The Idiot Rule: A Rule of Thumb for The Rules of Golf

Judge Smails' breach of Rule 1-2 here, resulting in a two-stoke penalty, is a classic example of proper application of the Idiot Rule.

Judge Smails’ breach of Rule 1-2 here, resulting in a two-stoke penalty, is a classic example of proper application of the Idiot Rule.

During my golf lesson today, my teaching pro bestowed to me the best explanation of how to think about The Rules of Golf.

If your brain capacity is spent on something better than memorizing all 34 official Rules, their various subsections, and the voluminous Official Decisions, this little nugget will keep you in compliance with the Rules in most situations.

The Idiot Rule is the most succinctly I’ve ever heard The Rules of Golf summarized.  The beauty of it is the simplicity, which almost any Idiot can remember.

The Idiot Rule:  If you break a rule due to a physical error, the penalty is one stroke, and sometimes distance.  If you violate a rule because you’re an Idiot (or worse, an Idiot trying to get away with something), the penalty is two strokes.

There is something inherently fair at limiting the penalty for hitting a bad shot to one stroke.

There is something inherently fair at limiting the penalty for hitting a bad shot to one stroke.

For example, if I were to put a terrible swing on a ball from the tee that slices wildly out-of-bounds, the penalty is one stroke plus distance, as the Rules of Golf dictate that I must play my next shot from where I played my previous shot, pursuant to Rule 27-1.

However, if while looking for that same wayward drive, I find another ball near the woods and play that ball thinking it is my ball, the penalty is two strokes for violating Rule 15-3(b). Because I would be an Idiot.

From a deeper perspective, I actually think the Idiot Rule is in keeping with the spirit of the game and The Rules of Golf.

Think about it: should the penalty be harsher for a golfer that is perhaps less skilled or physically inept? Or should The Rules look more sternly on the golfer not paying attention, violating etiquette, or trying to “get away with something?”

I'm not sure this exception to the Idiot Rule is actually deserving of an exemption.

I’m not sure this exception to the Idiot Rule is actually deserving of an exemption.

Of course, like almost all rules, there are exceptions to the Idiot Rule.  For instance, if you move your ball in violation of Rule 18-2, the penalty is just one stroke and the ball must be replaced to its original position.  I would argue that this is letting an Idiot off the hook lightly.

Nonetheless, remembering the relatively few notable exceptions to the Idiot Rule, rather than trying to remember all the individual penalties associated with violations of the all the individual Rules, is probably a more efficient use of memory.

Good Luck out there, and try to play within The Rules!

Golf appeals to the idiot in us and the child. Just how childlike golf players become is proven by their inability to count past five. – John Updike

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2 thoughts on “The Idiot Rule: A Rule of Thumb for The Rules of Golf

  1. Dave,

    Very funny post and a good rule of thumb. Maybe you should explore the topic of unwritten rules violations next. I.e. breaches of golf etiquette and how players in a sport that referees itself deal with that. In hockey, the enforcers drop the mitts, in baseball, the pitcher delivers a 95 mph message, but what about golf? How do we deal with the slow players, noise makers, those who don’t care for the course, or the sandbagers? Food for thought.

    Thanks!

    Brian

    Like

  2. David

    Brian has a good point. I like the gold rule as well. I think rules are very important in competition, but should not be a hindrance to fun when playing. I guess it is a sliding scale. Also, once we reach a particular level of play, most of the rules become second nature. Great topic.

    Cheers
    Jim

    Like

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