Rules Column: Pat Campbell

What happens when your ball is lost or heads out of bounds?

It’s always interesting to consider where the current rules come from. No, I don’t mean historic documents like the original “Thirteen Rules of Golf”, I mean the true origins back in Scotland where Ian and Angus are playing their weekly game of golf in the hills next to MacGregor’s sheep paddock.

Ian and Angus are walking down the hillside to the flagged target area and Ian realizes he cannot find his ball. The conversation goes like this….

“Angus, I’ve got a wee problem.”

“Aye, Ian, me son, you do, indeed.”

“I cannot find me ball and I’ve checked everywhere. I fear it’s crossed over into MacGregor’s sheep paddock and you know how hoppin’ mad he gets if we go in among his sheep.”

Angus nods sagely and agrees, “Indeed he does.”

Ian sighs, “I guess me game is over as I cannot play without me ball.”

To which Angus suggests they head back for a pint saying, “It’s really too bad we couldn’t get the ball back out of MacGregor’s paddock. I was looking forward to an afternoon on the links with you.”

Suddenly Ian brightens and says, “What if I took an extra stroke, like a penalty, and dropped another ball from where I played the last one? Do you not think that would be fair? It would give me a way to continue playing and yet wouldn’t give me an advantage over you. What do you think?”

After a moment to weigh the pros and cons, Angus replies, “That’s a fair solution, let’s do it. Our pint can wait.”

Thus stroke and distance for a ball that cannot be found or is out of bounds was born. During the next weeks, Sean and Shamus both took advantage of the new option and word spread quickly that this was a great way to let the unfortunate player keep playing without giving an undue advantage to either the player who had lost their ball nor to their opponent. After all, the Scots are stoic folks and fairness in their game is paramount. It took a while for them to add in that a provisional ball hit from the same spot for a ball feared to be lost or out of bounds would save time and steps, but being practical by nature, it was a logical adaptation. It also meant the celebratory pints would be hoisted sooner and if less steps were involved in the process, even better. Deciding that the golfer could keep playing the provisional until they reached the area they believed their original shot would be was also typical Scots practicality.

Determining that if the original was found, it had to be played and the provisional abandoned was the fairest solution to everyone involved and we follow this set of guidelines today. And you know the dour Scotsman would definitely approve of our new three-minute time limit to search for a ball, after all, why waste time?!

So that how the current Rule 18 started (maybe).

We’re not sure if the sheep ate the balls, which were fortunately made of tightly wound and bound feathers inside a leather cover, or if MacGregor retrieved them and sold them back to the golfers at the weekly market…. after all, frugality is important.