11 Old Golf Rules That No Longer Exist

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Golf may be a game deeply rooted to the past, but many of its rules have either changed or been eliminated altogether over the centuries. With help from golf rules archive ruleshistory.com and the USGA's collection, here are eleven decrees golfers had to play by, lest they suffer a penalty.

1. The "Tee The Ball Next to the Hole" Rule

Rule:"You must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole"

This is the first entry from the earliest known rules of the game, written by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in 1744. Back in the olden days of links play, there were no tee boxes. After holing, players would lay their club down and set off for the next hole right there. As the rules were developed, players would tee off farther and farther away until courses began the practice of installing tee boxes to mark the beginning of each hole.

2. The "Toss the Ball Over Your Shoulder Like Salt" Rule

Rule: "A ball shall be dropped in the following manner: The player himself shall drop it. He shall face the hole, stand erect, and drop the ball behind him over his shoulder."

Starting in 1908, this was what golfers had to do after incidents that required a dropped ball, like hitting out of bounds or into the water. In 1984, the USGA changed the rule, and golfers now have to stand erect and hold the ball out at arm's length before dropping it.

3. The "That's My Ball Now, Buddy" Rule

Rule: "When a Ball lies in sand, mud, or amongst rubbish, no obstruction shall be removed; but in cases where the Ball is so placed, that the Player finds he cannot play it, it shall be in the power of his adversary to play it."

This, from the Burntisland rules of 1828, allows players to hijack an opponent's ball should it land in a hazard.

4. The "I'm Gonna Plonk Your Caddie Right On The Noggin Because I'm the Winner" Rule

Rule: "If...the player's ball strike his adversary, or his cady, the adversary loses the hole; if it strike his own cady, the player loses the hole."

The St. Andrews rules from 1812 included this gem that could turn golf into a contact sport.

5. The "My Ball Landed in Poop" Rule

Rule: "If your Ball lies amongst Human Ordure, Cow Dung or any such nuisance on the fair green, you may, upon losing one, lift it, throw it over your head, behind the nuisance and play it with any club you please"

According to the 1776 rules of the Bruntsfield Links, you could pick your ball out of a fresh pile of dookie and play it with a one-stroke penalty. (You should also probably clean that bad boy off.)

6. The "If You Let Me Borrow Your Club, I'm Keeping It" Rule

Rule: "The addition or replacement of a club or clubs may be made by borrowing from anyone; only the borrower may use such club or clubs for the remainder of the round."

This rule from 1988 was changed back to the original wording in 1992, which makes no mention of the borrower having to use the clubs for the remainder of the round.

7. The "Don't Give Your Caddie Old Balls" Rule

Rule: "No Golfer shall under any pretence whatever give any old Balls to the Cadies. If they do, they shall for every such ball given away forfeit sixpence to the treasurer."

This one is from The Society of Golfers in and about Edinburgh at Bruntsfield Links' rules drafted in 1773. These guys really didn't like helping out their caddies—another rule stated that "no member of this Society pay the Cadies more than one penny per round." Jerks.

8. The "Can't Tell If That's Your Ball Covered in All That Crap? Too Bad" Rule

Rule: "If the ball be covered by sand, fallen leaves or the like...the ball may not be lifted for identification."

The 1956 rules allowed you to remove impediments from the ball to check if it was yours, but the player was not allowed to pick it up to make sure. In 2008, the rules were changed to allow players to lift the ball for identification purposes so long as they made it clear to their opponent beforehand.

9. The "That Dog Just Ate My Ball" Rule

Rule: "If a Dog happen to carry off or damage a Ball in the course of playing, the party to whom it belongs shall be entitled to use another, and lay it as near to the Spot where taken from as can be guessed."

Apparently Aberdeen had a stray dog problem because, in 1783, the Society of Golfers there deemed it necessary to include a rule about mutts running off with balls in play. Who's a good hazard? Yes you are! Yes you are!

10. The "Bums Are Only Allowed to Play With Other Bums" Rule

Rule: "A competitor, unless specially authorised by the Green Committee, shall not play with a professional, and he may not willingly receive advice from anyone but his caddie, in any way whatever, under penalty of disqualification."

In 1904, if you wanted to play St. Andrews with a pro, you were out of luck. The rules prohibited amateurs and professionals playing together. Had that never been abolished, pro-am tournaments wouldn't be possible and we'd be robbed of great moments like these.

11. The "Your Ball Is Standing In the Way of What I Want and I'm Not Afraid to Go Through It if I Have to" Rule

Rule: "At holing, 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."

Early rules stated that you could temporarily remove your ball only if it touched an opponent's directly. In 1775, the rules were changed to allow removal if the ball was within six inches of an opponent's. But if your ball stood between the hole and theirs, they were forced to either go around it or through it as they earnestly tried to sink their putt. This was called a "stymie," and the rules regarding it evolved until 1984, when players were allowed to temporarily remove balls anywhere in play if they decided they interfered with another player's or their own.

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April 11, 2014 - 1:11pm
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