When it comes to the rules, golf is really unlike any other sport. What other sport can you name in which you call penalties on yourself? Most sports have a referee and it is almost an art to cheat until you are caught. Just watch any NFL game and watch the linemen battle it out and likely you will see holding or some other mischievous activity on every play. The NBA is the same way with all the pushing and elbowing. As long as the ref doesn't call it, you are free to do it, even encouraged. In golf, if you are in the trees and your ball moves while you are addressing it, it's on you to call the penalty on yourself.
This brings me to what I really want to discuss, which is cheating. In golf, cheating is typically done as subtly as possible. There is a decent amount of blatant cheating which I will discuss, as well as numerous cases of just not knowing the rules. I am forced to admit that the rules of golf can at times be confusing for the average player and this can lead to some heated discussions.
The first brand of cheating to discuss is sandbagging. This is almost always a blatant form of cheating because it takes some work on the part of the golfer to accomplish it. (I could write a completely separate article on this topic and maybe one day I will.)
At my golf club, sandbagging is rampant. The counterargument is that some guys just play better in tournaments, but the USGA has charts for that. The thing is, it's really not easy to call someone out on sandbagging. You have to call them a cheater, and unless you play with them for all of their rounds and then watch them post a higher score, it is ridiculously hard to prove. So sadly, this form of cheating is not going to stop any time soon. Usually what happens is the golf club gets fed up with this golfer sandbagging and throws them out. At my golf club we complain about the guys doing it, but continue to let them win all of the tournaments.
Some golfers do the opposite and adopt vanity handicaps, the reverse of sandbagging. This typically only draws anger when a vanity capper is put on your team. If it is an individual tournament then most people do not mind if this golfer shoots 10 over his handicap because he is only hurting himself. We have one of these guys at our club. He desperately wants to be a six handicap but in reality he is 16 and not even a very good 16.
Then there are the more traditional methods of cheating.
For example, the first that springs to mind is gimme putts. Typically, this guy is on your team and at the start of the round and is giving realistic length putts to everyone. By the end of the round, though, he's giving three to four footers to everyone, including himself. Gimme putts are such a source of frustration in our regular group that we have banished them. We now putt everything out.
Another sly way of cheating is to pick up the ball to identify it. Historically when guys do this, the ball rarely gets put down in the same place. Very often the ball isn't marked either. This is a pretty small infraction but done over the course of the round and it can start to make a difference in the score.
There are also cases where a competitor may try and take a very fortuitous drop which benefits him. This comes up all the time in our group because we have a few fences that protect the next tee and very often there are trees on one side but not the other and in rare cases the nearest point is on the other side of the fence giving the golfer a clear shot to the green. This also can lead to some very heated arguments.
Also in the minor category is touching the line with your putter, this is done usually by guys playing in a scramble (which don't really follow the Rules of Golf to begin with) or in a best-ball match. It's pretty close to harmless, but is nonetheless in violation of the rules.
There are numerous infractions in this category, but the one that my friend so often catches is the provisional ball rule. If you think your ball went out of play or is lost you must declare on the tee that you are hitting a provisional ball. All too often this declaration is simply not made, and when this happens the provisional becomes your real ball no matter if you find your original. If you pay attention to this rule likely you will notice that less than 25% of the time your competitors will not call out that the second ball is provisional.
I do not believe that cheating is an enormous problem in golf. Sandbagging is a real problem, and I think the USGA is trying their best to catch golfers who do this, but in the end it is typically peer pressure that helps to solve it. Most of the other events are small in size and do not have such a big affect on the final outcome. In the end though the policing has to be done by the golfer himself.
I'm curious to hear, in the comments below, what forms of cheating you see most often or which frustrate you the most. Let's hear 'em!