Ever tried reading the rules of golf? Most of us would rather go to the dentist. But what’s the big deal, after all there are only 34 of them? Well for starters the rules of golf are pretty dense, with each rule consisting of multiple segments and to make matters worse they are nested. Which means that when you look up one rule it references other rules which, each in turn, may reference still other rules.
Ok, so you plow through and still can’t seem to find what you are looking for. Well your particular situation may be in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, and there are over 2000 of these. Want to know if you get relief from a fire ant mound see Decision 33-8/22 (yes you do). And, don’t forget there are more rules on the back of your score card – these are the local rules.
In practice, what this all means is that the every day golfer likely hasn’t spent much time memorizing the Rules of Golf. Sure you know some; but in many cases the rules tend to become anecdotal – passed down from one golfer to another. However, there are a few you should commit to memory. Here’s a simple example. How many times do you hear the question “do I get a 1 or 2 club length drop?” Well the easy answer is: if it is a free drop you get 1 and if it is a penalty you get 2.
One of the most important rules for us is the “Unplayable Rule.” Too often we find ourselves in what looks like a dire situation. And, instead of taking the drop, we use our visualization skill, which is often better than our golf skill, and whack it into more trouble. In those situations you might consider the “Unplayable Rule.” This rule can be your friend, because you may declare your ball unplayable anywhere on the course, except a water hazard, and there is some strategy involved in what to do next.
The “Unplayable Rule” has 3 options on how to proceed, under a 1 stroke penalty: 1) drop 2 club lengths no nearer the hole, 2) drop any distance from behind the ball keeping on the same line as the flag, 3) play the ball from the spot you played your previous shot. Option 3 is usually the last one most people choose because they don’t want to face the group behind them or can’t exactly remember where that spot was.
But here is an instance where option 3 could be a real life safer. Let’s say you are a few yards off the green and you need to get to a back pin. Only this time your famous chip shot goes screaming across the green and ends up 10 yards away and under a tree. This is a tough shot. You are short sided, the green slopes away from you and the lie is problematic.
Remember, you can declare your ball unplayable anywhere on the course except in a water hazard. It doesn’t matter if your buddies think it is playable, this is your call and yours alone. So now under the “Unplayable Rule”, option 3, you can take a 1 stroke penalty and go back to the spot where you skulled the ball and try it again. Armed with a little more experience you might even chip this one in.
One last note. Do read the back of the score card and learn the local rules. For example, at our club you get relief off the putting green from a sprinkler head if your ball is within 2 club lengths of the sprinkler, and the sprinkler is within 2 club lengths of the green. And, if you really want a rules education visit Barry Rhodes for a very informative and entertaining blog on the Rules of Golf.