Golfnutter: TIT and the Rules of Golf

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Competition golf requires players adhere to a common set of rules, such as the Rules of Golf.  Whilst this is stating the obvious, what is not clear are some of the local rules golf organisers are forced to consider; simply because ‘This Is Thailand’ (TIT).

Playing golf in the kingdom has its own unique set of circumstances, many of which demand special consideration under local rules.  It comes down to playing in a country which has its own unique way of doing things, particularly things involving caddies, and to a lesser extent green keepers, six-balls and, well, just being Thai.

Caddies – any infringement is your infringement.Caddies – any infringement is your infringement.

Let’s consider a factor vital to Farang golf administration in Thailand – fairness, or in golfing terms, equity.  And before some Rules zealot asks what makes golf in Thailand so different, here are some mitigating factors:

  • It is compulsory to hire the services of a caddie when playing golf in Thailand.
  • The golfer, more often than not, doesn’t or can’t choose his/her caddie.
  • Very few caddies understand the Rules of Golf.
  • Few caddies speak or understand English.
  • Course presentation is often at odds with R&A/USGA guidelines.

Tackling the latter point first, a common problem is lack of course maintenance coupled with limited or zero use of GUR markings.  Many times a player will encounter an unplayable lie in an area which was clearly intended to be free of difficulties or hindrances.  Oftentimes, the condition encountered by the player’s ball does not provide relief under the Rules.  Yet in many instances free relief may be warranted.

Some local rules, as issued by the IPGC and PSC societies, allow for relief in certain situations, but not all.  One difficulty is in defining the condition.  Imagine a ball coming to rest in a spot situated in what otherwise would be closely mown area (fairway).  Due to a leaking water-pipe, this 6 foot by 6 foot area is partly sodden and completely overgrown.  Unfortunately for the player, although surrounded by casual water, when he takes his actual stance no water can be seen around the soles of his feet. His ball is sitting up on thick grass, also clear of water.  Given there is no GUR sign, under what rule could free relief be given?

This is a case where had the water-pipe not been leaking, the player’s ball would have come to rest in fairway.  Under equity therefore, a local rule could be justified.  But how does one define the condition and the circumstance that would warrant a free-drop?

If a local rule attempts to second-guess green keepers’ inaction and grants free relief where a ball finishes in a condition that a well-maintained course would not ordinarily permit, then other problems arise.  What, exactly, is a well-maintained course?  Who is to say whether a given condition warrants GUR?  We have all encountered a bare lie on a fairway.  Does this warrant a free-drop on the basis that well-maintained courses would ordinarily have grass on all fairways?  This highlights some problems when attempting to devise local rules.

Rules involving infringement by caddies opens up another can of worms.  Consider the following:

  • Your caddie, believing your 3-inch putt is a “gimmie” picks up your ball without marking it and walks off the green.
  • Your caddie uses the flag stick, her hand or any other implement to touch the putting surface to indicate your line of putt.
  • Your caddie asks another more experienced caddie for advice on club selection, or the break on a tricky green?  How do you know this happens when you don’t speak Thai?  You don’t, but you’re playing partner claims he does, and he’s marking your card.
  • Your caddie taps down a pitch-mark on the apron, positioned between your ball and the putting surface.
  • Your caddie repairs scuff marks on your line of putt.

These and other similar examples are everyday occurrences on any course in Thailand.  All involve a one or two shot penalty or perhaps a DQ.  Yet I believe that the above examples, when occurring for the first time, should not incur a penalty.

None of the situations above are covered by any local rule, at least one that is in print.  Many societies, however, realise the need for equity and recognise that golfers need not be penalised for the ignorant actions of their caddies.  A common convention is to allow caddies one error per event, or one chance per infringement, regardless of how many separate infringements may occur per round.  The golfer is then charged with advising the caddie of the mistake, and accepts that a repeat will incur a penalty.

Whether it’s due to green keeping or caddie infringement, playing competition golf in the kingdom warrants its own unique set of rules.  It’s the wording that’s the difficult part.

Happy golfing,

Golfnutter