Many clubs allow relief from tarmac roads and other hard paths, but not all. Should a tarmac road ever be an integral part of the course in the modern era?
There are a number of annoying golf rules that seem to give us a particularly bad deal.
But the Rules of Golf’s real ‘two of spades’ is undoubtedly the tarmac, or other distinctly hard-surfaced road or pathway, that for some unfathomable reason the committee, in its infinite wisdom, has deemed an integral part of the course.
In other words, if you’re on it you either play it or take a penalty.
It could be argued that this is both blatantly unfair and practically irresponsible in an era where a decent full set of sticks can set you back as much as a nice secondhand family saloon.
Who would feel it fair if, to park your precious motor, you were required by the laws of the road to either first scrape your front wing on a nearby wall or pay a hefty fine.
But that’s exactly what golf’s outdated integral road rule asks you to do – damage your 5-iron or sand wedge, perhaps irreparably, or take a penalty drop and hand your opponent the advantage.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the Old Course at St Andrews.
Knock it through the back of the already devilishly difficult 17th – not hard to do as anyone who’s ever played there will readily testify – and not only do you now face an almost impossible chip up and over a 4ft bank onto a downslope, but it’s highly likely you’ll also find yourself having to play it from a rock-hard pathway or road.
No wonder the hole is renowned for humiliating cricket scores and fraught tempers.
Walk to the 18th tee and it’s a similar story – misclub, or misjudge your drive, especially into the wind, and the sparks will be flying as you attempt to pick a clean mid-iron off the neatly tarmacked Granny Clark’s Wynd that crosses the fairway at 240 yards.
Even if you do knock it on from here, you’ll be heading straight back to your club pro to get the loft and lie checked, and those irritating scratches and scrapes ground out of your costly 7-iron as much as possible. But it’ll never be the same again.
Another contentious Rule is the penalty drop from a waterlogged bunker, but that does at least have an element of fairness about it.
Yes, it’s annoying when your ball plops into a flooded trap, but to escape scot-free would be giving you a potential advantage your errant shot simply doesn’t deserve.
For the less-than-proficient bunker player, the penalty probably won’t cost them anything anyway as they’ll rarely find the green from a fairway bunker and are more likely to get up and down around the green with a chip from the grass than a splash from the sand.
Maybe in golf’s earlier, more primitive days, people weren’t overly fussed about the appearance of their golf gear.
But in our 21st century world of high-tech and expensive golf equipment, the majority of players most definitely are. So perhaps those more primitive days are exactly where the integral road rule now belongs?