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Golf is an honorable game, so let’s play it with honor


Regardless of whether they were playing windswept links golf 200 years ago in Scotland or a windswept Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, they respect the honor of the game. If you truly love golf, one of the best reads is “Tommy’s Honor,” by Kevin Cook (2007), the story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, golf’s founding father and son.

Between the two, they won eight Open championships, spanning years from 1861 to 1872. They played honorably, but too often wagering gentry following them did not, sometimes picking up and throwing the players’ balls (who they did not bet on), into the gorse or elsewhere. So let’s go into golf honor.

First, we need to honor the golf course. One of the few simple and brief rules, beginning in Scotland in 1744, were “play the ball as it lies” and “play the course as you find it.” We all may grouse about course conditions or hole set-ups or green speeds, but remember that maintenance folks try their best to allow golfers to do their favorite recreation and we need to respect that. Honoring that includes fixing divots, repairing ball marks on the greens and abiding by walking and cart movement directions (e.g. stay out of native areas). And speaking of golf course employees, we need to honor the staff at our favorite courses; we depend on them.

Back to rules, golf is actually the only game where competitors call rules infractions on themselves. Now, the rules of golf are more generous these days than they were just a few years ago. Two examples are leaving the flagstick in when you putt, and legally fixing spike marks and imperfections on the green in the line of your putt. Granted there are rules to abide by, but we are reminded on every round, where goofy bounces and bad luck lurk on every shot, that golf is not always fair. Still, rules have to be honored, and that includes posting valid scores. Sandbaggers and cheaters, who rationalize that winning their five dollars, or $500 in pro shop credit, is more important than their honor and reputation. Shame on you.

Let’s all honor the history and traditions of the game we love. There are traditions of the game that were established many years ago and one of these is “you have the honor,” meaning that the low score on the previous hole tees off first on the next hole. Nowadays we often play “ready golf,” but you dare not tee your ball up ahead of a birdie. Honoring the history of the game includes dressing appropriately. Also, we can respect golf history by playing fast – or at least at a pace that doesn’t slow other golfers behind you. The tour professionals on television, of course, are just not a good example for us pedestrians. Sometimes, they take forever to hit a shot, but they don’t really get penalized for slow play. But they’re playing for millions and their livelihood.
Lastly, I need to mention the military-based foundation started in 2007 by Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, an U.S. Air Force (Reserve) F-16 fighter pilot, who served three tours in Iraq. That foundation is Folds of Honor, whose mission is to provide educational scholarships to spouses and children of American fallen and disabled service members. Since its inception, Folds of Honor has provided 29,000 college scholarships, with 4,500 in 2020 alone. There is a New Mexico chapter in Albuquerque. Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is also a PGA of America golf professional. Go to www.foldsofhonor.org for more detailed information and donation opportunities.