Golf: A sorry story of rough and roll

In the concluding extract from the late Peter Dobereiner's book "Well, I'll Be Deemed!", golf's master of the rules, Jas. Pontifex, and his unfortunate partner Culpeper fall out over the rub of the green; The adventures of Pontifex and Culpeper by Peter Dobereiner
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Dear Chairman, I must say that since Mr Culpeper has been playing with and against me on a regular basis he has made a real effort to master the Rules of Golf, and all credit to him. But that old cove Alexander Pope hit the nail on the whatsit when he wrote that "a little learning is a dangerous thing", and I must draw your attention to the incident which compelled me to complete the couplet for Culpeper's benefit: "Drink deep," I so admonished him, "or taste not the Pierian spring."

Forgive me, for I am getting ahead of myself. Not like me, that. As you know, I usually get straight to the point and confine myself strictly to the bare facts. Which is precisely what I shall now do. We were playing the short par-five and for only the second time in my entire life I was on the green in two, albeit on the far edge a long way from the flagstick. In the interests of speeding up the pace of play, as so exhorted in many a notice penned by your good self, I hurried directly to the green since Culpeper was on the other side of the fairway and could in no way be inconvenienced by my walking forward. He lay some 60 yards short of the green in two and I waited with putter poised to watch his shot.

(On that subject, Mr Chairman, I am distressed that a growing number of golfers, and some of them our own club members, to our shame, do not extend to opponents the courtesy of watching the destiny of their shots. They are therefore unable to assist in locating a ball which may have landed in woods or sedge. That is not how I was brought up to behave on the golf course, and you neither, I'll be bound. In the winter knock-out I had occasion to play against one of the former artisan members whom the Council in its wisdom - a figure of speech, that, and not the mot juste I would necessarily have selected - granted full membership. I hit one off the toe and since I tend to keep my eye on the spot from which the ball has departed, as instructed by all the teaching manuals, I was obliged to ask my horny- handed adversary if he had noted the destination of my shot. He replied gruffly: "Find your own ball." I omit the obligatory adjective appended willy nilly on every conceivable occasion by this class of fellow, singularly inappropriate in this case since it ascribed to a golf ball a function of which it is clearly incapable.)

As I was saying, I watched Culpeper's shot and, since it was headed for the opposite edge of the green, I deemed it the appropriate moment to hit my putt. Which I duly did. At that moment an extraordinary apparition sprang from the bushes. It was an elderly party with a wispy ginger beard. He wore corduroy trousers and open-toed sandals and a thing like a caddie jacket emblazoned with the legend: "Campaign Against Golf." Shouting, "You swine are defiling the environment and destroying the habitats of God's dumb creatures", he snatched up both our golf balls as they rolled across the verdant turf and hurled them into the lake.

With a sprightly leap which belied his advanced years, he then disappeared into the undergrowth, affording me no opportunity to inform him that our course had been a rat-infested slag-heap which had been landscaped into a magnificent championship layout and subsequently colonised by a huge variety of birds, insects and mammals including rabbits, hares, foxes, grey squirrels, frogs, toads, newts and badgers. I would, if I could, have further advised him of the three varieties of orchid which have required the rough to the left of the 14th to be designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Probably wouldn't have done any good, anyway. He looked like the type who gets his jollies out of protesting and waving banners about and does not much care what cause he supports.

Culpeper had him tagged correctly as an outside agency and opined that since we could not play our deflected balls as they lay, we should replay both strokes under Equity. I perforce had to demur. Certainly I must replay my stroke (Decision 19-1/4), a procedure which suited my books, not that this was a consideration in making my legal judgement, since my putt had not been a good one. But as for Culpeper, I recalled a precedent from the presumptuously designated World Match Play Championship. (How can a cigarette company promote a championship? Championship of what? Inhaling carcinogens?) You probably remember the incident on the 16th hole where Nick Faldo drove into the trees on the left in his match against Graham Marsh. He, Faldo that is, played a wonderful shot which curled around the trees on to the line to the green, although he could not see it from where he was in the woods. The ball came in hot, as the pros say, and flew right across the green.

A drunken spectator was standing at the foot of the bank behind the green and as Faldo's ball bounded towards him he deftly volleyed it with his right foot back on to the green. It stopped a yard from the hole. The sober members of the gallery were outraged and there was a vociferous consensus that sportsmanship demanded Faldo offer Marsh a half. The referee asked a marshal whether the ball had been in motion when it was deflected and, on being assured that such was the case, he told Faldo to play his ball as it lay.

Faldo, who had seen and knew nothing of what had occurred, played to the referee's figurative whistle. Such was the public resentment at this blatant breach of natural justice that one spectator grabbed Faldo by the throat and called him a cheating bastard. One of those journalist chappies wrote in his newspaper that this was a rare case of the fan hitting the shit. That was most unfair since Faldo was an innocent party who had done no more than obey the referee's instruction.

Such was the furore raised by the incident that the chief referee was consulted and, as I believe, he in turn consulted the authorities at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews before issuing a statement that the original decision must stand but that in cases of deliberate interference by a spectator the referee should put the ball in the place that he deemed would have been its final resting place, if undetected, from the original shot.

Accordingly, Mr Chairman, I informed Culpeper that I must cancel my putt, replace a ball and have another go. But a different procedure was involved in the case of a ball played from off the green and deliberately deflected by a spectator. So saying, I asked Culpeper for a ball, which he gave me. I then rolled it across the green, it went down the bank and came to rest under a bush. He gave the appearance of a man who had been struck smartly behind the ear with a sock full of wet sand, mumbling incoherently, "What the ...?"

He eventually cooled down after I had explained the raison d'etre or rationale of my action. We played on but he was not himself. When I told him about that fan joke he enquired bitterly if there was anything in the Rules of Golf which empowered an opponent to hit the shit. So my purpose in appealing to you today, Mr Chairman, is to enquire whether you could see yourself clear to deduct a stroke a hole from Culpeper's scores for all the holes played after that traumatic and quite unprecedented incident. Deducting seven strokes would at least give him a total in double figures and save his face in some degree. Surely the doctrine of Equity could stretch a point in this case.

Yours faithfully,

Jas. Pontifex

"Well, I'll Be Deemed!" by Peter Dobereiner, with illustrations by Ionicus, published by Aurum Press at pounds 9.99.