NOW LET’S BE HONEST. How many of us know what the rule is if our ball comes to rest alongside an alligator? Or a snake? Or a wasps’ nest? Fortunately, not many of us are likely to encounter an alligator unless we are playing golf in Florida, but we could meet dangerous insects or venomous snakes during the course of our round so what is the rule? Do we have to play our ball or can we drop another without penalty?
Many of us pick up the rules of sports by playing them and, yes it’s true, breaking them, and being told what we should do by someone who knows, be it a school teacher acting as referee when we are young or an understanding playing partner. And in golf there are plenty of weird and not so wonderful laws that can easily be broken. So let’s take a look at just a few before we get back to our ball alongside that alligator.
You are on the green and your playing partner is tending the flag at your request. Unfortunately your partner is thinking about other things rather than concentrating on your putt which, incidentally, is a beauty. Up it rolls, taking every break, before tumbling into the hole much to your short-lived delight. Short-lived, because your day-dreaming partner did not remove the flag that your ball hit on its way in. The result is a two shot penalty (rule 17-3) to you or loss of hole in match-play unless you can prove that your partner did it deliberately.
Then there is a rule that gets you when you are simply trying to be helpful. Your opponent has knocked his tee shot into a water hazard and you suggest that, rather than play a second off the tee, it makes more sense to play it from the edge of the hazard. In this case (rule 8-1a) you incur a two shot penalty for giving advice. Whilst you are allowed to give information on the rules, you are forbidden from making a suggestion that could influence a player in determining their play.
Despite some well publicised examples of golfers who have transgressed, the professional game is generally an honourable sport with none being more honourable than journeyman English pro, Brian Davis, who is not even the most famous person in his own family with former England and Liverpool goalkeeper, Ray Clemence, as his father-in-law.
In 2010 Davis stood on the threshold of his first tour victory in the USA. He was playing against Jim Furyk in a play off for the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head, South Carolina having just rolled in an 18-footer to tie things up at the 72nd hole. On the very first hole of sudden-death Davis’s wayward seven-iron shot ran through the back of the green, off some rocks and settled down in a clump of weeds, twigs and reeds.
On his backswing he nicked a loose reed and immediately called a two-shot penalty on himself. The match referee agreed that he had hit a loose impediment in a hazard (rule 13-4c) and instead of winning the tournament Davis also lost £270,000 whilst gaining worldwide respect for his honesty in the process.
And so back to our ball sitting alongside the alligator. Although dangerous reptiles are not specifically mentioned in the rules of golf, rule 1-4 says that any dispute not covered by the rules should be made in accordance with equity. In the case of the ball alongside the alligator, or a wasps’ nest or a venomous snake it is not reasonable to expect the player to play from a position that is clearly dangerous so it is permissible to declare the ball unplayable and, without penalty, drop another ball within one club length and no nearer the hole from a position that is not dangerous.
So now you know exactly what to do when you next knock your ball alongside an alligator. If only the rules committee could be as understanding when you have just hit your very best tee shot of the day, possibly even the month and find the fairway-bisecting ball nestling down in someone’s old divot mark, and you have to play it rather that be allowed a free drop as you are from an animal scrape. Now that really is a harsh rule and no mistake!