Golf is a game of honor. It's the only real sport in which players routinely call penalties on themselves, and the only real sport without referees. While the NFL abides by the policy that "you don't break a rule unless you get caught," golf abides by the policies set forth by the USGA and R&A. Sure, there are some bad seeds out there, but by and large, golfers simply follow the rules.
That does not mean, however, that there are some really bad rules. This week in Trap Five, we're going to take a look at the five dumbest rules in golf. See if you agree…
Number Five: Loose Impediments
The rules define loose impediments as being a natural object including dung, stones, worms and insects (so long as they're not fixed or growing, solidly embedded, or adhering to the ball), and a few other things. Sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere. Snow and ice can be casual water or loose impediments, but dew and frost are neither. Who knows what a styrofoam cup might be - it's hardly "natural."
If you encounter a garter snake wrapped around your ball, you can only move the snake if it's dead. If it's alive, well, you can encourage the snake - an "outside agent" - to move or take an unplayable lie. If the snake were poisonous, a free drop would be granted. And finally, if the snake is dead, be careful not to move your ball while removing the snake or you'll be adding a penalty stroke to your score.
The difference becomes moot in a bunker: a dead land crab in a bunker is a loose impediment, but you can't remove loose impediments in hazards or you break rule 13-4.
The whole definition of a loose impediment leaves a lot to be desired. This is particularly true when Tiger Woods can ask thirty fans to help him move a two-ton boulder from his line, yet you and I cannot remove a dead animal without fear of penalty.
Number Four: Ball Moves when Putting
Rule 18-2b says that a ball moving after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke) is deemed to have been moved by the player. He must replace the ball and incur a penalty of one stroke. Unless, of course, the ball moves after he's begun his backward stroke.
It's this rule that prevents several pros from grounding their clubs, because you've not technically "addressed" the ball until you've grounded your club. This rule is fine in the rough and fairway - it's not so cool on the greens. With many greens featuring dastardly slopes and speeds of 11-12 on the Stimp meter, is it any wonder that the wind can sometimes set a ball in motion on the greens?
The Rules of Golf technically make only one mention of "intent" (when a player makes a stroke, he intends to hit the ball) yet a lot of the rules seem to act as if intent is an understood part of them. Intent should be applied to rule 18-2b. If a player (or his caddy, or his equipment, etc.) moves his ball after placing it on the putting green, penalize the guy. But if he's standing there, about to make a stroke, and the wind or the slope carries the ball away, why should the player be penalized? We're talking about the difference between grounding your putter behind the ball or not - a difference that's infinitesimally small.
Number Three: No Range Finders
Rule 14-3b disallows the use of range finders to determine distance. Specifically, it disallows "any artificial device or unusual equipment… for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play."
One could argue that yardage books - now nearly 40 years old and used by everyone on the PGA Tour - are illegal, as are yardages marked on sprinkler heads, or different colored flags to indicate pin position on a green. After all, they're "artificial devices," are they not?
Regardless, this rule has persisted despite the fact that caddies on the PGA Tour - and whomever labels your club's sprinkler heads - have used lasers and GPS units to provide the yardages to players for a few decades. Fortunately, this rule may soon go the way of the dodo.
Number Two: Stroke and Distance
Many people despise rule 27, the "Ball Lost or Out of Bounds" rule. I despise half of it. Except in rare situations where out of bounds markers make no sense (such as forcing higher handicappers to clear a gulch to reach a fairway), I think that hitting a ball out of bounds should be punished with stroke and distance. I've never seen a course where OB exists within 30 yards of the fairway on both sides - almost always the setup of a hole allows you to miss to one side - often quite wildly - and still be well in bounds. Not confident enough in your game? Hit a 3-iron off the tee.
I do disagree with the "lost ball" penalty, however. Players in the northern states encounter this rule quite frequently in the fall. Leaves do a great job hiding a ball from players, and returning to the tee after a drive that veered two yards into the rough is a tad too stiff a price to pay for playing golf in late September. Or what about smashing a drive over the crest of a fairway and not seeing another golfer pick it up? Had you seen the jerk, you could drop another ball without penalty where you and your opponent deem it to have come to rest. If you don't see it, why, it's lost - despite the fact that you both saw where it should have ended up.
Stroke and distance for hitting a ball OB? Fine. Stroke and distance for a lost ball? Not so cool. Call it a stroke and drop the ball where you and your opponent think it should be.
Number One: Hitting from a Divot
Tournaments have been won and lost because, on the 18th hole, someone stripes a drive down the middle of the fairway only to find themselves in a divot. Yet rule 13-1 says that the ball "must be played as it lies, except as otherwise provided in the Rules." The rules say nothing about a divot in the fairway.
Many believe divots should be marked as ground under repair, allowing for a free drop within a clublength of the point and no closer to the hole. As with any other rule where an interpretation of what constitutes a situation (in this case, "is that a divot or not?"), golfers would be required to ask their opponent prior to dropping.
Just Missing the Cut
Pitch Mark on the Fringe - The pin is tucked three paces from the edge of the green. You hit a perfect approach, but push it a tad. It lands in the fringe, pops out, and comes to rest only 10 feet from the hole. The only trouble? You've got to putt over your pitch mark, and you can't repair it prior to your stroke.
Testing the Condition - The rules allows you to casually toss a rake or a towel in a bunker, and to lean on your club to keep from falling in a bunker or water hazard, but heaven forbid you slam your club to the ground in anger after leaving the ball in a sand trap. Why, that's "testing the condition" of the sand - sand from which you just played a shot - and worthy of a nice penalty.
Signing Your Scorecard - A few times each year on the PGA Tour, players either forget to sign their scorecard or they forget to switch scorecards at the beginning of the round (effectively writing their opponents scores on their own card). Both will get a player disqualified. In this day and age, with electronic scorecards, the Internet, and real-time statistics, many would argue that signing a scorecard is a quaint tradition that really has no place on the PGA Tour.
Rule 13 - Craig Stadler was disqualified because of rule 13-3 when he used a towel to keep his pants from getting dirty. Players who shake the dew off of a nearby tree prior to playing a stroke are likewise penalized under rule 13-2. If you find your ball under a tree, take a practice stroke, and break a limb - penalize yourself, regardless of whether you intended to break the limb to improve your swing or not. Rule 13 is not all bad, but many parts of it are awfully suspect.
I'm not sure - and I'm open for suggestions. What would you like to see counted down next week?