What It’s About: Tells us we must play with conforming clubs, how many clubs we may carry, and what to do when a club becomes damaged.
Up to this point, the Rules of Golf have given us some general principles and covered the two major forms of play. The logical progression is to tell us next about the implements needed to play the game, starting with clubs.
First, certain standards must be met for a golf club to conform with the Rules. These “provisions, specifications, and interpretations” are spelled out in Appendix II, covering 71/2 pages in the back of the book. Rule 4 also has a preamble, which states a manufacturer should submit to the USGA a sample of a club that is to be made so it may be tested for conformance with the Rules.
This Rule has been the center of many debates recently. But the game’s governing bodies — the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the USGA — have been legislating equipment since the beginning of the last century.
The serious nature of this Rule is evidenced by the substantial penalty for playing with non-conforming equipment: disqualification. But for those who have found a special set of clubs they will never part with, there is a provision for wear and tear. A golf club that conformed when new is still deemed to conform even though wear through normal use over time has led to potentially non-conforming properties, such as grooves that have become too wide.
Rule 4-2 tells us that we are not allowed to change the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round. The old saying “Dance with the one you brought” applies in golf, too. This Rule also prohibits foreign material from being applied to the clubface for the purpose of influencing the movement of the ball.
Rule 4-3 covers damaged clubs. If a club is damaged in the normal course of play — which means through actions related to making a stroke — a player has three options: 1) Use the club in its damaged state; 2) repair the club; 3) if the club is unfit for play, replace it. When a club becomes damaged other than in the normal course of play, rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristics, none of those options apply. The player cannot use the club for the remainder of the stipulated round and he cannot replace it. This might make you think twice about taking out your frustration over an errant shot by slamming your club or by seeing how well it flies. Again, the dreaded DQ penalty applies if you use the club.
The final section, Rule 4-4, states that the player must start the round with no more than 14 clubs, a limit first introduced in 1938 in response to players of that era who were using upwards of 20 clubs. He is limited to those clubs except that if he starts with fewer than 14, he can add a club or clubs to bring the total up to the maximum. A unique aspect of this Rule is that it sets a limit on the penalty. If a player starts a round with more than 14 clubs and this breach is discovered at any point after teeing off at the second hole, he is penalized for only two holes. In stroke play, it’s a two-stroke penalty on each of the first two holes where the breach occurred. In match play, the state of the match is adjusted by a maximum of two holes at the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered.
Frustration is a feeling all too familiar to golfers, and sometimes it bubbles over into anger. We’ve learned above that the Rules have little sympathy for angry golfers, at least when it comes to their breaking equipment. A player who snaps his putter in two in a fit of temper after missing a putt is not allowed to replace this club because it was broken other than in the normal course of play. Decision 4-3/8 addresses a special case in which the club-breaker started his round with 13 clubs. Now that his putter is in pieces, he would like to get a new putter rather than trying to figure out which other club to use on the greens for the rest of the round. The catch is that he started his round with 13 clubs, one under the limit, so he is entitled to add another club while not technically replacing the broken one. Once he adds the club, he must finish the round with only 13 clubs (the 12 remaining unbroken clubs plus the new putter). Also, in obtaining a new putter, he is subject to penalty under Rule 6-7 if he unduly delays play.