Field Test

Which Rules Do You Play By?

We spied on an average foursome, and you'll be amazed by what we found

May 2004

How well do golfers know the rules, and to what degree do they play by them? To find out, we asked veteran rules expert Warren Simmons to follow a foursome of regular golfers during a round to note when and how the Rules of Golf came into play. What follows is a hole-by-hole account of the many ways our unwitting golfers got creative with the rules. We've also included the rules violated. We admit it: It's gotcha journalism at its sneakiest. But the results will surely surprise you.

Our guinea pigs were a representative foursome of public golfers: four males, ranging from their early 30s to late 60s, with handicaps from 12 to 23. All have played golf for much of their adult lives.

Matt and Mike (all names have been changed) were playing a match for a bottle of Crown Royal. Steve and Sam were playing for fun and bragging rights (stroke play). The group played 18 holes in four hours and fifteen minutes. They wondered why I was around; I told them I was taking notes on course-maintenance problems.

In all, 15 of golf's 34 Rules were violated, some many times. The most common infractions involved advice, improper marking and replacing on the green, practice during play of a hole and failure to hole out.

If Matt and Mike had been playing stroke play (making all of their loss-of-hole penalties two strokes), and if Steve and Sam had corrected their disqualification penalties (changing them back to only two strokes) the group's tally would have come to about 100 penalty strokes. As it was, Steve and Sam were disqualified five times apiece and Matt and Mike incurred 15 loss-of-hole penalties over the 18 holes. (Indeed, the bottle of booze may well have been won by the wrong guy.)

These guys are not cheaters. They were just out having a good time playing a game that is akin to golf, but as the old Hertz commercial put it, "Not exactly ..."

HOLE 1: To start things off, Matt heeled his tee shot nearly OB, asked for and got a mulligan. (As the British would say, "That's not a mulligan; that's 3.") But let's waive this one on tradition. From this point on we're sticklers.
Violation: Rule 27

Steve hit his tee shot into the right rough. When he got to it, he reached down and without announcing, marking or allowing observation, lifted it, identified it as his, and replaced it.
Violation: Rule 12-2

Sam, short of the green in two, hit a bad chip shot. He dropped an extra ball and chipped it, then chipped another. He picked up the extra chips, then marked his ball, cleaned it, replaced it, flipped the coin away, then touched and rotated the ball.
Violation: Rules 7-2,18-2a

HOLE 2: When Mike reached the green, he marked his ball to the side, then "replaced" it on the other side. This was his first of many breaches of the marking, lifting and replacing procedure.
Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

HOLE 3: On the tee, Mike asked Matt to "Remind me to follow through down the line of my swing." Matt immediately obliged with the statement "Follow through down the line of your swing." This was the first of many violations for asking or giving advice.
Violation: Rule 8-1

Mike hit his tee shot far to the right, toward a lateral water hazard. He found it in the hazard, picked it up and made a proper drop, within two club-lengths of the point where it had crossed the hazard margin.

Near the green, Sam was just off theputting surface in the rough, closer to the hole than two balls on the green. He went ahead and chipped out of turn. While there is no penalty in stroke play for this common occurrence, if Matt or Mike had done this in their match, the opponent could have required that the stroke be canceled, then replayed in the proper order (Rule 10).

Mike marked his ball to the side, then replaced it in front of the coin.
Violation: Rules 16-1b, 20-7b

Sam knocked Steve's "gimme" back to him. He then missed his own short putt and picked up. These were the first of many failures to hole out, which in stroke play is disqualification. (In Matt's and Mike's match, concessions are allowed.)
Violation: Rule 3-2

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