Rule 1-1: The Game of Golf

Rules of Golf BookIn a rare stroke of simplicity, the Rules of Golf begin with an elegant straightforwardness elusive to the rest of the text.  Honestly, the Rules begin very mildly with Rule 1, but only build in complexity.  Rule 1-1 decrees:

The Game of Golf consists of playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.

Simple enough.  Pretty much sums up the whole game, doesn’t it? Yes, but that beautiful, uncomplicated Rule contained five different defined terms that the golfer must be familiar with to have a proper appreciation for Rule 1-1.  Quickly, can you rattle off the rulebook definitions of teeing ground, hole, stroke, strokes, and Rules?  Me neither.  That’s okay, that’s why they wrote them down, I suppose.

The real fun of the Rules of Golf are in the official, published Decisions on the Rules, and Rule 1-1 is no exception.  This Rule receives no less than four official Decisions, ranging from “duh” common sense to “Aww, C’mon!” injustice.

13 11 R&A Decisions 2014-2015Let there be no doubt that these travesties of the Queen’s English had to be cooked up by a room full of lawyers.  No one else would get lost saw far in the weeds of “what-ifs” and push the bounds illogical extremes.  I would know; not only am I a critic, I’m also a lawyer.

Instead of just making addenda to the actual Rules with pronouncements of right or wrong, these Decisions are presented as questions and answers, invoking Socratic method and jurisprudence into the game of golf.

Decisions 1-1/2, 1-1/3, and 1-1/4 are of the almost common sense variety and are a bit lighthearted from a big picture perspective.  All three Decisions actually build on a common theme concerning the proper ruling of what happens if a player unwittingly or unknowingly holes a shot but doesn’t realize it.

In all their magnanimity, the USGA lets the golfer off the hook in three different fortunate, if not comical, situations.  The logic behind these Decisions is pretty intuitive and logical, as once the player holes out, even unknowingly, play on that hole has concluded.  And in the examples provided by the Decisions, how could you not enjoy invoking these official pronouncements?

Decision 1-1/2: Player unaware he has holed out puts another ball into play

A player, unable to find his ball, puts another ball into play. He then discovers that his original ball is in the hole. What is the ruling?  The score with the original ball counts. The play of the hole was completed when the player holed that ball.

Decision 1-1/3: Player Discovers Original Ball in Hole after Searching 5 minutes and then continuing play with Provisional Ball

At a par-3 hole, a player, believing his original ball may be lost, plays a provisional ball. He searches five minutes for the original ball and then plays the provisional ball onto the green. At that point, the original ball is found in the hole. What is the ruling?  The player’s score is 1. The play of the hole was completed when the player holed the original ball (Rule 1-1).  

Seriously, who among us doesn’t automatically look in the cup, just in case, when the ball isn’t instantly locatable on a par 3?  Luckily, even if that isn’t your standard operating procedure, the Rules have your back and your hole-in-one is preserved.

Decision 1-1/4: Player discovers own ball is in hole after playing wrong ball

A player played to a blind green and putted what he thought was his ball. He then discovered that his own ball was in the hole and that the ball he had putted was a wrong ball. What is the ruling?  Since the play of the hole was completed when the original ball was holed (Rule 1-1), the player was not in breach of Rule 15-3 for subsequently playing a wrong ball.

As you can see, at least within Rule 1-1, these Decisions seem to come down on the side of the player and rewards his or her play, rather than penalizing a player not knowing or realizing the result of their shot.

An easy illustration or analogy to help you remember the impact of these Decisions is that in golf, just as in a poker game, the “cards speak.”  At a poker table, if a player announces that he has only an Ace-high hand of nothing when he reveals his cards, but he doesn’t realize that he actually has a flush, the flush is valid, and what the player announced is irrelevant.

Unfortunately, in my mind, the Rules and Decisions show their ridiculousness in Decision 1-1/1, which in my mind is in direct contravention to all of the USGA’s pace of play initiatives.  I would argue that any action, within reason, that increases the golfer’s enjoyment or convenience playing the game is a positive.  The Decisions do not share my sentiment.

Decision 1-1/1: Two balls in play simultaneously at different holes

Two players on the 8th hole play their approach shots to the 8th green. They agree to tee off at the 9th hole and then putt out on the 8th green. This is to avoid having to walk back up a hill to the 9th tee and to save time. What is the ruling? In match play, the players are disqualified under Rule 1-3 for excluding the operation of Rule 2-1 by failing to play the stipulated round, provided the players knew that this was a breach of the Rules. If they did not know that their action was a breach of the Rules, both holes stand as played.  In stroke play, the competitors are disqualified under Rule 3-2 for failing to hole out on the 8th hole before making a stroke from the 9th tee. (Revised)

For the good of the game.

For the good of the game.

C’mon, man.  Really?  How many times in the history of golf has this been an issue.  I understand that if Tiger did it during the Masters, perhaps teeing off on the 13th hole before he and his partner putted out on 12, the Twitterverse would melt down and Rick Reilly’s fuzzy little head would explode.

But to say that during their $2 Nassau, Fred and Larry can’t mutually agree to convenient course logistics for the sake of saving time and logistical ease, by agreement no less, pushes the bounds of understanding.

I understand that playing the holes out-of-order and having two holes out of play is a no-no.  And I get that the results of the tee shots theoretically may have a bearing on the relative importance of the putts on the 8th green yet to be completed.  But if the players are in agreement!?!?  And they’re walking the course!?!? The decision seems too strict and that penalty seems very harsh to me.

That’s it.  That’s everything you need to know about the first Rule in the golf rulebook.  I hope someday to have the opportunity to invoke Decisions 1-1/2 on behalf of a playing competitor and simultaneously hope whomever drafted Decision 1-1/1 has a fly in his soup today.

3 thoughts on “Rule 1-1: The Game of Golf

  1. Dave,

    I agree. The rules are very important in competition because it usually levels the playing field. With my buddies, we make up some of our own for fun. My favorite is the 30 rule. If you hit your ball, can run after it, pick it up, and put it back on the tee in 30 seconds, it does not count! My buddies love this rule. Also, I have teed off on a hole before finishing the one I am playing often – sometimes the courses are set up silly. Great post.


  2. Pingback: Rule 1-2: Exerting Influence on Movement of Ball or Altering Physical Condition | One Bearded Golfer

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