17 Jan 2011
January 17, 2011

Principles Behind the Rules of Golf

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Principles Behind the Rules of Golf

“You put your ball in play at the start of the hole, you play the course as you find it, you play only your own ball, and you do not touch it until you lift it from the hole.”

In his book, “The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf”, Richard S. Tufts, former USGA President and former Chairman of the USGA Rules of Golf Committee, offered the above simple definition of the game of golf.

This definition is the combination of the following two great principles.

I. You play the course as you find it.

Golf is played under a wide variety of conditions. Coping with the good or bad fortune that arises from these conditions is one of the ways that golf tests those who play the game.

The principle of playing the course as one finds it is embodied, primarily, in Rule 13. Rule 13-1 provides the basic premise that the ball is played as it lies unless the Rules permit the player to do otherwise.

Rule 13-2 lists the specific areas which the player may not improve and the types of improvements the player may not make in addition to providing a few exceptions. Although the player is generally prohibited from improving the lie of his ball, his line of play, or his area of intended stance or swing, a few key Decisions explain that, if such areas were worsened by someone other than the player after the player’s ball came to rest, the player may be entitled to
restore the areas. Please refer to Decisions 1-2/1, 13-2/8, 13-2/8.5, 13-2/29.5, 16-1/13.

II. You put your ball into play at the start of the hole and do not touch it until you lift it from the hole.

This principle is codified in Rule 1-1 and the Definitions of “Teeing Ground”, “Stroke”, and “Hole.”

Taking guidance from ‘do not touch it until you lift it from the hole’ goes a long way in preventing a breach of the Rules.

Specific Rules provide the details for relief, whether with or without penalty, for the circumstances when it is impossible or impracticable to the play the ball as it lies or when certain abnormal conditions affect play.

Even though his two great principles provide guidance, Mr. Tufts cautioned that they are not a substitute for knowing and playing by the Rules.