There is mixed opinion on the rule ‘change’ that has been announced by the ruling bodies of the game of golf- The R&A (Royal And Ancient Golf Club) and the USGA (United States Golf Association). These two are responsible for the administration of golf internationally including making and reviewing the rules that govern how our game is played. The first rules were drawn up a looong time ago by a group known as the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers who played the game at the Leith links (subsequently they moved to what is now Muirfield Golf Course) at a time when there were no fairways as such, and the ball was ‘holed’ when hit into an indentation scraped into the sandy soil. The player then proceeded to hit his next stroke from beside the ‘hole’! Pretty primitive, yes, but these Gentlemen Golfers decided that there needed to be some definite guidelines and so produced this first list of rules in 1744 to formalise things in one of the first ever tournaments that they ran. There were 13 of them and when you read them I think you will find they envisaged a much more restricted environment than we currently enjoy (and are guided by 34 rules and appendices) today.
According to the Honourable Company of Gentleman Golfers, here are the original rules of golf as they appeared in 1744. All 13 of them. They are written here as they appeared then in the English of The Day.
THE RULES OF GOLF Circa 1744
“Articles and 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, and that only within a Club’s length of your Ball.
5. If your Ball comes among Water, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball and 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 anywhere touching one 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 its being taken up, or any other way you are to go back to the Spot where you struck last, and 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 stopp’d by any person, Horse, Dog, or any thing else, the Ball so stopp’d must be played where it lyes.
11. If you draw your Club, in order to Strike and 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 furthest from the hole is obliged to play first.
13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made from the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar’s Holes or Soldiers Lines shall be accounted as a Hazard. But the Ball is to be taken out Teed and play’d with an iron Club.
John Rattray– Captain.”
Every 4 years the R&A review, modify, add to, update the rules of golf (after approval by the USGA- oh how they would love to be the premier administrative body worldwide!) and among changes to be enacted in 2016 will be an addition to the rule that governs how one is actually allowed to strike (hit) the golf ball. For many years people have been playing with a variety of long-shafted putters and have tinkered with how these are held and swung, to the extent that they have been anchored either at the chest or chin, but more recently (and arguable more popularly) anchored to the belly [belly putters]. Throughout these years there has been discussion around whether or not these should actually be allowed given the original intention of the game which was to hit a ball from a starting point (teeing ground) to a small hole (now on a ‘green’) in the fewest number of ‘strokes’. There is a clear description of that intent in Rule 14… Currently the rule that refers to hitting or ‘striking’ a ball is-
14-1 Ball To Be Fairly Struck At
The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.
However the discussions have had their effect- an additional new rule will read-
14-1b Anchoring the Club
In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point”.
Note 1: The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or a gripping hand against a hand or forearm.
Note 2: An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.
I agree with the rule change (addition) and will have no sympathy for those who believe they are being hard done by and picked on. Keegan Bradley even went so far to suggest that the rule modification or clarification was in some way an implicit accusation that people who used ‘broomstick’ or ‘belly’ putters were cheats. (Methinks he doth protest too much?) I am sure no-one suggests they are cheats inasmuch as people from my side of the argument believe that the game should be the same for all and that variations that allow for a major deviation from the intention of the rules, (ie. the intention of the game is clearly outlined in Rule 14,) and the challenge to ‘fairly striking’ the ball is a personal one of skill and discipline, not one of technology. Some may think that the evolution from persimmon wooden clubs to titanium or carbon fibre is the same but I would argue this technology is available to anyone without the need to alter either a skill or one’s discipline that is required when changing from a conventional putter to either of the anchored versions.
I just heard one of the announcers at the professional event I’m [kinda] watching who (1) was happy if there might be a set of rules for professionals that might differ from the rules for amateurs (dopey idea) and who (2) also suggested that it might be advantageous for amateurs with some infirmity to be assisted by the anchored putting stroke! (Surely if your infirmity allows you to swing the club freely coming down the fairway, the much more restricted and genteel swing or stroke of a putt which is required to propel the ball probably no further than 50-60 feet would be manageable?) Another dopey idea.
So I’m in favour of everybody being required to use the same sort of equipment and to use it in a ‘standard’ way that can be improved one from the other by their skill and enhancement of it, and discipline and their application of it. Get your advantages by applying yourself and doing the basic things better than those around you rather than by relying on quirky and questionable technological developments.