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The Decisions Book


Just like Slurpees in the Arctic and Oprah Winfrey in yoga pants, the Rules of Golf can be somewhat baffling. Understandably, the vast majority of weekend golfers could never be bothered to learn all the terrible taboos and silly sins that exist in our game. And who could blame them? After all, it's hard enough to play the game without spilling your Molson Canadian.

While learning the very basic rules of the game (ie: if you hit three balls out-of-bounds, skull a couple of wedges, and roll your ball off the green on your fourth putt, you are allowed, out of sheer agony, to pick up your ball and mark down an 8) is not overly complicated, things tend to get a lot more intense when you examine the seemingly infinitesimal oddities and bizarre predicaments that can take place during play.

Therefore, the big shots - the round-bellied, single-malt drinkers in ugly suits who actually write the rules - decided that the Rules of Golf just didn't cover everything sufficiently. More needed to be done. And, perhaps most importantly, there was lots more Scotch and Molson products to drink. (Incidentally, the "writers" are representatives from the USGA and the R&A.) So, in 1959 they wrote - and continually revise - "The Decisions on the Rules of Golf" book.

Rest assured, this sick pup (the last version was 582 pages) is not a Pulitzer Prize winner. Rather, it is - in my humble opinion - a rather disturbing testament to the physical and psychological damage that the game can inflict on innocent people who just want to drink a little beer and have a good time swatting at a ball.

Not surprisingly, most people don't even know that this book exists. (Your friendly neighborhood golf pro should have a copy. But it will be hidden in the back of his desk, underneath the scorecards from his 1982 fling on the Canadian Tour and behind the unpaid invoices of the same year.)

The Decisions Book is used to determine rulings when the Rules of Golf just don't go far enough. For example, if Dick's ball rolls into an area where there is a family of Arctic squirrels taking up residence and his ball disappears into a hole, it can be fairly and judicially determined that Dick was an innocent victim and should be allowed a free drop (see Rule 45-b). Easy stuff. The Rules of Golf clearly cover this.

However, in a similar yet wildly different scenario, what if Dick's ball came to rest in the same area of rodent activity and, instead of his ball disappearing, a pesky little varmint picked up his ball and ran away with it?

And what if, upon seeing the rabid little critter run away with his property, Dick went after the thing with his 7-iron and delivered a lethal blow, dislodging the ball? Clearly, in this scenario Dick's ball would now be located in a totally different location than where it originally lay. So where should he play his ball? Should his blood-soaked 7-iron be deemed unfit for play? Are there any penalties - besides the ones that may or may not come in the afterlife - for killing one of God's furry little creatures during play? These are the types of things that the Decisions Book seeks to bring some clarity to.

As far as I know, the above example, while totally plausible, is not actually in the Decisions Book. However, there are hundreds of other twisted scenarios that are dealt with. Sadly, many of these also come up short in terms of answering all the possibilities.

For example, the topic of what constitutes a "dangerous situation" (see 1-4/11 in the Decisions Book) is discussed in fairly vague terms. Apparently, if your ball comes to rest near a poisonous snake (a rattlesnake is used as an example) or a bee hive, you are entitled to free relief. That's all fine and dandy. What about snakes such as anacondas and boa constrictors, which are not poisonous? Are you SOL in these cases?

What about big nasty dogs that want to chew your jugular and rip out your spleen and play with it? And, for Canuckleheads especially, what about polar bears? Muskox? Moose? Surely you would get relief from such beasts? But, no, these situations are not seemingly addressed.

However, the same rule does go further to state that no relief is permissible from dangerous plants like poison ivy, stinging nettles and cacti. Apparently, as the rule concludes, "unpleasant lies are a common occurrence which players must accept." Damn.

As far as chunky people wearing yoga pants and accidentally spilling your Molson Canadian during play? Sadly, these are also not discussed in the Decisions Book. But, fortunately, I can offer my own decision: Don't.

Andrew Penner is a professional photographer and freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in many leading golf and lifestyle publications in North America and Europe. Andrew is also a 20-year member of the Canadian PGA and still teaches the game on a part-time basis. When not on writing or photography assignments, he enjoys chilling out in the backyard with his three boys and his wife, Dawn. Feel free to visit Andrew at www.andrewpenner.com. You can also reach him at andpenner@shaw.ca.