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When and when not to be a Rules Nazi on the golf course

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Most women's golf leagues have at least one. Instead of reading "Loving Frank," she has the "Rules of Golf" approved by R&A by her bedside. She keeps up to date on revisions like the rule that now allows you to lift your ball to identify it when in a hazard.

Rules of Golf
It's a good idea to carry a copy of the "Rules of Golf," especially in a tournament situation.
Rules of GolfUnplayable lieLa Cantera - Palmer Signature Course

She's the Ralph Nader of golf, the Martha Stewart of fairway etiquette. I had never played with her before but her moniker, the "Rules Nazi" said it all. Terrifying.

"So you're playing with the Rules Nazi today," said Sue.

"Ever play with her?" I asked.

"Nope, but Maddy did last week, and she was almost in tears."


"She was disqualified for having 16 clubs in her bag. The Rules Nazi counted them and called her on it."

"What happened?"

"Her husband had thrown a couple of extra clubs in her bag when he was cleaning the garage."

"So sad."

Now here I was playing with RN in our weekly sweeps.

On the second green in one fluid motion, with one hand, I replaced my ball and picked up my ball marker.

"Unh uh," RN said. "I don't want to get sticky, but you can't do that." Her voice, I have to admit, was soft and sympathetic. "You have to put your marker down first, and then lift the ball. Then you have to place your ball back, and then lift the marker."

"I thought that's what I did."

"You placed and lifted at the same time."

She was right, of course.

On the fourth hole, one of our foursome placed her first putt 1 inch from the cup. She stepped up, straddling the hole, and tapped it in towards her.

Another "no, no" she told us - Rule #16-1e. In stroke play, it's a 2-shot penalty; in match play, it's loss of hole.

On a par 5 up the hill with a lot of trees and boulders on the left, Emily, a new golfer, hit her ball about 8 feet into the woods with a boulder just in front.

"Taking a provisional?" asked the RN.

"Why?" asked Emily.

"Just in case you can't find it. Then you won't have to come back here and play another." (Rule #27-1.)

"Oh, I'll find it." she said.

The RN said nothing, and off we went.

"I got it," shouted Emily happily. It was wedged in a root behind a tree. "I'm taking an unplayable lie," she yelled, throwing her ball out onto the edge of the fairway, thereby exercising her perceived right that, by taking a one-stroke penalty, she could place her ball for a clear shot to the green.

I wanted to say something. But in this case, I was a coward, a wimp. Then (bless her) RN stepped in: ""Sorry Emily, but you can't do that."

"Can't do what? I'm taking the penalty."

"Well - you can drop the ball within two club lengths of where it's lying; you can take the shot over from where you first hit it but not nearer the hole; or you can drop it as far back as you want, but you've got to keep the place where it landed directly between the hole and the spot where you're dropping it. Sorry." (Rule #28.)

"Really? So what you're saying is the best choice I have is to go back to the tee."

"Afraid so," said the RN, not unkindly glancing back at the group behind us slowly closing in.

I looked down at the ground sheepishly while Emily trudged back up the hill to the tee box.

I could tell by the slope of her shoulders, she was not in a happy place, while I was in the state of huge cop-out.

I had to admit, I was actually grateful to the RN for "protecting the field." And except for the Rules lessons, she was easy. She even shared her Trail Mix with us, watched our drives and helped us find our balls.

But you've got to wonder, if you have to keep going to the Book or your club's designated RN to play the game, can we call this fun? Could the Rules be simplified for those of us who don't make our living playing golf? Hey, 250 years ago, there were only 34 Rules. Now there are numerous sections and subsections and more than 1,200 decisions covering everything from etiquette to ball relief. And every year there is more.

I know, I know. You need to understand and adhere to the rules when playing in a tournament. But for those just getting into the game, those not playing tournament golf, getting too heavy into the rule book can dim enthusiasm and love for the game. That is not a good thing - we want more women players.

Knowing all the rules, even for experienced players, is not an easy task. For new players, it can be a huge distraction. Better in the beginning to learn how to keep moving and play "ready golf" - knowledge of rules will come.

Maybe there are times you should not even try to keep score.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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