A Modern look at the Ancient lore; BOOK OF THE WEEK

Official Royal and Ancient Golf Rules Illustrated (Hamlyn, pounds 9.99)
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The Independent Online
Furman Bisher and I were playing a match of some import at a monstrous course in Michigan called The Bear and designed, of course, by old Golden Bearlocks, Jack Nicklaus. We were on the 16th green, which nestled next to a pond and were about to putt when we were distracted by the cacophony of a duck.

A furry submarine (a weasel, perhaps, or a stoat) slipped down the bank and was homing in on the poor fowl. By hurling the odd golf ball at the U-Boat, we managed to persuade it to do a U-turn. Had we been on nature watch this season, we would probably have been disqualified. In an effort to get people off a golf course before they turn into pumpkins, the Royal and Ancient has introduced a new rule: a player shall play without undue delay. The penalty for smelling the flowers is two strokes; for a subsequent offence, disqualification.

Golf rules OK. The problem is that there are so many, and some so obscure that nobody knows them inside out. If you attempted to follow the letter of the rules, you would be banned for slow play. The front cover of this book features Nick Faldo following the flight of a shot. Perhaps it was the one at the Open when his ball landed in the rough from where he played a ball that was not his (two-stroke penalty, rule 15-3).

It is all the players can do to keep a correct scorecard and sometimes they cannot even manage that. Roberto de Vicenzo walked off the 18th at Augusta thinking he had won the Masters, only to discover he had signed for a four at the 17th when, in fact, he had made a three. The higher score stood and the green jacket went to Bob Goalby.

If the pros cannot get it right, what chance the Sunday fourball? Take water hazards. If a ball is in or is lost in a water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke: a) play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original was last played (rule 20-5); or b) drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the hazard the ball may be dropped; or c) as additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the hazard within two club lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the hazard equidistant from the hole.

No mention of furry submarines. As for Furman Bisher, the 77-year-old columnist of the Atlanta Journal will next month receive the US PGA Lifetime Achievement Award. "Golf is one game that has maintained its principles," Bisher says. Self-regulation is the golden rule.

Tim Glover