Golf etiquette

16 02 2011



There won’t be many golfers around who are not aware that Tiger Woods was fined for spitting last week at the European Tour event in Dubai. Woods himself, despite claiming that he didn’t realise that he had spat on the 12th green, just five or six feet from the hole, accepted his fine with good grace. I should think so too! Ewen Murray, the commentator who said at the time that Woods’ behaviour was ‘the lowest of the low’ was, of course, absolutely right in condemning an act that showed total disregard for his fellow professionals, some of whom would later have to putt through Mr Woods’ phlegm.

A couple of nights later I happened to be watching the Vancouver Canucks’ hockey game in Minnesota. At one point, late in the game, a player on the bench spat over the boards and onto the ice. Noticing his action, a commentator chuckled and, in an obvious reference to the Woods incident,  said ‘You’d get fined for that in golf!’, as if  golf was odd in not condoning such anti social behaviour. I like hockey. I like its traditions. I even like the fights, especially the beautifully choreographed goalie fights. But I don’t want golf ever to follow hockey and other sports in dropping its insistence on fair play and politeness. You may not have heard of  Elliot Saltman, a young Scottish golfer who has just qualified for the European Tour. Two weeks ago he received a three month ban for marking his ball incorrectly on several occasions during a Challenge Tour event in Russia last season. Even when his ban is over, it will be quite a while before his name is mentioned without the word ‘cheat’ popping into people’s minds. Harsh? Maybe so. But golf prides itself on having the highest standards of fair play, and that is one of the reasons I love this infuriatingly difficult sport.

Golf is unusual in having severe penalties for poor sportsmanship. Offensive language or deliberately trying to put off a fellow competitor can result in disqualification or even suspension. One of our past Presidents at Glacier Greens even banned himself once for club throwing! Imagine  suspensions being handed out in Premier League soccer for bad language and poor sportsmanship! They’d have to start playing three a side!

Admittedly, there are occasions when the group with whom I usually play doesn’t manage to live up to the highest of standards. Even now, el bandito Juan has only the vaguest idea of what it means to ‘have the honour’, assuming – usually correctly – that it will always be his turn to tee off first. “Nice shot…arsehole” is a commonly heard phrase when you’re around Robinski, and some of the things Glennie calls his golf ball while in flight would result in either fisticuffs or a law suit if said to another human being. Even Ringer and Lairdo have been known to utter the odd oath, but my favourite expression is one I heard years ago when playing in a match play event against a friend of mine in England. I’d just hit a long approach shot to an elevated green, guarded by a huge bunker. “Is my friend in the sand trap?” enquired my mate solicitously, “or is the bastard on the green?” Now that’s golf etiquette at its finest…

Finally, this just in from the ‘you couldn’t make it up department’: on the same weekend that Tiger Woods laid his slime trail on that unsuspecting green in Dubai, a journeyman Canadian golfer achieved his best performance yet on the Champions Tour by finishing in a tie for second place behind Tom Lehman at the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. His name? Rod Spittle!

All da best,

Dave B.