Lipouts… Why are rules so complicated?

The lipouts series is basically going to be golf whining. So read at your own risk. These in general are issues that I see in the sport of golf that I wish I could change.

The Rules of Golf - Over 200 pages of comprehensive decisions

The Rules of Golf – Over 200 pages of comprehensive decisions

Rules were made to be broken… Otherwise they’d be a lot easier to remember…

If you’ve ever tried to sit down and introduce someone to a new sport, then you know that explaining the rules of any sport can be frustrating. It becomes instantly clear just how complicated rules are.

Take football for example… Just this last year there were several rules issues that could make your head spin. Once you get past the current ‘Deflate-gate’ snafu, the first one that comes to mind is the Dez Bryant catch… I mean non-catch against the Packers in last year’s playoffs.

1- Wait, why wasn’t that a catch?

2- Because he didn’t make a football move.

1- What’s considered a football move?

2- Well he has to do a move that is common to the game. Has to establish himself as a runner and maintain possession to the ground.

1- Well didn’t he take 3 steps?

2- Yep.

1- Didn’t he switch arms and reach for the goal line? Is that a football move?

2- Could be.

1- Looked like a runner to me… I thought the ground couldn’t cause a fumble?

2- Well, the ground can’t cause a fumble, but you have to be established as a runner first. He wasn’t established as a runner, so its not a fumble, its incomplete…

1- But the ref thought it was a football move in real time. It seems he was a runner? And then on review he is determined not to be a runner? I’m confused…
Okay… So I’m still a bitter Cowboys fan seeing things through my blue and silver glasses.

But it is confusing! Complicated verbiage and over-analysis often lead to too many rules or rules that are difficult to interpret. The same is certainly true in golf. One of the biggest obstacles to new golfers learning the game is trying to learn a rule book so complicated that professional players and their caddies can’t even do it. If they need rules officials to help them interpret where they are allowed to drop, the average amateur has no chance.
The rues of golf are divided into 34 Rules/Decisions. Each decision can have multiple parts describing procedures to take relief, where to take a drop, when a match is conceded, etc. etc. There are rules attempting to cover every situation you can imagine. Ball in a gopher hole, live ant beds, interference from an outside agency (such as a bird), hitting your ball by accident on a practice swing, or nailing your playing partner are all covered in the book. Admittedly a lot of things can happen in a round of golf and just when you think you’ve seen it all, the game surprises you.

However, I’m not sure what is gained for the sport by having a rule book so complicated. Let’s take hitting it in the water for example. Ever tried to explain to a new player why the water outlined in red is different from the water outlined in yellow? Water is water. Isn’t it the same obstacle? Yet we seemingly treat it different because of the color of paint that was available?

The goal is to distinguish between a lateral hazard (a hazard that runs in parallel to a hole) and a hazard that was intended to be carried by the golfer. In reality, it seems this is used simply to make certain situations more penal for the player, such as the island green at Sawgrass. The green is effectively surrounded by a ‘yellow’ water hazard. What this means is that even if your ball were to hit the green and bounce into the water, you have no option to drop it by the green. You may either re-tee, or try again from the drop area (effectively the forward tee), which still involves roughly a 60 yard carry over water. Such an intimidating shot with no relief from the rule book can be frustrating. Frustrating to the tune of a player scoring a 25 on the hole in the Am Tour Senior National Championship in 2012. Not very forgiving for a high handicap player. The game should never be that hard.

If the hazard were instead marked with ‘red’, the golfer would have the option to drop a ball two club lengths from where it last crossed into the water. This would mean that they could take a drop on the green no closer to the hole than where it crossed the hazard line. A much more beneficial option than having to face the same intimidating shot over water again.

I see golfers struggle all the time with trying to remember what their options are once they get in tournament situations. Which usually results in them taking the option that they know is available and potentially not giving themselves the most advantageous drop or mishandling the rule completely.

Another tough one for amateurs is grounding your club. This is another situation where the intentions of the rule aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. In golf, you are not allowed to place the sole of the club on the ground when when your ball is in a hazard such as a bunker or inside the painted line of a water hazard. Essentially this rule protect from the golfer trying to improve their lie using their club.

Imagine a situation where a ball has become semi-plugged in a sand trap. Maybe half the ball is above the level of the sand. I can imagine a situation where a player could potentially use the act of grounding their club to move some sand away from the back of the ball and thus improve their lie. However, there is already a rule that says you can’t improve your lie. So why does the club need to hover in a bunker?

For instance, in the fairway or the rough, it is illegal to mash down the grass behind your ball in hopes to get the ball ‘teed up’. Couldn’t that same rule apply in the bunker without the need for hovering clubs? I guess the fear is that some players would abuse it and it would become a blurry line as to whether a player was grounding their club or trying to improve their lie.

I’m okay with that blurry line. There are a lot of things in golf that are blurry. It is a game of integrity. On the amateur level, there is no way to watch every player hit every shot. If my playing competitor is off in the woods teeing his ball up to give him a shot out of the trees, there is no way I can police that and maintain a decent pace of play. I have to trust that he is playing within the rules. And he has to trust me to do the same. If he isn’t, then I hope the golfing gods and karma catch up with the cheater. I don’t need additional rules to police these situations.

In the end these rules just lead to unnecessary violations. Remember during the PGA Championship a few years ago when Carl Pettersson was penalized for touching a leaf while in a hazard? Let me refresh your memory. On his back swing, Pettersson’s club brushed the grass enough to cause a leaf to flutter into the air. This was deemed as grounding his club and a good par turned into a double bogey. Brushing the grass in no way improved his lie or impacted the shot. It was a stupid example of an unnecessary rule.

There are plenty of unnecessary rules in golf. It can be overwhelming to remember them all.
When do I get one clublength vs. two clublengths for relief?
When is sand a loose impediment (it is when you are on the green, it is not when the sand is on the green and you are not) as Rory found out the hard way.
I took a practice swing and knocked a leaf off that tree, is that a penalty? Did I improve my lie?

I went to tap my 2 footer in and I think the wind moved it, is that a penalty?

For new players there is already too much to try learn in terms of etiquette. When is it their turn? Not stepping in another player’s line. How to mark their ball properly. Where to stand when another player is hitting. Etc. Etc.

Can we at least simplify the rule book?

Follow me on Twitter (@golfaddictsrx) and Facebook (golfaddictsrx).


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