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A Simpler Game: The 10 Golden Rules

On most days, these are all you need to know

By: George Peper

Appeared in Fall 2011 LINKS

Since the humble beginnings of organized golf, more than two and a half centuries ago, almost every element of the game has changed and grown. But surely no aspect has expanded more dramatically—and some would say needlessly—than the Rules.

Back in 1744 the original Rules of Golf issued by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers numbered just 13—340 well-chosen words covered everything from lost balls to “wattery filth.”  By contrast, today’s Rulebook weighs in at 182 pages. There are 34 Rules with over 200 sections and subsections delineated in a mind-numbing 20,000 words. In addition, there’s a separate Decisions book—covering what the Rules don’t—and that one is nearly 600 pages thick.

Do we need all this? Well, in one sense, it was inevitable. Those first 13 Rules applied to just one golf club, one course. Now there are nearly 50,000 courses around the world, no two of them alike. As a consequence, all sorts of odd situations have arisen. Had the Rules not expanded a bit, the disputes would have been innumerable and unresolvable. Like the tax code, however, it’s all become too complicated for the average human being.

“The weep for simplification of the Rules of Golf is a stock-in-trade of the journalist during the winter months. Countless words on the subject have been poured out to an ever-tolerant public, but still the long-sought simplification does not come.” So wrote Henry Longhurst, 75 years ago, and his words remain true today. What has been needed for a long time is a simplified Rulebook, something brief, comprehensive yet comprehensible, and endorsed by the USGA and R&A for the benefit of the world’s weekend golfers.    

Until that happens, we present the next best thing—something called The 10 Golden Rules of Golf. A version of these first appeared back in 1982, the result of a collaboration between the USGA and GOLF Magazine. They were an instant success as 60,000 people wrote in to order 10 Golden Rules bagtags. In the intervening three decades, however, they have been utterly ignored. So LINKS Magazine has taken up the cause, and the USGA has partnered with us, updating the original 10 with a few tweaks and clarifications.
Our 10 Golden Rules are not quite as terse as those the Scots came up with, but they do reflect golf in the 21st century and we think they cover 90 percent of the situations that golfers routinely encounter in the course of an 18-hole round. Here they are, in the spirit of a simpler game.
 
THE 10 GOLDEN RULES OF GOLF
1. Play the ball as it lies.

2. Don’t move, bend, or break anything growing or fixed, except in fairly taking your stance or swing. Don’t press anything down.

3. You may lift natural objects not fixed or growing, except in a water hazard or bunker. No penalty.

4. Movable man-made objects may be moved. For immovable objects, you may take relief by dropping away from them within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole, except in a water hazard or if the object defines out of bounds. In a bunker, you must drop in the bunker. No penalty.

5. You may take relief from casual water, ground under repair, burrowing animal holes or casts, anywhere except in a water hazard. On the putting green, place at the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole; otherwise drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole. In a bunker, you must drop in the bunker. No penalty.

6. In a water hazard or bunker, don’t touch the water or ground with your hand or club before the stroke.

7. If you hit your ball into a water hazard and cannot find or play it, either drop behind the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin or at the place where you played the shot. On the tee, you may tee the ball. One penalty stroke. If you hit into a lateral hazard, you may also drop within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin, or, within two club-lengths of a point equidistant from the hole on the opposite margin. One penalty stroke.

8. When you hit your ball out of bounds or can’t find it after 5 minutes of searching, add a penalty stroke, go back and drop a ball at the place where you played the shot. On the tee, you may tee the ball. If you think you have hit your ball out of bounds or lost it outside a water hazard, play a provisional ball before searching for the first one.

9. When you have an unplayable lie, you may drop a ball at the place where you played the previous shot, adding a penalty stroke. On the tee, you may tee the ball. Alternatively, drop within two club-lengths, no nearer the hole, or any distance behind the unplayable spot, keeping it between you and the hole. If the ball is in a bunker, you must drop in the bunker, under either of the alternative options. If you can’t play your ball that is in a water hazard, see Golden Rule #7.

10. You may repair ball marks and old hole plugs on the putting green that are on the line of your putt, but not spike marks.

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