[PHOTO: Dmytro Aksonov]

Let’s face it. Things got ugly in Rome last October. Instead of sipping red wine and enjoying the 2,000-year-old architecture, some Ryder Cup participants spent their time in Italy chirping at each other. The most cringy situation, no doubt, was when Rory McIlroy exchanged words – on and off the course – with Patrick Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava (and in the process appeared to give Justin Thomas’ caddie Jim Mackay an earful too).

All that less-than-gentlemanly behaviour might have you wondering if the Rules of Golf has anything to say about what you can and can’t do on a golf course during a match in terms of behaviour. In the NFL and college football, players get penalised for taunting. In other pro sports, fights lead to ejections and fines.

Does golf have a “sledging” rule?

Well, yes, it does – but it’s not exactly virile.

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Rule 1.2 handles the “standards of player conduct”. Bullet point No.2 in the (a) section says players are expected to play in the spirit of the game by “showing consideration to others. For example, by playing at a prompt pace, looking out for the safety of others, and not distracting the play of another player.”

You might wonder what the penalty is for violating Rule 1.2? The answer: nothing.

If you think that’s a mistake, keep in mind it’s hard to assess penalties when you’re leaving it to the golfer or his/her opponents to determine what constitutes “showing consideration” and “not distracting the play of another player”. If you think there are too many golf-course fights now, imagine a Saturday-morning brawl between foursomes who are disputing whether someone keeps burping during other players’ swings.

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But that doesn’t mean golf is completely toothless here. A course/committee could enact its own rules of conduct using Rule 1.2 (b), and assess a one-stroke or a loss-of-hole penalty – or even disqualify players if their conduct is truly awful. There are some recommendations on how to implement code-of-conduct rules in Section 5-I (5) of the Rules Before Competition guidelines. And it should be noted that if a course/committee does not enact its own conduct rules before the start of a competition, they are virtually powerless to do anything about a competitor who tries to rattle an opponent or acts in some other unsportsmanlike manner.

If specific rules are put in place before a tournament, it’s interesting to note that things such as foul language and deliberately distracting opponents as they play shots could result in penalties up to disqualification. Interestingly, things such as slamming golf clubs or inadvertently distracting an opponent are unlikely to be considered “serious misconduct”.

The over-arching message to all of this is: behave.


Can I clean mud off my ball while playing a hole?

My ball’s in the water, and it’s on the move! What are my options?

My opponent looks like he’s whipper-snippering as he searches for a lost ball. When is that a penalty?

My ball is in bounds but an OB stake is interfering with my shot. Can I move the stake?

Can I be penalised for delaying play if I stop to get a hotdog or a drink?

When am I allowed to substitute a golf ball on the course?

I stopped my swing before hitting the ball. Does that count as a stroke?

I hit myself with my own ball. Embarrassment aside, is that a penalty?

What happens in a match when no one knows how to apply a rule?

My opponent stopped my ball from rolling on purpose. Is that a penalty?

While waiting to play a shot, my opponent is killing time by chipping a ball. Is this allowed?

My ball is in a penalty area, so what are my options for taking a drop?

Can I be penalised if someone else improves my lie?

Can you repair divot holes or pitch marks in your line before hitting a shot?

I just played the wrong ball. What do I do now?

What do I do if my ball just hit another ball on the green?

What do you do when the tee markers aren’t lined up or are missing?

Somebody just picked up my golf ball! Now what?

Crazy things that only happen in matchplay

Can you hit a provisional ball after hitting a shot into a penalty area?

Your club breaks, what are your options?

My opponent took a generous drop after hitting into a penalty area. Can he be DQ’d for that?

Can I use a long putter when measuring my relief area?

Our practice putting green sucks. Can I hit a few putts on the course before my round?

I had an extra club in my bag and I just teed off. Now what?

Can I move a stone if it improves my lie?

Are you smart enough to ace this basic rules quiz?

Do I get relief from aeration holes?

What does ‘known or virtually certain’ really mean?

Do you have to use a putter on the green?

You’re playing a Srixon. Two holes later it’s a Callaway. Is switching golf balls mid-round allowed?

I hit a horrible shot. I’m waaaaaay better off if I don’t find the ball. Can I just declare it lost?

I’m on the green, my opponent is not. Who’s away?

Is sneaking a peek in another player’s bag considered getting advice?

What do I do if my golf ball is stuck in a tree?

I conceded a putt. My opponent putted anyway and missed. Is that a penalty?

What is casual water and how do I play around it?

I thought my ball was lost and put another in play then found my first ball… which ball counts?

What happens if I can’t tell my provisional ball from my original?

What exactly is an embedded ball?

How do I find my ‘nearest point of relief’?

How long can I take to hit a shot?

Does a ball have to be unplayable to declare it unplayable?