For The Afflicted, The Rules Of Golf Are A Pleasurable Passion

For the afflicted, the Rules of Golf are a pleasurable passion

Devotees of the Rules of Golf know the object of their affection isn’t for everyone. They will acknowledge there is a ceiling on the number of people intrigued by the thousands of decisions that augment the rules, including ones titled “Dead Land Crab,” “Ball at Rest Moved by Blowing Tumbleweed” and “Status of Saliva.” There are more expert golfers, to be sure than experts on the rules.

For the fraternity for whom the rules are a passion and a specialty, however, for those who are stimulated by the complexity and have aced the rigorous exam that measures their knowledge, the game’s code is the tie that binds. “It isn’t for everyone,” says 70-year-old rules maven Robin Farran of Arizona, “but I hear from a number of people who have the same affliction I have, who are somewhat nuts.”

The rules have been under assault recently, decried by some as tedious, even odious, but to know them well is to love them. “It’s easy for someone on a radio talk show to say the rules are complex,” says New York investment banker Scott Stearns, an avid volunteer rules official. “But it’s a 150-acre playing field and a game played all over the world. It’s got to cover an amazing breadth of situations. And it’s the same set of rules for Bubba Watson or the ladies’ nine-holer. You get situations that may look a little goofy on national TV, but I’ve studied the rules and appreciate the nuances.”

One’s knowledge of the rules is put to a supreme test by the 100-question multiple-choice exam given at PGA-USGA Rules of Golf workshops. Fifty questions are closed book followed by 50 open-book queries that can take 3 1/2 hours to finish. “It’s really hard,” says Stearns. “There are questions like, ‘What happens to a ball when it goes in a Ziploc bag and the wind blows it in creek?’stuff like that.” Perfect scores aren’t as rare as 59s on tour but still pretty special. “The first year I got a 100, there were only 19 around the country,” says Lisa Overom, assistant executive director of the Minnesota GA. “I took it last week and got another 100. Somehow the stars aligned.”

Overeem’s association pays for her to stay up on the rules, but volunteer junkies have to shell out for the $300 workshop fee plus their travel expenses. If they’re lucky, though, they’ll get a mentor like 77-year-old Lew Blakey, who has spent his retirement becoming one of the best rules minds in America. His awareness that the rules are important was raised in the mid-1950s when he and a buddy played around at Alamance CC in his hometown of Burlington, N.C. Joining them was P.J. Boatwright Jr., then with the Carolinas GA, who later was the world’s foremost authority on the rules for the USGA until his death in 1991.

“I’ll never forget what he said to us,” says Blakey. “‘Fellows, you’re playing pretty well, but you’ll really never enjoy the game unless you really know the rules well.’ “

Blakey, a member of the USGA executive committee from 200106, has followed Boatwright’s charge. “The more you get into it, the more you enjoy it and the more you know,” Blakey says, “but you find there is always this last little bit where people argue and discuss and don’t really have an answer, things out on the fringes. I was an engineer, and it is probably easier for someone like an engineer or a CPA who has an analytical mind.”

The rules have been under assault recently, decried by some as tedious, even odious, but to know them well is to love them.

It may be hard to fathom how the intricacies of loose impediments, multiple penalty situations, and ground under repair could lead to an affair of the heart, but Jim and Mary Alice McDaniel will happily tell you otherwise. The South Carolina couple met in 1999 at a rules workshop in Tampa, Fla., when Jim walked across the classroom for a word with PGA Tour official Ben Nelson and Mary Alice was standing nearby. Not only did they become hooked on the rules, six months later they went on their first date. Married in 2006, Jim, 62, and Mary Alice, 63, have been fixtures as rules officials for Carolinas PGA section events and various mini-tours.

“You have to love the subject matter or you’re going to be bored to death,” Mary Alice says. “It was just a good fit for both of us. Jim likens it to peeling an onion there are lots of layers to the rules. We have some interesting hot tub conversations.”

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