For several centuries the game of golf existed with no known set of written rules. Those who played were presumably allowed to do so under fairly arbitrary guidelines; a kind of laissez-faire on the links, as it were. Even if you found yourself teeing up against Mary, Queen of Scots, one of many royals who over the years have chosen to indulge in the Royal and Ancient game. the only rules were obvious ones: don’t win, and don’t lose your head!
In 1744, though, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, officially ecognized as the oldest golf club in the world, took it upon themselves to establish the first Rules of Golf, all 13 of them. Essentially, they were fairly rudimentary codes of conduct, even if a little bizarre by modern standards. For example, whoever was furthest away on the green had to putt first. There was no choice in the matter and there were none of the niceties associated with today’s play. If another ball was blocking your way to the hole, it was too bad; you had to find a way past it. That somewhat unjust procedure was labelled the ‘stymie’. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.
A little under a hundred years later, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club presided over an increase in the number of Rules from 13 to 22, at the same time making various amendments, and soon it was their version that became universally accepted. Since then, the Rules have evolved out of all recognition, continually shaped by a game that must bear little resemblance to those early forays on to linksland.
The backbone of those original 13 Rules still exists. The prime Rule states that: The Game of Golf consists in playing a ball from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.’
Traditionalists – yes, there are still some left – believe that the only rule of golf should be that you play the ball as it lies and do not touch it from the moment you place it on the tee to the moment you pluck it from the bottom of the hole. It’s a nice theory, but in practice almost certainly unworkable. Others say that the entire rules of golf should be easily accommodated on the back of a pocket-sized scorecard, even a matchbox. Once upon a time, maybe, but that’s no longer possible. The fact is that today’s Rules of Golf are so extensive that even a 100-page booklet cannot contain them all. Not only that, there also exists an enlarged version of the Rules containing decisions’ that aren’t covered by the seemingly all-encompassing Rules.
It’s little wonder, then, that many golfers are ignorant of the Rules. They are written in an utterly dry fashion, almost legal-style. But that format exists out of necessity to avoid ambiguity. Few would deny that the rule book is far from stimulating reading, but the Rules themselves are actually very precise. They just need a little watering down, that’s all. That is exactly what this book is intended to provide. It is not a definitive guide to the Rules, neither is it intended to be. The Rules of Golf themselves fulfil that requirement. This is, in effect, a user-friendly guide to the Rules, an easily digestible version of an unpalatable main course. Some decisions are not covered, but the fundamental Rules are.
Slip this book into a pocket of your golf bag. It should help you develop a deeper understanding of the Rules of Golf and with it a knowledge that they do not exist solely to punish you. They can work in your favour, too, perhaps even save you shots in tight spots.
So, whether you’re a beginner just learning the ropes, or an experienced player brushing up on your knowledge, this illustrated guide to the Rules of Golf should prove enlightening. And remember, golf is the only truly self-governing sport. Contrary to what you might have been led to believe. Rules are not there to be broken.