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The 'Real' Rules Of Golf according to ScottishGolf!
Rules, as we all know, are a necessary evil in this day and age and nowhere are they more prominent than on the golf course.

For almost every eventuality the game can throw up there is a law to cover it.

If you happen to play your golf at the Glen Canyon Club in Arizona for instance you can take advantage of the specially adapted local rule that states: 'If your ball lands within a club length of a rattlesnake you are allowed to move your ball.'

Or if you just happen to find yourself playing a round in Uganda on a Saturday afternoon remember and utilise the club rule that declares: 'If a ball comes to rest in dangerous proximity to a crocodile, another ball may be dropped.'

What actually constitutes 'dangerous proximity' is open to debate, but one can only assume that there would hopefully be no need for a 3-iron approach shot from the treacherous lie of the said reptile's gaping jaws.

Not long after the glorious game was invented some two and a half centuries ago, it became quite apparent that a few guidelines to establishing a semblance of uniformity were required.

And thus, John Rattray, the captain of the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, got together with his honourable mates and formulated golf's equivalent of the Ten Commandments - except of course, there were 13.

While it would take a number of years before the rule: 'Thou shalt not wear spikes in the club house' would rear its head, the list of laws for playing the game initially laid down in 1744 provided the cornerstone upon which the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later to become the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, would build the most complicated and obscure set of governing legislation ever created for a sporting activity.

Then again, those original handful of pointers set out by Rattray and co were not the most easy to understand either.

Rule number two, for example, can cause a certain amount of chin scratching on a first perusal: 'Your tee must be upon the ground,' it declares.

No doubt numerous observers have spent hours weighing up what possible alternatives there could be. A tee suspended in mid-air for instance is hardly an everyday occurrence on the course.

Once the St Andrews crowd got their fingers on the rules, there was no turning back. Over a considerable period of time amendments were made, sections were introduced, sub-sections were developed, explanatory decisions were scribbled in.

Before you could say: 'I think you'll find that is a clear breach of rule 14 - 2', you had a book about as thick as the bible telling you what you could and couldn't do on the course.

Page upon page about the game, the clubs, the teeing ground, the putting green, relief situations - personally, I threw away the rule book about two weeks ago when I discovered that the foot wedge was in fact illegal.

But the real questions on the lips of every local club hacker don't concern irregularities of the surface, lateral water hazards or loose impediments.

They're far more complex than that. They concern the kind of rules that are at the very heart of a bad round and let's face it, the fact that golf is so popular is because it is the best game at which to be bad.

While squeaky clean brother and sister act The Carpenters harped on about birds suddenly appearing every time you are near, golfers the world over would continually ask themselves why the rain always comes on when you're miles away from the clubhouse.

Or why, if you're a right-hander, you'll always slice the ball when out of bounds lurks down the right.

Or why a three-putt always provides a wretched finale to your worst hole of the round.

It's the golfing equivalent of the toast landing buttered side down; of three buses arriving at once when you've spent two hours in the rain waiting on one; of ITV showing a Coronation Street special the week after you've bought the video because they said: 'it'll never be on TV.'

Yes, Sod's Law is as much a part of the game as bad lies, bad shots and bad jumpers.

No matter how well you've driven in the weeks running up to your local club captains' day, you can guarantee that your opening tee-shot, with an entire cast of members looking on from the clubhouse will be one of the worst drives in living memory. But your second shot, away from the gaze of the watching gallery, will be quite glorious.

On the way back in, your drive down the 18th will be equally as stunning but your approach to the green, in full view of the very same people who had watched you tee-off in such hideous fashion at the first, will be appalling.

You may have achieved a reasonably respectable score, but because two of your most prominent 'duffs' were made in front of an audience, rumours will fly round the practice green that you must have scored something in the region of 110.

In clubhouse bars and locker rooms the length and breadth of the country, furious debate is ignited by those rules that you just won't find in the index of the official rule book.

They are the laws that have no classification, sub-section or appendix. They don't really have an explanation.

Imagine if the aforementioned Mr Rattray, instead of agonising over the finer points of the game, had, after a particularly gruesome round, decided to write down a series of alternative laws that would go someway to explaining the desperate inconsistencies of golf: 'If your driving is good, your short game will be bad. If your short game is good, your driving will be bad. If you get a drop without a penalty, the dropping area will always be in a worse place than your original lie.'

Such thinking could've changed the course of the game in much the same way as the Pope could've changed the history of art had he walked in on Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and said: 'You'd better come down, we'll just have it wallpapered.'

By referring back to the 'alternative rule book' players could've discovered that a superb drive, perfect in its execution, distance and line always follows an initial tee-shot that has just soared out of bounds.

Or that the green is always one club further away than the one you just hit.

With this in mind, we, The Gentlemen Writers of ScottishGolf (dream on; there's not much danger of you being called a gentleman - Ed), have taken on board those 13 original laws, ignored them completely and devised a blueprint for a 'real rules of golf book'.

You'll find no mention of etiquette, order of play or putting surfaces. Instead you'll stumble upon a short list of sod's laws that can be used and adapted for every golfer at every club in the land.

Have a quick glance, think how many of them affected you on your most recent round and begin penning some amendments (such as: The easiest shot in golf will be the fourth putt).

In another 250 odd years we may have a book as difficult to understand as the original.


The 13 Original Rules of Golf - Effective from July 2001.

1. Your opening drive in the local medal in front of a small gathering of spectators will be atrocious.

2. Likewise, your pitch to the 18th, in front of the same people, will be equally as hideous.

3. Between those shots, your play will be good golf - when nobody is there to see it.

4. People in front of you play with all the pace of a funeral march. People behind you play as if they're running to the bar after the funeral.

5. If there is only one other group of golfers out on the course, they will be directly in front of you; playing slowly.

6. Right-handers - the ball will always slice if out of bounds is on the right. If it's on the left it will hook. The opposite is true for the left-handers.

7. If your drive goes out of bounds, your second will be a demonstration of golfing perfection.

8. Opponents and fellow competitors get the rub of the green. You always get a wretched bounce.

9. The green is always one club further away than the one you choose to hit.

10. When waved through by a slower group you will immediately play very badly.

11. If your driving is good, your short game will be bad. If your short game... yes, you know.

12. Once you have found one bunker, you will discover that the route to all of them on the course is very easy to follow.

13. The heavens always open at the most exposed and furthest away point of the course. The sun will come out once you've zipped up your waterproofs.

Do you have a Real Rule of your own?

We invited submissions from our website newsletter and received the following. If you want to add your own, drop us a line or email at editor@scottishgolf.com

'The power of gravity is greater over water than it is over land.'
John Wood, Lothians Golf Association

'If you are playing a competition and hit a ball out of bounds off a tee, you can almost always guarantee your second ball will fly straight down the middle.'
Chris Redmond (by email)


[Pic credits] Stephen Munday and Craig Jones Allsport


©    8 - AUGUST 2001



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