Are the Rules of Golf dumb? Stupid? Absurd? Ridiculous?
Are they out of touch? Unnecessarily complicated? Administered by amateurs for a professional game?
According to my Twitter timeline, the answer is yes.
All these accusations – and plenty more not fit for a public forum – have been bandied about in the last two weeks in reaction to high profile penalties dished out to players on both the European and PGA Tours.
These streams of invective are nothing new of course and almost always follow a ruling that is technically correct but, for whatever reason, draws the ire of the majority of fans.
For as long as the game has been played golfers have complained about the complexity of its laws but the truth is golf has complex rules because golf is a complex game.
In fact, one might make the case that of all the mainstream sports, golf is the MOST complex. And by some considerable margin.
In most sports the most complicated rules question is whether the player/ball was ‘in’ or ‘out’.
In golf? That doesn’t even touch the sides.
Let’s restrict this conversation to the televised game as it is professional golf* which always seems to prompt public outrage.
RIGHT: Haotong Li should have known he was breaking Rule 10.2, says Rod Morri. PHOTO: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
Unlike almost all other games there are no ‘boundaries’ in golf (aside from OB which is actually one of the simplest rules).
There are no straight lines, the field of play is unfeasibly large and the number of competitors taking part at any one time is frankly outrageous.
Now add in the various hazards such as sand and water plus potential interference from flora and fauna, other players, spectators, grandstands and other tournament infrastructure.
Then consider that every competitor has a ‘personal assistant’ who has no direct part in the actual playing of the game but whose actions need to be covered by the rules.
There is also the possibility – almost unthinkable in any other sport – that the most important piece of equipment (the ball) might actually be lost at any time during the course of play.
To come up with a set of rules that covers every possibility of the myriad outcomes of a player interacting simultaneously with one or more of these conditions is, clearly, impossible.
Yes the rules as they stand are imperfect but, as has been proved by the introduction of the new laws on January 1, there is no ‘perfect’.
“The howls of protest over the penalty handed down to Haotong Li in Dubai ignore the reality that he should have been more aware of the rule.”
For every bush lawyer who comes up with a set of ‘simple’ golf rules there are countless situations, both past and not yet considered, which will make those new rules look as foolish as the old ones.
So the only question really is whether we have the ‘best’ set of imperfect rules we can hope for at any given time and the answer right now, for mine, is yes.
*What professional golf really needs more than different or rewritten rules is for those who play the game for a living to better familiarise themselves with the ones that exist.
Not liking a rule or the way it is written is not an excuse to not know, understand or play by said rule.
The howls of protest over the penalty handed down to Haotong Li in Dubai ignore the reality that he should have been more aware of the rule.
(The situation regarding Denny McCarthy in Phoenix is a little less straightforward but that, and the fallout from it, are topics for another column.)
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, iSeekGolf, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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