Sports active: THE HACKER: Rules are made to be broken

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There's nothing like a good old rules rumpus to make the winter seem shorter, and a few hacker friends of mine have become involved in one that has boiled up nicely.

As a breed, hackers don't pay enough attention to the rules. They are usually too concerned with hitting the ball in the right direction to be bothered to concentrate on the small print. This is a mistake. Knowledge of the rules should be the first priority of any class of golfer.

Two Sundays ago, I wrote about a foursomes match in our winter league in which there was a dispute about rules which could have swung the result. On the 15th, one of the pairs, whom I will call Pair A in case of legal repercussions, had some difficulty finding their ball. But they eventually located it, and halved the hole. The player who had found and played the ball then drove off on the 16th.

When his partner reached it, he discovered that it was not the ball they had been playing with previously. Obviously, the ball they had found on the 15th was not theirs. Pair B immediately claimed the 15th, and said that since they had started the 16th with the same ball, Pair A would have to forfeit that hole as well.

Perhaps it was the fact that the man making these judgements was a first- team player that finally persuaded Pair A to accept the double whammy. Had the decision affected the result, a second opinion might have been sought, but on the final tee calamity was added to controversy. One of the Pair A players drove the ball just off the fairway and it smacked into his partner's bag. Loss of hole and loss of match.

As I said previously, they should not have surrendered the 16th. Playing the wrong ball in match play results in loss of hole, but the penalty stops there.

Last week I had a call from a fellow journalist, David Hamilton, who said he had been pondering the dispute and had sought guidance from the English Golf Union.

Their opinion was that Pair A should not have lost even the 15th, because once a match leaves the green the hole cannot be claimed retrospectively. If this was the case, Pair A should not have lost in the way they did.

I relayed this information to one of the Pair B side and threatened to blow the whistle on them. He rang back a couple of hours later and said that he had consulted a rules expert, who said that a hole can be claimed retrospectively if further information comes to light.

I rang Richard Dixon of the Welsh Golfing Union to check this and he said that, according to R&A Decision 9-2/8, if a player inadvertently plays a wrong ball and doesn't discover this until after the hole is completed, he is guilty of failing to inform his opponent of a change of ball. Thus he is deemed to have given the wrong information, the punishment for which is loss of hole.

So Pair B were right, if not for the right reason. But the first lesson of this episode is that we should all know more about the rules; and, secondly, never give up the argument until you get a further ruling.

Furthermore, never trust first-team players.