to the success of the game. Our general passion, the commitment that most of us have to want to do things the right way, is what sets golf apart from other sports. It is genuinely what makes the game great.

Whatever we might personally think about them, we should never decide that some rules should just be ignored.

What do you think? Should the Rules of Golf be treated like a bible, or is it fine to interpret them liberally? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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