By David Owen
According to a veteran sportswriter I know, there are three lethally boring topics in golf: junior golf, the rules of golf, and I forget the third. But I think the rules are interesting, in part because they constitute a legal system that attempts to provide a specific remedy for every conceivable situation, leaving essentially no role for "discretion." And, although I usually believe I know the rules better than the average casual player (which isn't saying much), I often encounter surprises.
On our recent golf trip to Scotland and Ireland, my friends and I got many rules wrong, undoubtedly, but five of our errors, in particular, stand out -- and four of them were made by players with single-digit handicaps. First, one of mine:
On one green, my partner's ball was farthest from the hole, but I putted first -- and made the putt, annoying one of our opponents, who was farther from the hole than I was. He felt that I had illegally pressured him by playing out of turn. But he was wrong. Because my partner was farthest from the hole, either he or I could putt first. Rule 30-3b says:
(Because this was match play, if I really had played out of turn an opponent could have required me to replay my shot at the right time. In stroke play, the farthest player is also supposed to play first, but there's no penalty if someone screws up. For a good explanation of the differences between match play and stroke play, go here.)
__Q.__A player makes a practice swing and accidentally moves his ball in play with his club. Has he made a stroke?
*__A.__No. He had no intention of moving the ball - see Definition of "Stroke." However, he incurs a penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a *for moving his ball in play, and the ball must be replaced.
If a player incurs the loss of hole penalty under Rule 15-3a for making a stroke at a wrong ball, he is disqualified for that hole**, but his partner incurs no penalty even if the wrong ball belongs to him. If the wrong ball belongs to another player, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.
I could go on.