Rulebook: A Little Understanding Goes A Long Way

As I sit here on my flight from Toronto to Vancouver I’m reflecting on my experience at this past week’s Canadian Junior Girls Championship, held at Camelot G&CC in Ottawa. The quality of play and respect that these young women have for the game was evident. They should all be extremely proud of how they handled themselves under some very tough conditions.

Of concern for me though, was either the lack of knowledge, incorrect knowledge, or the lack of confidence in the application of commonplace rules that was displayed by more than a few players. I’m not talking about complex rules situations either, but situations that players will encounter on an almost round-by-round basis. Now before I get accused of picking on girls, I’ll say that this “inability” is both genderless and ageless. And while the R&A and USGA are set to launch the “great revision” in just over a year’s time, I puzzle over whether or not we’ll still end up in the same boat after all is said and done.

There seems to be an over-dependence on Rules Officials, and a lack of confidence in general that’s developed in recent years on the professional tours, and that has trickled down to the lower ranks. It’s a “safety blanket” mentality that has contributed to a slower, more methodical, grinding game. With all of the countless hours that players devote to process and mechanics, you’d think that more could devote just a couple more to educating themselves about the basic few that golfers use all the time. And you don’t need to be a “rules geek” to do it.

More times than I can count I’ve heard the phrase “What are my options?” from players, which is both surprising and unnerving, especially at higher levels of competition. And of special concern, are players who are consistently flummoxed by Water Hazards, especially since the vast majority of courses have at least one of these. The most common mistake I see is a player’s dependence on the two-club length option of the Lateral Water Hazard rule when an obvious line from the flag through the point of entry is available. If you’re going to pay a stroke to get out of the water, don’t further penalize yourself if a better lie is available (i.e. fairway) a bit further back. And then there’s the equidistant point on the other side of a LWH (this is when the eyes usually glaze over).

Rules of note that every player should at least be comfortable with are, 23: Obstructions, 26: Water Hazards (Including Lateral Water Hazards), 27-1: Ball Lost or Out of Bounds, 27-2: Provisional Ball, and 28: Ball Unplayable. Not only will understanding these five rules help any player navigate through the vast majority of their rounds, it will also help to keep things moving around the course, and help to free up rules resources (read “Officials”) to be available to assist with the more complex situations that players may encounter on a much less frequent basis.

Here in Canada, Golf Canada employs a four-level rules education system. The top two levels (3 and 4) are designed for advanced Rules and Decisions knowledge, and are geared towards those officials who want to work tournaments at the provincial and national levels. I am in no way suggesting that players should seek to spend the amount of time required to achieve these certifications (but if you would like to, I certainly encourage it). However, levels 1 and 2, are designed to promote a general knowledge of the rules, and can be both studied and attained online, with very little study time. I would go so far as to suggest that a Level 2 competency should be achieved by all prospective tournament players, prior to teeing it up in competition. This will become especially important as we approach the start of the “new rules era” in January 2019. Officials and players alike will need to hit the ground running together in order to keep things running smoothly. The final revision of the new rules should be available in early 2018, so we’ll need to buckle down, and quickly.

Believe me, a little understanding goes a long way.

/ Rich McLean
Rich McLean is Golf Canada Level 4 Referee from Kanata, Ontario. He calls himself “a lifelong player, and fan of this great game.” You can find him on Twitter, @LobWedge.
“Golf has given me so much joy, and this is my small way of giving back.  Have fun. Play smart. Play well.”