These Were the 13 Original Rules of Golf

There must have been generally accepted practices known to and followed by golfers dating back close to the origins of the game. Otherwise, how could players have met in competition? But those very first glimmers of a golf rule book are lost to history — at least until the mid-18th century.

It was in 1744 that the 13 original rules of golf — the first written code of golf rules — were set down on paper by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (now the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers based at Muirfield). The 13 original rules were written for the Annual Challenge for the Edinburgh Silver Club in 1744.

One thing you'll note about the original rules is how many of them survive today, some in language that is not that much different from 1744. (Speaking of the language of 1744, we did update the spelling of a few words to the modern standard.)

Golf's First Written Rules, 1 Through 13

1. "You must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole." (A diameter of two club-lengths. Teeing areas are now defined as two club-lengths in depth.)

2. "Your tee must be on the ground." (Tees, back in those days, mostly were little mounds of sand upon which the golf ball was placed.)

3. "You are not to change the ball which you strike off the tee." (Look at that — the "one-ball condition" way back then!)

4. "You are not to remove stones, bones or any break club for the sake of playing your ball, except upon the fair green, and that only within a club's length of the ball." (Stones and Bones would be a good band name. But here it refers to loose impediments.)

5. "If your ball comes among water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your ball and bringing it behind the hazard and teeing it, you may play it with any club and allow your adversary a stroke for so getting out your ball." (Origin of the one-stroke penalty for a ball in what used to be called a water hazard but is now referred to as a penalty area.)

6. "If your balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball till you play the last." (Insert balls touching joke here, but also read about the history of stymies.)

7. "At holing you are to play your ball honestly at the hole, and not to play upon your adversary's ball, not lying in your way to the hole." (Don't do something petty such as trying to hit your opponent's ball with your own. It's OK in croquet, not in golf.)

8. "If you should lose your ball, by its 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." (Stroke plus distance)

9. "No man at holing his ball is to be allowed to mark his way to the hole with his club or anything else." (You can't set anything on the ground for the purpose of aligning yourself toward your target.)

10. "If a ball be stopped by any person, horse, dog, or anything else, the ball so stopped must be played where it lies." (Deflection by an outside influence)

11. "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 should break in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke." (Definition of stroke)

12. "He whose ball lies farthest from the hole is obliged to play first." (The golfer who is 'away' plays first, although today the governing bodies do explicitly allow 'ready golf' to speed up play.)

13. "Neither trench, ditch, or dyke made for the preservation of the links, nor the Scholars' Holes or the soldiers' lines shall be accounted a hazard but the ball is to be taken out, teed and played with any iron club." (The first written rules also include the first local rule, for what we would now describe as ground under repair.)

The Rules of Golf continued to be developed over time, taking a huge step forward in 1897 when the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews formed a Rules Committee. Since 1952, the R&A and the United States Golf Association have met every two years to set down a uniform code of rules.

Related articles:

Popular posts from this blog