• Alistair Tait

Time to learn the Rules of Golf


There’s never been a better time to do what most of us have been putting off for years: learn the Rules of Golf.


My knowledge of the laws that govern this great game are pretty good. I’m no John Paramor, but I’m good enough that I got 74% when I took the R&A’s Rules of Golf and Refereeing Exam.


I know, that means I’m wrong 26% of the time.


I took that exam long before the new rules came into effect on the 1st of January 2019. So, although I’m pretty confident on what the actual ruling is in most situations – 74% of situations – I’m less sure now of the actual ruling number since the rules were condensed from 34 to 24.


I’m going to use this enforced layoff from playing and watching golf to learn the new rule book so I know exactly where to look when any given situation crops up. I advise others to do the same, especially those who play the game for a living.


I’ve been befuddled my whole career writing about this game at the lack of rules knowledge among those who make a living playing golf. Tour pros will spend eight hours working on their games – beating balls, chipping, bunker play, putting – yet won’t spend 10 minutes reading the rules. It’s not as if they are short of down time on long haul flights, hotel rooms and courtesy cars.


Obviously not all tour pros are ignorant. Annika Sorenstam went out of her way to take the rules exam. The late Seve Ballesteros new them well and used them to his advantage. He also tried it on with a few rules officials in his time. Mr Paramor knows that only too well. Search Seve and Paramor and Valderrama on Google and you’ll find a good example.


Yet so many really are not clued up beyond the basics despite the fact knowledge of the rules is vital to their line of work. Can you imagine a tax accountant who didn’t know the tax codes, or a banker who didn’t know the banking laws?


I could fill this whole website with examples of players who called for the simplest of rulings. I remember watching a major winner hit her ball in the Swilcan Burn on the first hole at St Andrews during the 2007 Ricoh Women’s Open and then call for a ruling. Fans watching were unimpressed since most of them knew exactly what she should have done to take relief from golf’s first water hazard. (Penalty area? Don’t get me started!) Sure enough, the rules official showed up and took about 30 seconds to tell the player where to drop her ball. The whole episode took about 15 minutes since the rules official had to come from another part of the course. Thankfully her two fellow competitors had the good sense to finish the hole, but they had to stand on the second tee for about 10 minutes.


Once in Dubai I witnessed a player try to call for a referee when his ball ended up on a cart path. Playing companion Steven Gallacher was having none of that. He told his fellow competitor there was no need for the rules official and told him what to do. I think he wanted to tell him something else from the look on Steve’s face.


I know, players in the past were reluctant to act alone since the rules were so punitive that if they dropped a ball a millimetre closer to the hole then they risked a two-shot penalty or sometimes disqualification. Thankfully the new rules are far more lenient on that side of things.


Paramor and Andy McFee, the European Tour’s chief referees, once instigated rules seminars at tournaments. They had to stop them because players weren’t turning up. Their jobs would have been so much easier if players had taken the time to learn the rules.


Paramor once told me that the best place to start in the rule book was with the definitions. He said that if players knew those then it was a good starting point to understanding the situation they were in, and could lead them to the correct rule.


The definitions would be a good place for ordinary golfers to start. But why not go the whole distance? With no live golf on TV and the government’s advice to stay at home, this is the perfect time to really start learning the rules. The R&A runs a rules quiz on its website with three sections: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Why not start with beginner and work up to advanced? It’s a fun way to kill time.


There’s never been a better time to learn the rules that govern this great game.

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