RENSLOW: Know the rules, then and now |

RENSLOW: Know the rules, then and now

Offsides, icing, illegal crackback. These are a few rules from sports that require some investment in the game to figure out what they are and why they exist. Golf has a few of those, too.

Although there may be moments when we do not understand how a certain rule came to be, we can rest on the fact that over the last few hundred years, countless hours have been devoted to arrive at the documents and decisions that we have today.

There is one important thing to remember. The objective is for all who will play, regardless of age or ability, to play by the same rules. Rules should be equitable and the parameters should not vary.

The Gentleman Golfers of Leith wrote the original 13 rules of golf in the year 1744.

Here they are for your edification:

Articles & Laws in Playing at Golf

1. You must Tee your Ball within a Club’s length of the Hole.

2. Your Tee must be upon the Ground.

3. You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee.

4. You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, Except upon the fair Green within a Club’s length of your Ball.

5. If your Ball comes among watter, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a stroke for so getting out your Ball.

6. If your Balls be found any where touching on another, You are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.

7. At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not to play upon your Adversary’s Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.

8. If you should lose your Ball, by it’s being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball, And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.

9. No man at Holling his Ball, is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club, or anything else.

10. If a Ball be stop’d by any Person, Horse, Dog, or anything else, The Ball so stop’d must be play’d where it lyes.

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.

12. He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.

13. Neither Trench, Ditch, or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar’s Holes or the Soldier’s Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out and play’d with any Iron Club.

Pretty straightforward, eh? If your dog or your horse stops your ball, that’s the way it goes. A phrase developed over the years is ‘rub of the green.’ We still use that one. By definition, ‘rub of the green’ occurs when a ball in motion is deflected or stopped by any outside agency (this would include dogs and horses). You hit it. You find it. You play it.

Today, the Rules of Golf have grown to a total of 34 and every four years the governing bodies of golf commiserate on possible changes. Many of these updates have been kicked around for years and currently there are over 100 topics in these conversations.

In the time that we have available, let’s look at a few of the new rules that could affect the greatest number of people.

1) For some what is known as the “DJ Decision,” there will be no penalty for a ball that is moved accidentally on the green. Dustin Johnson, in last year’s U.S. Open, addressed his ball only to have the ball move. He incurred a penalty shot (and must replace the ball to its originally position). But, realistically, does a ball moving accidentally provide an advantage? You have to replace the ball anyway.

2) Repairing spike marks on the greens prior to putting has been a hot topic for years. The essence of the Rules are to play the course ‘as you find it.’ However, if one can repair a ball-mark on the green, why should one not be able to repair a spike mark? Of course, with the advent of ‘soft spikes’ and/or non-metal spikes, imperfections caused by golf shoes are not as great, but nonetheless, look for a change here.

3) Looking for a lost ball seems to take forever, specifically when it’s not your ball….ha. Honestly, I don’t see this as a big improvement, yet the amount of time one can hunt for their ball will likely be reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. Not earth shattering, but virtually anything that can be done to speed up play is a good thing. For most of us, it ain’t the Open Championship. Look for a minute or two and move along.

Regulations can occasionally cramp your style, but there is also a certain amount of redemption for those who know the rules. You may find your ball in an adverse position from which you are entitled to relief. That’s right, no penalty, just move the ball to a different spot, in accordance with the rules.

A few of these helpful rules will come up nearly every round of golf that you play and Get Into Golf will continue to provide helpful information that will improve your day on the course. Between now and then, try to pick up a Rules of Golf book at your local Pro Shop or head to And remember, the first rule is to have fun.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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