Lies, damned lies and loose impediments

The adventures of Pontifex and Culpeper: Teeing off a three-part series by Peter Dobereiner
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The Independent Online
Among Peter Dobereiner's many attributes as the undisputed doyen of golf writing was a thorough knowledge of the rules and an eye for their quirkiness. His book Golf Rules Explained was a masterly interpretation of the laws and the reasoning behind them. Before he died recently, Dobereiner (left) completed a book, Well, I'll be Deemed*, which provides the final flourish to his ability to bring the dry pronouncements of the rule-makers to life with hilarious and thought-provoking effect. Golfers of all levels will recognise in Jas. Pontifex the sort of pedant who can make a round of golf a nightmare. Each chapter comprises a letter from Pontifex to the chairman of his club's rules committee outlining his latest adventure with his unfortunate partner, Culpeper. This is the first of three extracts ...

Dear Chairman, ddddddd I regret that I cannot ad- vise you of the result of my fourth-round match with Mr Culpeper as we have been unable to agree on the outcome.

In order to make caddying an economic proposition the club has decreed, as you know of course, that each caddie shall carry two bags and receive two fees. The result of this innovation has been that caddying has again become a worthwhile occupation and caddies are freely available at the club, except for the period of their weekly migration down to the Department of Health and Social Services to collect their unemployment benefit cheques.

In a spirit of cooperation with this arrangement - carrying double, I mean, not the dole fiddle - we engaged a single caddie, "Cougher" Hawkins, to carry both our bags. We mutually agreed that for legal purposes Hawkins should be deemed to be "opponent's caddie" so far as I was concerned when he was expressly attending to duties for Culpeper, and vice versa.

Having given us our selected clubs, Hawkins went ahead and stood by the first green. Unfortunately my left foot slipped just as I was starting my downswing and, to the astonishment of both of us, I hit an absolute purler. The ball, descending from a great height, landed on Hawkins' head and was deflected out of bounds.

Culpeper claimed the hole on the grounds that the ball had been deflected by my caddie. Since Hawkins at the time had been leaning against the fence smoking a cigarette, I insisted that his status at the moment of impact must have been either "opponent's caddie" or, stretching a point, an outside agency.

Culpeper dismissed my suggestion of an outside agency since the terms of our agreement specified that Hawkins should be either "player's caddie" or "opponent's caddie" according to the circumstances prevailing at any given time. Culpeper further argued that he couldn't conceivably be "opponent's caddie" since I was in play at that moment while he, Culpeper, was standing alongside the tee offering up prayers that my ball might be blown away into the next county.

In that case, I reminded Culpeper, he was deliberately attempting to influence the movement of his opponent's ball and was liable to instant disqualification under Rule 1-2. A compromise was required. I concurred with Culpeper's caveat that the issue be put to the Committee at the earliest possible moment for arbitration. He hit a poor tee shot, short of the green.

As we walked forward we saw Colonel Fitzroy's spaniel pick up my ball, jump over the fence and drop the ball beside Hawkins, who had gone down like a sack of potatoes and was now spreadeagled in the bunker.

Culpeper remarked that it was important to establish, first of all, whether Hawkins was alive. If he were not fixed or growing, i.e. dead, he would be a loose impediment and I could not move him. On the other hand, if he were still breathing he would be a caddie, immaterial whether mine or his, and presumably could be lifted out of the hazard without penalty. I could see through Culpeper's little game. He wanted to go trampling in the bunker, making my lie impossible with his footprints, while ostensibly giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I expressly forbade him to set foot in the sand.

On arrival at the scene we observed that the ball had lodged against Hawkins' right shin, just at the point where his artificial leg was attached to his stump. Obviously the prosthesis was a man-made object, and therefore I could remove it as a movable obstruction. Culpeper agreed, provided I could remove it without touching any part of the loose impediment which was Hawkins.

My philosophy in tricky situations has always been: When in doubt, play it as it lies. I felt a certain diffidence in selecting my sand-wedge and shuffling my feet into the sand to create a secure footing because I feared Hawkins might have expired and I had no stomach for mutilating a corpse. That would be most disrespectful. You can imagine the relief and deep satisfaction I felt when Hawkins emitted a shriek of agony as my club-head caught him a solid crack on the knee on my follow-through.

Meanwhile Culpeper was having problems of his own. After hacking his way all over the place he pitched into a puddle on the green and the nearest point of relief, as we both agreed, was on the temporary tee of the second hole. He picked up his ball and then, in defiance or ignorance of the provisions of Rule 25, he dropped it on the tee. I blame myself, Mr Chairman, for not informing him that in taking relief from abnormal ground conditions on the green the ball must be lifted and placed, but I was distracted by the dreadful groans coming from the bunker. Worse followed. He put his ball on a tee peg and putted it with a lofted stroke clear over the sheet of casual water and into the hole for a seven.

According to my reckoning I also scored seven. My sporting instincts forbade me from raising the matter of Rule 25 in detail and thereby possibly putting him off his tee shot on the second. I simply remarked casually: "My hole" and then, in due season as we were walking up the next fairway, explained my reasons for claiming the hole, namely that he had failed to rectify his wrong procedure under Rule 25 before driving off on the next hole. He replied that no claim could be entertained after we had left the green. I responded that the words: "My hole" constituted a claim. He reminded me that he had a prior claim to the hole. The score at this stage was therefore: either I was one up or one down, or either he or I was disqualified, or we were all square.

While we were debating these permutations, the match behind us caught us up. The club captain was amongst those present and in a vile temper. He flatly refused to entertain our explanation that our progress had been unduly delayed by our humanitarian action in going to the Fitzroys' cottage and asking Mrs Fitzroy to phone for an ambulance to collect poor Hawkins. It was the very least we could do. It wasn't as if we had hung around waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

The captain would hear none of it. As a member of the Competitions Committee, he demanded that Culpeper and I both penalise ourselves the loss of one hole for unduly delaying play. He then insisted that we stand aside while his group took the tee and played through. As a result of this intervention, I was now either one down, two down, all square or disqualified, and so, in every respect, was Culpeper.

It is amazing how shared adversity draws people together, like the blitz during the war. Culpeper and I had been somewhat at odds with each other but now we united in a spirit of fraternal solidarity against the common foe. At every subsequent point of contention we simply recited in unison: "Shall we call it a half?" and pressed on. On one hole there was a disparity of eight strokes between our scores, but owing to a slight contretemps on the green when Culpeper's hearing aid fell out of his ear and might or might not have hit his ball, we refrained from all discussion on whether this object constituted a player's equipment or an artificial aid, or whether the ball had moved position or merely oscillated, or whether that distinction only applied when addressing the ball. We called it a half and in the same manner halved all the remaining holes in a spirit of warm comradeship.

I do apologise, Mr Chairman, for the delay in presenting this submission but I picked up a stinker of a cold at Hawkins' funeral and have been laid up in bed. We hope you are able to achieve a judgment in this matter without having to refer our case to the Rules of Golf Committee. After all, they are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place.

Yours faithfully,

Jas. Pontifex

*"Well, I'll Be Deemed" by Peter Dobereiner, with illustrations by Ionicus, published by Aurum Press at pounds 9.99 and available from all bookshops.

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