The ten rules we choose to ignore in everyday golf

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the November issue of Golf Digest magazine.


Please do not take offense at this statement of fact, but golfers on public courses tend to drive their golf balls into a better lie more often than golfers on private courses do. I consider myself somewhat of an authority on this subject because I have played half my life on public courses and the other half in private clubs.

It is not a moral judgment. Publishers are as honest, ethical, and serious about the rules of life as anyone else, but the normal convention in the Ordinary Public Course is that circumstances allow for The Nudge. You know what I mean: the cute product with a clubhead just a few inches away into a slightly upgraded patch of grass. Do no harm.

Jack Nicklaus has long argued that the rules should allow you to get the ball out of the shooting hole. The little path I grew up on was a huge hole. We simply jot down our “Winter Rules” throughout the year. When we bet big money, we insisted on “playing the ball down” – and if you pushed it into the woods, you had to keep clapping until you hit the next ball.

Bobby Jones used to say that there are three types of golf: everyday golf, competitive golf, and tournament golf. The first is like walking a crack in the sidewalk. The second is like walking on a tightrope six feet above the ground. “The golf tournament is high wire,” he said, “and they take away the nets.” Most golfers I know walk on solid ground and only gesticulate knowing the rules.

What do you mean? My top 10 rules we choose to ignore in everyday golf, but wouldn’t if we were playing in something as important as the US Open or even a club championship, which fortunately most of us never do, include:

Three minutes is allowed by the rules, but my opponents hunt for 10 minutes and then they actually start looking. My favorite rulebooker David Fay says, “I’m a one-minute guy. If I can’t find him in a minute, do it.”

Especially in fall golf, if you lose your ball in the leaves, no penalty, just drop one where you think it should be. You can draw but you can’t win the hole. It is named after the esteemed Dave Anderson, the late New York Times sports columnist who had a great wiggle.

An organ named Mulligan invented the first tee at Winged Foot, always asking for a second lead to find the right lane, and it spread as common practice everywhere.

Ready to roll at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

Legal in match play but widely applied in stroke club tournaments. What starts out as “no gems” on the first few holes becomes “inside the skin” on turn three and four feet when you shoot yourself out of it. A man I know as Pele immediately goes into the third stage.

It’s not a rule of golf, but if you have a handicap, you are expected to score every hit to maintain an accurate handicap. Vanity players only post their low scores, and sandbox players only post their high scores.

My buddies laughed when Wesley Bryan was penalized four strokes for having two 7-irons in his bag in Monday’s PGA Tour Qualifiers. I’ve seen men wear over 14 headscarves.

Wesley Brian takes part in the Butterfield Bermuda tournament in October.

What did you do? Some players take a survey before choosing a club on the basis of 3s.

It may be a reasonable rule to move your ball from the root of a tree – or even a tree stump – without penalty. Same with cleaning up the mud from the ball in the lane. If you clear a loose obstacle and the ball moves, ignore the penalty. It is acceptable to fall incorrectly on the golf hole side of a paved map course rather than the actual “nearest relief”. Therefore, relief from immovable objects such as watering cans is taken as “mental interference”, as is ignoring the difference between red and yellow bets and taking a more appropriate drop from water hazards as if they were all sideways (red).

It’s legal now if the local rule is adhered to, but we’ve been doing it for years, you only have a fourth stroke. My friends view the OB as a water hazard, drop and hit a 3. It provides a return to the tee and slows play.

Rory McIlroy gets into trouble out of bounds at the BMW PGA Championship in September.

You mean this is against the rules?

My favorite rules official was Frank Hannigan, USGA Executive Director, 1983-1988. When Dennis Watson was hit with two penalty strokes for waiting more than 10 seconds for his ball to teeter on the edge of the hole, the referee cost him the 1985 US Open (he lost by one stroke). I asked Hannigan what he would do under the circumstances. He said, “I was making sure I was standing where I couldn’t see what was going on.”

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