Playing by the rules

If you’ve been following the golf news recently, you’ll be aware of the commotion surrounding Callaway’s new 11-degree driver, the ERC. Both the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal Canadian Golf Associations (RCGA) have banned the club named after the company’s founder and CEO, Ely Reeves Callaway.

Why the ban? The USGA’s tests show the club is “too hot”. The impact of ball on clubface creates what is called a “trampoline effect” causing the golf ball to rebound off the club in a way analogous to a swimmer jumping off a diving board. Simply put, it gives its user an unfair distance advantage. The RCGA, which doesn’t have testing facilities, has decided to follow this USGA decision.

I don’t know about you, but I think golf needs equipment rules and who better to make them than golf associations? Look how absurd it’s become. Callaway has sued the RCGA over its decision to ban the ERC, saying the ban has damaged Callaway’s reputation and will hurt its club sales in Canada.

Callaway decided that, in banning the club, both the RCGA and the USGA had gone away from tradition by not following the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andre. The R&A has yet to test the club and so it is legal for play in its jurisdiction — outside the United States and Mexico (the USGA’s jurisdiction) and Canada (the RCGA’s jurisdiction).

Are golf associations stuffy?

Now, some people have suggested to me that the golf associations are being rather stuffy in this matter. They feel that golfers should be able to play with any equipment they want. To me, that just means we would live in a golf world without rules. Why should golf not require rules for equipment? And why do some people object when they learn that a certain club has been deemed out of bounds, so to speak?

It’s strange that golfers would even consider playing with illegal equipment. Some people have already bought the new Callaway driver — but would you play a match against somebody using a banned club? I wouldn’t.

Let’s stretch this subject out so that we can see how absurd it is. If we’re not going to respect equipment rules, maybe we should use one of those golf balls that go further than is allowed? Or how about a ball that doesn’t curve as much as a legal ball? Or maybe one could carry 16 clubs rather than the 14 that the rules allowed. Or how about 18? Or 20?

While we’re at it, why don’t we completely ignore all the other rules of golf? How about putting croquet style? This would make the game easier because you are straddling and looking directly down the line. But golf is a side-on game, not a head-on game, at least it’s meant to be. That’s why the rules don’t allow croquet-style putting. By playing that way you might be able to sink your putt, but you’re also breaking the rules.

A game defined by its rules

Break one rule and it becomes acceptable to break others — the slope really is slippery. Surely it can’t matter if you clean mud off your golf ball in the fairway. After all, you can mark your muddy ball on the green and clean it before your next putt. But doing so off the green (unless you need to do so to identify it as yours or determine if it is fit for play) violates Rule 21.

By now you probably see what I mean. When we break the rules of golf, we’re not really playing golf anymore. Like no other game, golf is largely defined by its rules. For example, Mulligans aren’t allowed in golf tournaments because it’s golf, not baseball, where three strikes are permitted. Sure, we all take so-called “breakfast” or “lunch” balls from time to time in casual golf, or we “hit-until-we’re-happy.” But when we do, we know we’re not playing real golf. We would never consider doing this in a serious match or in a tournament.

And yet some golfers purchase illegal equipment and claim a right to use it whenever and wherever they want. Their thinking doesn’t make sense. They should play golf by the rules or call what they’re doing something else.

And that something else isn’t golf. I’m not sure what it is, but it isn’t golf. Put me on the bandwagon where stuffy cranks reside. At least this bandwagon won’t ride wildly into a golfing future where rules don’t matter.