I'm still trying to piece together in my mind how we can have two sides of this Local Rule issue. The only real conclusion I can reach is that we don't - the Local Rule was never valid, but it was a somewhat common practice in the land of the R&A until it grew large enough to warrant clarification via Decision.
The USGA - the law of the land for @Fourputt, @David in FL, and myself - has at every level (five personal contacts, up from four, Linda, and the "email a rules question to the USGA" person) disavowed that this Local Rule was ever legitimate, valid, authorized, or any other word you might want to use to say those things.
The best I can figure is that some number of clubs in the R&A territory (particularly those in Scotland, which is frankly somewhat appalling to me as a card carrying Rules Geek) implemented the policy and the R&A looked the other way. These Local Rules, I contend, were never actually valid (authorized/legitimate, etc.) - they violate the principles of the game, as well as the specific Rules as divot holes do not meet any of the exceptions.
So at some point the "Local Rule" that violated the Rules of Golf and its Principles was becoming widespread enough that the R&A had to issue the Decision. The USGA, from what I'm told, went along with it despite not having such a problem for the same reasons anyone else would - it's just a clarification, and not any sort of change in the actual Rules.
This seems to be the most plausible explanation - the Local Rule was never actually valid, but due to growth and spreading, the Decision was implemented to stomp it out.
The facts supporting this are:
- It does not seem to have been used in serious competitions.
- Almost nobody has ever heard of such a Local Rule.
- The USGA has, to a person, denied this.
- The existence of the Decision without an accompanying change to wording of the pertinent Rules.
- The existence of but ONE article online talking about how this is a popular Local Rule.
It's almost completely analogous to courses in the U.S. and elsewhere marking trees or tall grass as lateral water hazards (despite not meeting the definition of "water hazard"). It is in no way a valid rule or way of marking the course, and if it's written on the card under a Local Rule it is as invalid there as was "move your ball from a divot hole" was in Scotland in 2009.
Perhaps it's there already, but the addition of the Decision re: divot holes would thus be the same as a Decision clarifying that tall grass or trees may not be marked as a water hazard unless they meet the definition of a water hazard.
@Rulesman shared the communication in private (and I've shared the "official" response from the USGA with him as well - they conflict, as stated above) and the person says it was a "permitted" Local Rule. I would contend that the most plausible explanation for this - since relief from a divot hole again goes against the Rules and Principles - is that it's either a poor word choice ("common" Local Rule would be more accurate) or that it's this person's way of whitewashing the past a little bit.
At the risk of making this all sound like a much, MUCH larger thing than it really is, I can't imagine the R&A is too fond of this portion of its history. Many of their clubs, in the birthplace of the game, had via Local Rule for several years at least, offered relief for something which in no way qualified for relief.
Did this Local Rule exist? I think we've all agreed for a few pages now that it did. We don't know how widespread it was, but its existence seems to be agreed upon. What I will continue to disagree with, however, is that the Local Rule was ever valid. It has not been demonstrated, and cannot be demonstrated IMO, how such a Local Rule was valid under the Rules of Golf in 2009.
P.S. To those who might call us Yanks (namely, @Fourputt, @David in FL, and myself) obstinate, I simply submit that we had very, very, very good reason to be - the Local Rule is in violation of the Rules of Golf, and the clubs which implemented it should be ashamed of themselves. We had every right to be obstinate, for it was not us who were in violation of the Principles of the game, but you (your clubs, whatever).