Plugged In The Hazard: The Rules Of Golf

by Andrew Penner - Just like Oprah Winfrey in yoga pants, the rules of golf can be somewhat baffling.


Understandably, the vast majority of weekend golfers could never be bothered to learn all the terrible taboos and silly sins that exist in our game. And who could blame them?

Do The Rules Of Golf Cover This?

After all, it’s hard enough to play the game without spilling your beer.

While learning the very basic rules of the game (ie: if you hit three balls out-of-bounds, skull a couple of wedges, and roll your ball off the green on your fourth putt, you are allowed, out of sheer agony, to pick up your ball and mark down an 8) is not overly complicated, things tend to get a lot more intense when you examine the seemingly infinitesimal oddities and bizarre predicaments that can take place during play.  

Therefore, the big shots (the round-bellied, single-malt drinkers in ugly suits who actually write the rules) decided that the Rules of Golf just didn't cover everything sufficiently.

More needed to be done. And, perhaps most importantly, there was lots more Scotch to drink. (Incidentally, the “writers” are representatives from the USGA and the R & A.)

So, in 1959 they wrote – and continually revise – The Decisions on the Rules of Golf book. Rest assured, this sick pup (the last version was 582 pages) is not a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Rather, it is, in my humble opinion, a rather disturbing testament to the physical and psychological damage that the game can inflict on innocent people who just want to drink a little beer and have a good time swatting at a ball. 

Image Caption : What The Rules Don't Cover The Book Of Decisions Does...Usually

Not surprisingly, most people don’t even know that this book exists.

(Your friendly neighbourhood golf pro should have a copy. But it will likely be hidden in the most seldom opened drawer in his desk, underneath the scorecards from his 1982 stint on the Canadian Tour.) 

The Decisions book is used to determine rulings when the Rules of Golf just don’t go far enough.

For example, if Dick’s ball rolls into an area where there is a family of rodents taking up residence and his ball disappears into a hole, it can be fairly and judicially determined that Dick was an innocent victim and should be allowed a free drop (see Rule 45-b).

Easy stuff. The Rules of Golf clearly cover this. 

However, in a similar yet wildly different scenario, what if Dick’s ball came to rest in the same area of rodent activity and, instead of his ball disappearing, a pesky little varmint picked up his ball and ran away with it?

And what if, upon seeing the rabid little critter run away with his property, Dick went after the thing with his seven iron and delivered a lethal blow, dislodging the ball? Clearly, in this scenario Dick’s ball would now be located in a totally different location than where it originally lay.

So where should he play his ball? Should his blood-soaked 7-iron be deemed unfit for play? Are there any penalties, besides the ones that may or may not come in the afterlife, for killing one of God’s furry little creatures during play? These are the types of things that the Decisions Book seeks to bring some clarity to.  

As far as I know, the above example, while totally plausible, is not actually in the Decisions Book. However, there are hundreds of other sick and twisted scenarios that are dealt with. Sadly, many of these also come short in terms of answering all the possibilities.

Not Sure If Warthogs Count As A Dangerous Situation On The Golf Course? Check The Decisions On The Rules Of Golf Or Consult A Qualified Rules Official

For example, the topic of what constitutes a “dangerous situation” (see 1-4/11 in the Decisions Book) is discussed in fairly vague terms. Apparently, if your ball comes to rest near a poisonous snake (a rattlesnake is used as an example) or a bee hive, you are entitled to free relief.

That's all fine and dandy. But what about snakes such as anacondas and boa constrictors, which are not poisonous? Are you SOL in this case? What about big nasty dogs that want to chew on your jugular and rip out your spleen and play with it?

And what about cougars? Elephants? Skunks? Surely you would get relief from such beasts?  But, no, these situations are not seemingly addressed.  

However, the same rule does go further to state that no relief is permissible from dangerous plants like poison ivy, stinging nettles, and cacti. Apparently, as the rule concludes, “unpleasant lies are a common occurrence which players must accept.” Damn. 

As far as chunky people wearing yoga pants and accidentally spilling your beer during play? Sadly, these are also not discussed in the Decisions Book. But, fortunately, I can offer my own decision: don't.