Last week I played a round of golf with a living golf legend, Wachira Mahihu.
This was during a tournament hosted by the Kenya Golf Union at Muthaiga Golf Club dubbed the Legends Golf Day, which was followed by a presentation in which the union recognised legends who have served the game of golf in Kenya.
The room was filled with legends and families of some who have passed away and then there were golf enthusiasts like yours truly, following the proceedings with great interest.
Kenyan golfing greats were named one after the other and the Master of Ceremonies gave a synopsis of their achievements.
There was the father and son duo of Ben and Jacob Okello, mentioned separately for their achievements on the golfing scene.
The late John Mucheru, father of the Cabinet Secretary of ICT Joe Mucheru, who won all the amateur titles there were to win before turning professional.
The list was long but having played with Wachira Mahihu, who self-deprecatingly described himself as a grand father whose best days on the golf scene are past, and having watched him at close range play some impressive shots, I was happiest when he was honoured for his service of past Kenya Amateur team.
It was while hobnobbing before the official presentation at this event that I was drawn into a discussion about the Rules of Golf.
A gentleman who has played golf for more years than are eligible for youth fund loans, was lecturing younger golfers about knowledge of the Rules.
He was quick to point out that before he was allowed on the golf course back in the day, a member of the golf committee of his home club schooled him and other new golfers on the Rules of Golf.
He then went on to lecture the “new golfers” (as he referred to them) about some of the Rules. I was supposed to stand by his side and endorse his proclamations. It was not long before he started telling the “Rules myths”. When I tried correcting him, I got in trouble with him.
Then a few days later, in one of the social-media groups where we discuss the Rules of Golf among other things, another myth reared its head.
My curiosity was piqued by the fact that a lot of these myths come from golfers who have played for longer than I have. Could these have developed from previous Rules of Golf?
I went to some archives and found the Rules of Golf from my year of birth (which is over 200 years ago) and could not find anything to suggest that these myths were ever part of the Rules. I even went as far as the first ever Rules of Golf ever written in the year 1754. These here were some of the first accepted and official Rules of Play:
1. Your tee must be upon the ground.
2. You are not to change the ball which you strike off the tee.
3. If your ball come among water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your ball, and throwing it behind the hazard six yards at least, you may play it with any club, and allow your adversary a stroke for so getting your ball out.
4. If you should lose your ball by it being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the spot where you struck last, and drop another ball, and allow your adversary a stroke for the misfortune.
5. If a ball be stop’t by any person, horse, dog or any thing else, the ball so stop’t must be played where it lyes.
6. If you draw your club in order to strike, and proceed so far in the stroke as to be bringing down your club; if then your club shall break, in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke.
How did these “Rules Myths” come up? The situation is made worse by the fact that senior golfers of repute perpetuate them. Here are some of the myths and the correct positions according to the Rules of Golf.
1. You can declare your ball lost – a ball is lost if not found within five minutes or if you put another ball in play. A ball cannot be lost by declaration.
2. You must declare the type of ball you are playing and must say when you change it – the responsibility of playing the correct ball lies with the player.
The player doesn’t have to announce, but it is good practice to do so.
3. A player must not hit the ball with the back of his club (eg the back of the putter head) – the rules state that the head of the club must strike the ball. They don’t say the face but the head of the club.
4. If someone makes any mistake in match play, they lose the hole – not all mistakes lead to an automatic loss of hole in match play. If, for example, a person picked his ball without marking its position, they incur a one stroke penalty and not loss of hole.
5. You must mark the position of a ball every time you pick it – a ball to be replaced must be marked. If you are not going to replace the ball, for example, in ground under repair, it is not mandatory to mark the position of the ball.
6. A ball must make a full revolution in order to be considered to have moved – a ball is deemed to have moved if it leaves its position and comes to rest in any other place. That may be by a few dimples.
It may be unrealistic to expect all golfers to read the Rules of Golf, but it may be necessary to read through some specific Rules if you want to instruct newbies.
It would however be a good idea for Handicapping Committees in all golf clubs to go back to the old system of teaching the Rules of Golf to the new converts.