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MacGregor: Golf rules for the 99.999 per cent

Surely if we can tweak the rules of the winter game to bring a little more common sense to hockey, then we can tweak the rules of hockey's off-season alternative, golf, to make the summer game a little easier to play and understand.

The Rules of Golf are older than the rules of the Old Testament – and often make even less sense.

It was only a year ago that the legendary Jack Nicklaus said "the whole book of the rules of golf should be changed" so that players, all players, don't feel that every shot requires a consultation with a tournament marshal.

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Take Rule 8-1, for example: "A player must not give advice to a player other than his partner." How, then, are you supposed to tell the guy ahead, who failed to rake the sand trap you are now stuck in, where to stick his sand wedge?

The problem is that most rules of golf apply to people who land on fairways, who can hit a flop shot and who don't like it when they take two putts. In other words, rules for the .001 per cent.

The rules also predate cellphones and electric golf carts and the Garmin Approach S1 Golf GPS watch, which conveniently shows players about to duck-hook their approach into the water just how far it is to the front, back and centre of the green.

There is nothing to deal with such matters in the early rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. There is most assuredly nothing to cover this in the Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf that was published in Leith in 1744.

The 13 Leith rules seem preposterous today. For example, rule No. 3 – "You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee" – presumes, ludicrously, that you will be able to find it.

Or rule No. 11: "If you draw your Club in Order to Strike, & proceed so far in the Stroke as to be bringing down your Club; If then, your Club shall break, in any way, it is to be Accounted a Stroke." Really, though, who among us ever broke a club before hitting a shot?

This being the case, we humbly propose The Modern Rules of Golf for the 99.999 per cent.

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Rule 1: Never, ever, ever pluck and eat a ripe raspberry growing to the back or side of a tee that is conveniently hidden from view for most of the rest of the course.

Rule 2: As the current rules say you can hunt for your ball for only five minutes, always play at Titleist, as this is the ball most often played by vanity hitters who swing as hard as they can but have no idea where their ball is going. Never mark on your ball and ignore the number of the ball being played. This will come in handy when someone deep in the woods yells, "Were you playing a Titleist?" Play will be considerably sped up if you simply accept that this must be yours and move on.

Rule 3: It is an accepted psychological reality that 20-year-old beer-cart girls take those jobs in the hopes of catching a 65-year-old potbellied, knobby-kneed, stogey-breath bald guy wearing tartan shorts with a madras shirt that shows off his man boobs, but golfers are advised not to take advantage of this condition by lingering too long at the beer cart and holding up both play and drinks for the next group back.

Rule 4: There are two "gimmes" in golf, not one. The first, and preferable choice, is when your playing partners deem the putt close enough to the hole that even a toddler with a hockey stick could sink it. The second "gimme" is when you miss your six-footer and you immediately race to stickhandle the puck back into the hole, swearing at yourself, and act as if the next putt was so obviously a given there was no need for another player to say "Take it." Both "gimmes" speed up play so are acceptable. A third "gimme" rule – where the player drops to one knee, turns his putter backward and jokingly tries to hole out as if the green were a pool table – is still under review by the rules committee.

Rule 5: The Snowman. At any given time a player who had a rough hole may be asked by the scorecard keeper "Whadya get?" The correct answer, under any circumstance, is "Give me a goddam snowman!" and slam your putter angrily into your bag. This will automatically be recorded as an 8, with nothing said about the three straight balls you put into the water hazard or the four putts required – even with a consensual "gimme" – from the edge of the green.

Rule 6: "Ground under repair." In the olden days the rules were particularly harsh – e.g., the 1774 Leith rules of golf stipulated "You are not to remove Stones, Bones or…" virtually anything else that might obstruct your swing. Golf happily evolved from this point to allow free lifts from sprinkler heads, golf-cart paths, and other matters that did not exist in 1774. So many players today improve their lies that fresh-cut fairways can now be considered "ground under repair."

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Rule 7: "IN THE HOLE!" The Modern Rules of Golf restrict this shout to qualified players only. You must, first of all, be a total idiot. Drunken boors and insufferable loudmouths are allowed the call in tournament play only.

Rule 8: The fact that most golf clubs ask you to put your cellphone on silence does not mean, obviously, that you must also silence your mouth. Outgoing calls have no ring, so feel free to make calls whenever you are backed up on a hole or when your playing partners are teeing off. A two-stroke penalty will be applied to any player leaving his phone on with a ring tone taken from the Black Eyed Peas oeuvre.

Rule 9: Lost balls. The official rule for a lost ball is two strokes for those who can actually play the game. The Modern Rules of Golf, however, allow for a player to tell his partners to "Forget it! I'll play another" when a ball is more than 50 yards deep in the bush. As a reward for not holding up play, and not risking other players to mosquitoes, thistles and poison ivy, the player may then count one stroke for a lost ball. Or none, if he elects to take a Snowman.

Rule 10: As a wise addendum to Rule No. 1, be particularly wary of ripe raspberries found in wet bushes anywhere on the course.

Especially on a day in which it hasn't rained.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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