Golf Rules in Plain English

Yesterday morning I was trying to find a subject for today’s post and coming up empty. Normally I write these about a week ahead of time, but by December 9, I had nothing for December 10. So I decided to take a trip to the library and browse the golf section to see if I could get inspired. Bingo.

As I was browsing through our golf collection, I saw a small book titled, The Rules of Golf in Plain English. That sounds good to me. This is a new book, written by Jeffrey S. Kuhn, an attorney and volunteer USGA rules official, and Bryan A. Garner, also an attorney and one who gives seminars to lawyers on how to write in, you guessed it, plain English.

Now this is something I have always imagined myself, doing, but I’m not that good of a technical writer, and the project really needs someone who has an expert’s grasp of the rules. Not me, either.

This book is so great. First of all, they changed the passive “the player” to the active “you.” It’s not “the player” who can and can’t do these things, it’s “you!” And they let that be said.

Let’s take a complicated rule, playing the wrong ball. Here’s how the USGA says it:

15-3b. The competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his mistake before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified.

Here’s how Kuhn and Garner say it:
15-3(c) You must correct the mistake by playing your ball. If you don’t correct your mistake before you make a stroke from the next tee–or, in the case of the last hole of the round, don’t declare your intention to correct your mistake before leaving the putting green–you’re disqualified.

Subtle differences, yes, but the second one is more direct and makes it simpler to understand exactly what YOU have to do.

At the start of every rule, the defined terms it refers to are explicitly listed instead of being highlighted in the text. Rule headings are re-worded. Rules themselves are broken up and reorganized so you don’t have to wade through what you don’t need to read to find what you do.

The general penalty for violation of a rule is two strokes, or loss of a hole, but there is an appendix which lists the one-stroke penalties. That is very convenient.

Keep in mind that this is not an official rule book. It has no legal status on the golf course. You should have an official copy of the rules in your bag and refer to it when there are questions. You should also carry a copy of The Rules of Golf in Plain English with you to be sure you understand what the rules actually want you to do.


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