IT is the duty of every golfer to have a good working knowledge of the Rules of Golf, but all too often club golfers test the boundaries and bend the rules in their favour.

The game’s founding fathers put a lot of thought into the rules and some of the best legal eagles have refined the dos and don’ts of the game over the years. 

Admittedly, many beginners do find the Rules of Golf a rather wordy and cumbersome publication, but the more one understands the letter and spirit of the laws, the more sense they make.

Etiquette, well, that’s another problem in our time-poor world.

When I first took up the game in the mid-1980s being familiar with the rules was a big deal and woe betide anyone who infringed them. 

Unfortunately, things have changed and a large percentage of club golfers, who should know better, don’t seem to care about applying the rules.

I have talked to seasoned professionals about this and they all tell me that when they were juniors they were petrified of leaving a bunker un-raked or a pitch mark unrepaired. 

“As a junior member you were expected to take care of whatever minor greenkeeping tasks you came across, whether or not you had caused the damage,” one pro told me. 

“If the golf course was less than perfect when you departed the 18th green, there was a good chance that you would be personally blamed for whatever was wrong.”

Oftentimes, players were suspended from the club for any infraction.

Another pro told me when he was a junior he was found guilty of not replacing a flagstick after it had blown out of the hole on a very windy day.

The testimony of his playing partner (deemed an unreliable witness as he had previously been suspended for throwing a club) did little to help his cause and both were suspended for three months. 

Club golfers who have been properly schooled are always a pleasure to play with. That’s more than can be said for many others who are either ignorant of what is considered as acceptable behaviour or do not care about the way they play the game. 

Besides the general rules of golf clubs, the rules – as formulated by the game’s governing bodies – cover general behaviour, respect for other golfers, including the “undue delay in play” clauses and the golf course. 

Sadly, these rules are all too often flouted, and in certain quarters the game is becoming a free-for-all. 

Sure, there is a distinction between club golfers with a GA handicap and social players out for a hit and giggle.

I remember when I first started playing competitions my more experienced playing partners were quick to familarise me with the rules and made sure I abided by each rule.

I studied up on the Decisions of the Rules of Golf so that I could assist newcomers to competition golf.

Still, I did come across players who liked to ignore the rules.

I well remember the time when I was playing in a comp with a player who had a habit of taking two clubs to his ball in the fairway because he was “undecided which club to use”.

After making his selection, he dropped the other club beside the ball and I noticed that the club had been positioned to point towards the green.

At first, I let it slide. On the next hole he did it again and even did it on the green. After chipping on he would then position his wedge so that it was pointing down the line of his putt.

That’s when I politely suggested he was using a club as an aid to line himself up and that he was contravening the rules.

Well, he got a little annoyed and rather than admitting he was unaware of the rule and took exception to being called a cheat.

He gave me the cold eye and there was no more friendly chatter, but he kept using a second club to line up to his indended target.

I was marking our fourball card and we finished the round with a good score. 

At the presentation of prizes we were silently sipping on our post-round drinks when the club captain announced the winners’ score. That’s when “old mate” asked me what happened to our scorecard as we had scored more points than the winners.

I told him I had entered a “no return” and as I did so our playing partners cringed and looked the other away.

There is a pleasant ending to this story. Later, the rule breaker apologised to me and told me he had read up on the rules and accepted he had been wrong and we again played golf together.

Another time I refused to sign a player’s card because he had a habit of marking his ball with a coin tight behind the ball, but always replaced his ball at least an inch in front of the ball even after it was pointed out to him.

Was I being petty or just a stickler for the rules?

In some European countries golfers have to have a green card to play the game. Players have to spend time with the pro learning etiquette and basic rules and sit an exam before being allowed on the course. Perhaps Australia should introduce this test.

About David Newbery

Chief writer David Newbery has been living, breathing and writing and editing golf for more than 30 years. His extensive knowledge of the game comes from covering golf around the world. Hired by Inside Golf in 2009, David previously worked as the editor of The Golfer for 25 years and before that worked for numerous daily newspapers in Australia and overseas. The Brisbane-based journalist describes his golf game as “a work in progress”, but has had the privilege of playing golf with some of the game’s best players including nine-time major winner Gary Player. David enjoys travelling, reading, music, photography and spending time with family and friends – on and off the golf course.

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