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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rule 33-7

What, I've often wondered, constitutes a "serious breach of golf etiquette"?  Tiger and Sergio aren't the only golfers on the course who "don't enjoy each other's company," as Sergio explained during a live interview at the Players.  (At least most of us don't continue our petty feuds over Twitter.)  But when does that lack of enjoyment of another golfer's company cross over the line from irritation to a "serious" breach of etiquette?  When hot words are exchanged?  When the words contain accusations of dishonesty, or the exchange is peppered with profanity?  And, of concern to those of us who will forever remain amateur golfers, in routine, informal play, how can Rule 33-7 be invoked?

The utter civility with which the game of golf is played is very appealing to me.  And I am always astonished, sometimes mildly amused, and occasionally flabbergasted when that civility breaks down, even when I'm the one breaking down.

The Rules of Golf, which tend toward obfuscation, are perfectly clear about etiquette.  There are three crucial elements: safety, consideration for other players, and care of the course.  Ours is a sport played, even at the highest professional levels, without a referee or an umpire.  In my world of amateur golf, there may or may not be a Starter at the first tee, and there may or may not be a Marshall touring the course as we play.  The responsibility for safety, civility, and routine course maintenance rests with us, the golfers, and some of us are better golf citizens than others.  I complain about cigarette butts in the bunkers, but Barb Schuster (whom I regard as the quintessential good golf citizen) picks them up and deposits them in a used drink cup she carries in her cart, which she discards at the end of her round.  I complain about unfilled divots on the fairway, especially when my ball happens to get lodged in one, but I could and should take the next step and fill them with sand.  Still, these issues fall into the "lesser sins" category.

Individual temper tantrums aside -- over three holes of play Wes and I once watched a young guy in the foresome playing in front of us fling one club after another into the deep woods and then stomp off the course -- I've witnessed some downright amazing breakdowns in consideration of other golfers that relegate Aunt Mickey's snake trick to the minor sins category.  Tempers flare.  Accusations fly.  Diplomacy fails.

Did we forget that this is a game and games are intended to be fun?  Does Rule 33-7 offer a solution?  Are there alternatives?  How can cooler heads intervene and prevail?

When I contemplate this issue of consideration of other players I try to remember three personal guidelines:  first, while I enjoy golfing with some people more than others, there are probably people who also feel that way about me, and if I'm going to enjoy my round I need to focus on golf, not on the personalities of my golf companions; second, I don't know all the rules, and I can and do make mistakes; and third, I must remain open to reminders and corrections and even the imposition of penalty shots, and when I am not clear about the application of a rule, or the number of times I've hit the ball (I tend to lose track when my number of shots on any given hole gets excessive), I need to consult my companions.  I may not like their interpretation of a rule and I may not like their count of my strokes, but for the good of the round and the good of the game, I must accept the decisions with civility and good humor.

If I adhere to these three guidelines, I'll be a better cart mate, I'll be a more pleasant member of any foursome in which I find myself, and I'm fairly confident I'll derive even greater pleasure from my next round of golf.