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The Spirit of the Game of Golf

Honesty, integrity, courtesy: three words that have come to represent the spirit in which the game of golf is played.

Part of that spirit sits beneath the term, etiquette and part of it relates to the Rules of Golf. But the spirit of the game goes much deeper than just those two tangible terms.

It is something that every golfer should develop an innate sense of, something that is born of golf’s unparalleled history, and something which lifts golf, one could argue, above other sports.

Whether it’s through divot and pitch-mark repair, or simply through silence on the tee, the spirit of the game dictates that players make sure they give others on the course, often opponents, a fair chance to play the best shot they can.

For most of us, the game of golf is self-regulating. There is seldom a referee present so we are reliant upon our own honest adherence to the rules in order to enjoy the game. As a result, we are all occasionally forced to call a penalty on ourselves for infringements which, often, will go unnoticed by everyone else.

It is this dependency upon honesty and courtesy that has elevated integrity to sacrosanct status. Without them, we may as well hang up our clubs.

If only we lived our lives to this standard the possibilities of our society would be limitless. But many of us can’t even play a simple game by the rules and the spirit that governs them to our shame. Our eternal shame.

Yes, we’re talking about cheating at golf.

This dishonesty takes many forms. For some it’s sandbagging, which is really a polite way of saying one cheats on his handicap. For others, it’s far more overt and ranges from improving the way the ball lies to recording a false score on the scorecard. Whatever form it takes matters not. Cheating is a despicable act that needs to be eradicated from our sport.

How many times have we borne witness to such atrocities and done nothing? How many times do we turn the other way when a friend fudges on the rules? If we do, then we bear just as much guilt as the perpetrator.

As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the rules. Since we regulate ourselves, then it is our duty to speak up when the rules are violated. This is what rules officials call protecting the field. We can call it looking out for each other; having each other’s backs.

If you’re in a tournament, you don’t have to confront the individual. Simply refuse to sign his or her scorecard and let the tournament committee know why you did so. Let them deal with the perpetrator. You will have done your duty.

I’m not suggesting we all turn into rules Nazis. If you’re out on the course practicing, then by all means, practice. If you’re in a social situation, then a quick side remark will suffice. If you’re with someone who honestly doesn’t know the rules, then enlighten them. No need to walk out or create a scene. Take the golfer aside and explain to him/her what the problem is and then offer the appropriate course of action. Be their rules official for the day. Share what you know.

But in tournament golf, even if it’s just a fun tournament, we must do something. Cheating only succeeds because we turn a blind eye to it. If you do, then you’re complicit and are part of the problem. If no one stands with them, then the chances are that they’ll cease and desist. Taking the easy way out is the wrong thing to do. We must take a stand.

Let’s make this a resolution for this new year; let’s take a stand against cheating on the golf course. Do your part and I’ll do mine. I’ve got your back. 

Let's all Play it Right!

*This article was originally published in my golf section in the Business Mirror. It remains as relevant today as it was then. 

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