Do the rules of golf need a shake-up?

A TOUGH READ: The rules of golf are covered across 208 pages

Confusing, long-winded and in places out-dated the Rules of Golf govern play from professional tour events down to the Sunday morning sweep – but do they need a shake-up?

Golfers pride themselves on the honour and integrity of the game, calling penalties on themselves and administering punishment without the need of a referee, umpire or other official. This honesty and integrity is the foundation of the game.

When in doubt players must turn to the Rule Book. The Rules of Golf 2012-2015 is a hefty 208 pages and attempts to govern the play of millions around the world.

It’s no wonder then that one USGA rules official pointed out: “It [the exam to become a Rules Official] was more difficult to pass than the bar exam [to become a lawyer].”

Whether it’s the wordy, over complicated rulebook or the seemingly harsh punishment – for example, disqualification after a television viewer calls in after spotting a ball move 2-3mm – many in golf circles are looking for a way in which the rules could be adapted to suit the modern game.

As all golfers know, the most important rule is Rule 13-1: “The ball must be played as it lies, except as otherwise provided in the Rules.” This fundamental principle governs the game.

But what happens when that isn’t the case?

We saw such an event at the Wells Fargo Championship, last season.  Padraig Harrington was accused by a spectator of teeing his ball outside the tee-box on the par three, 13th during Sunday’s final round. Neither Harrington nor playing partner Phil Mickelson could be certain of where he’d teed-up and video evidence was inconclusive.

ANGRY: Padraig at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship 2011

Harrington, after eventually signing his card blasted fans. The Irishman said:  “You can jump in there and say it’s tight, but it’s really not the situation to take a penalty.

“Maybe I got lost in the moment but for both caddies and Phil too, there’s no way we’re all going to get lost in the moment that much.”

This is not the first time Harrington has been questioned on the rules. Earlier that season he was disqualified for not replacing his ball after it moved on the putting green. A television viewer saw the ball move a matter of millimetres and Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Is it not unfair that Harrington loses thousands of dollars in prize money and a number of world ranking points for an error which neither he nor his playing partners spotted?

If, for instance, the referee at Old Trafford on Saturday missed a player breaking a rule of the game – would a viewer be able to call up that evening and point out his mistake? And if he/she did: would that player then be shown a red card hours after the end of the game?

Jack Nicklaus earlier this year remarked: “If you try and figure it out, it should be common sense.

“Yet common sense never seems to prevail.”

In Harrington’s case a small error cost him a top-ten finish and thousands of dollars. But what about the other side of the coin?

Elliot Saltman –  a 29-year-old Q-School graduate – was banned from the European and Challenge Tours for three months after being caught cheating in a Challenge Tour event. Saltman was witnessed on ‘several occasions’ replacing his ball ahead of his marker on the putting green’. In January last year, Saltman was banned by the European Tour committee.

Why is it that Harrington – who had no intention of circumventing the rules was punished heavily, whilst Saltman who intentionally broke the rules was given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again?

It seems to me that the Rules need a shake-up – there needs to be a common sense addition to the rules that allows a player to alter his scorecard, in light of video evidence after he has signed it, allowing for ‘human error’ while in competition.

But also, there needs to be a toughening up of punishments for players ‘intentionally’ cheating – a procedure that enabling the sport’s governing body – whether the R&A, USGA or Tour – to dish out lifetime bans from professional competition for those players who look to play outside of ‘the spirit of the game’.

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About Dean Bailey
I'm currently in my third year at Sunderland University, studying Sports Journalism. I'm interested in a wide variety of sports but golf is my passion. (I follow Newcastle United FC, Newcastle Falcons, Newcastle Eagles, Whitley Warriors and Leeds Rhinos.) I currently play at Backworth Golf Club, with a handicap of 11. Follow me on Twitter: @deanbailey92 & @northeastgolf Or get in touch through email: deanbailey92@hotmail.co.uk

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