The origins of modern golf go back as far as the 15th century. It is a game that, through the ages, has been considered the pursuit of gentleman. But it is no longer an elite sport, being among the highest participation sports across the world.
Throughout its history, golf has retained a few basic tenets. Without referees, golf requires players to be self-governing. Even the top professionals govern themselves unless they need advice on a ruling, in which case they can call for a marshal or rules official.
The rules of golf are inextricably linked to the game’s etiquette. Each player must show consideration for the game, the course, and other players. Those who do not abide by these unwritten rules, often find themselves shunned and unable to find a game, with no other golfers willing to play with them. Being brandished as a cheat can tarnish a player’s reputation for his entire career.
Goldfinger, the infamous Bond villain, is the perfect example of a man who knows and understands the rules and etiquette of golf, but is willing to bend and break these in any way that will help him to win. Winning by any and all means is the antithesis of what it means to be a true golfer.
Let’s take a closer look at the infamous Bond scene, filmed at Stoke Park Golf Club (named Stoke Poges at the time of filming). Bond makes the first faux pas when he stands too close to Goldfinger as he is putting. He compounds this by asking Goldfinger a question as he is about to make the putt. Players should be given ample room to make their shot and their fellow players should remain quiet before and throughout the stroke. But Goldfinger returns the favour on the next tee, by asking Bond a question just as he reaches the top of his back swing.
When Goldfinger loses his ball in the rough he blatantly breaks the rules by placing another ball down and pretending he has found the first one.
A rule of golf is that the ball furthest from the hole should be played first. On the next green Goldfinger is due to putt (being further from the hole), but Bond politely asks if he would like him to mark or play his own ball. This is because the ball nearer the hole can be a distraction, or even directly in the way, for the player further from the hole. This is the sort of situation where the players can agree to break the rules in favour of being gentlemanly toward one another.
On the next tee, Goldfinger strides up to play his shot, but Bond’s caddy exclaims: “It’s your honour, sir!” The player who won the previous hole should play first on the next hole i.e. it is his ‘honour’. Goldfinger is playing out of turn. However, the rules state that there is no automatic penalty for playing out of turn, unless the opposing player wishes to impose one, in which case he can ask the other player to replay the shot. Bond choses not to do this. This is a classic example of how the rules and etiquette merge, and it is left to the discretion of the players to implement as they see fit.
The rules of golf, as stipulated by the Royal & Ancient Golf Society and the US Golf Association, are fairly hefty tomes, and only appointed rules officials need know them all by heart. However, one of the joys of the game is that, if you play it in a gentlemanly manner you are more than likely to abide by the rules.
Professional golfer Brian Davis gained international favour when he had the chance to win the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, but on the final hole he called a penalty on himself for a rules infringement that no one else saw and could only be seen by the cameras with an extreme close-up replayed in slow motion.
As top golfer Phil Mickleson so eloquently put it: “The object of golf is not just to win. It is to play like a Gentleman, and win.”