Hating Golf’s Out-of-Bounds Rule Has a Long History

The penalty for losing a ball or hitting it out of bounds is “stroke and distance”: if your first shot vanishes or ends up on the wrong side of the white stakes, you count that stroke (one), add a penalty stroke (two), and hit again from the original spot (three).

Many average golfers either don’t understand that rule or refuse to observe it. They “drop one” on the course near the spot where they figure their first shot disappeared, add a stroke, and play from there.

Stroke and distance was part of golf’s original list of rules, in 1744, but during subsequent decades and centuries it was repeatedly modified, dropped, resurrected, and modified again. Sometimes you counted only the bad stroke and the do-over; sometimes you added a penalty but got a drop. The most severe version was adopted by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1842: three strokes and distance, meaning that if you hit a ball out of bounds your next stroke, played from the spot where you struck your first, counted as your fifth. That lasted until 1846.

In 1951, the R & A and the USGA agreed to apply the single-stroke-and-distance penalty universally. But there was still plenty of grumbling, and in 1959 the Southern California Golf Association, with the support of 90 per cent of its members, adopted a local rule eliminating what it described as the “unfair penalty stroke in connection with ball out of bounds, lost ball and unplayable lie.” Thenceforth, in Southern California, if you did something stupid the assessment was “stroke only.” You counted the bad shot and the replay (from the original spot), but nothing in between.

The California revolt had some prominent supporters—among them Gene Sarazen, who told Golf Digest, “Golf is a game of luck. The stroke and distance penalty gives luck extra value. A guy gets into trouble at the wrong time or on the wrong hole and it is the equivalent of two strokes added to his card. The population is growing and taking up more space, so out-of-bounds holes are increasing. The double penalty rule is entirely unnecessary.”

The USGA relented for a year, in 1960, but the stroke-only faction ultimately lost out, and the current rule, with minor tinkering, has been in place all over the world since 1968. But who knows? Maybe the governing bodies will come around to Sarazen’s point of view.


The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Headcovers


My favorite headcover was made of black plush and had the Grateful Dead’s red-white-and-blue “Steal Your Face” skull logo embroidered on it. I got to play golf with Jim Furyk once, and before we teed off his caddie, Fluff Cowan, looked into my bag and said, “So, you’re a fan of the boys, eh?”—one of my proudest moments in the game. My 5-wood eventually wore a hole through the fabric, and I had to take that headcover out of service. The huge online store on the Dead’s official website used to have lots of branded golf stuff, but not anymore.


Headcovers must be a product of the apparently irresistible human urge to clothe inanimate objects—the same urge that gave us doilies, dust ruffles, chair skirts, and toilet seat covers. Most golfers probably assume that headcovers have an important protective function, but that seems unlikely. The purpose of a golf club is to be slung repeatedly at hard things lying on the ground, so why should you need to swaddle it just to carry it in a bag? Olden-days golfers—whose clubs were made by hand and were therefore arguably worth special handling—didn’t use them:


So why do we? Chuck Furjanic, who is the author of Antique Golf Collectibles: A Price and Reference Guide, told me that headcovers date from at least the early 1910s. Nevertheless, I spent a pleasant afternoon flipping through the pages of most of the golf books in my office, and couldn’t find a headcover in a photograph or illustration from earlier than 1935. Walter Hagen didn’t use them (and Henry Cotton didn’t either):


My research indicates that Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam without headcovers, that most golfers carried their woods naked until the late thirties or early forties, and that the headcovers of yesteryear started out looking like children’s socks, then evolved into sweaters for weasels. No headcovers here:


My first metal woods—a TaylorMade set, which I bought in 1991—came without headcovers. Their successors—a trio of Big Berthas, purchased less than a year later—came with huge ones, although they’d probably seem almost dinky today:


Those two transactions bracketed the beginning of the modern headcover era. Today, it’s impossible to buy a wood or even a hybrid without also receiving a complicated sheath that appears to have been manufactured in the same Chinese factory that makes shoes for NBA players and props for George Lucas movies. Someone I played golf with once told me that getting rid of headcovers would speed up the game by twenty minutes a round, and I believe it. Putting a modern headcover back onto a modern driver can be as exasperating and time-consuming as putting a snowsuit onto a toddler.


Using headcovers on irons is still for beginners only, like using a clicker to count shots or carrying tees in a bandolier. And thank goodness for that. But who knows? A lot of people didn’t think that soft spikes would catch on, either.


Five Holiday Gift Ideas for Avid Golfers


Your loved ones have a hard time buying presents for you, so you try to help: “How about some of my favorite golf balls?” You write down the name of the kind you like—the exact name, including the “X” after the “V1”—and your loved ones take the piece of paper with them when they go shopping. And there, in the ball department of the huge golf store at the mall, they see the kind you want.

But, holy cow, those balls cost almost fifty dollars a dozen! That’s, like, four bucks a ball! Luckily, though, on a shelf nearby are some identical balls (equally spherical, equally white) that cost only a quarter as much—and they come 18 to the box, instead of just 12! So your loved ones buy you two boxes of those! Three dozen balls for half the price of one dozen! That’s probably enough to last you for the rest of your life!

Oh, well. There’s nothing you can do about it, except to hit those balls into the woods with your brand-new approach wedge (which you ordered and wrapped yourself).

Alternatively, you could suggest to your loved ones that they shop for you in the past, in the pages of Golf Digest from a little over half a century ago. If they do, they’ll be sure to find lots of (attractively priced) items that any modern golfer would be delighted to find under the tree, including:






Last-Minute Gift Ideas From the Golf Digest Time Machine

GD Xmas Sears cart 12-058In the 1950s and early 1960s, the golf world underwent a Cambrian Explosion of golf-cart designs. (All these advertisements are from issues of Golf Digest.) Lots of different ideas were tried and rejected, and lots of companies went extinct—even ones that had the backing of celebrities:

GD Bob Hope cart 7-59

Bobcats must have been fun (and loud), and until you got yelled at you could hold intra-foursome races. For women, there was a version with training wheels:

GD Scooter 3 10-59

Ben Hogan was a fan of the new machines, since (apparently) he believed that walking spoiled golf for many players:

GD Cushman 6-58

Most early models had three wheels. A few had roofs:

GD covered cart 11-57

There were many gasoline-powered versions. You turned them off when you got to your ball, the keep the noise down:

GD Walker cart 4-59

This one—for a single golfer—had a “multi-baffled muffler”:

GD Springfield cart 7-61

Most one-player gasoline-powered carts were more expensive, as the one below was. But it weighed just a hundred pounds, and it folded so compactly that you could carry two of them in the trunk of your car:

GD Folding Cart 12-61

There were also powered carts for golfers who, Ben Hogan notwithstanding, insisted on walking. This one held two bags:

GD Electric hand cart 5-59

Unless you had one of the folding ones, you needed one of these to get your cart to and from the club:

GD Cart trailer 8-59

And if your cart was one of the electric ones you probably were wise to buy a spare one of these, as a backup:

GD Delco cart batteries 4-61Merry Christmas to all!

Am I Related By Marriage to the Inventor of the Golf Rainsuit?

GD Hodgman 2 9-61

My wife’s last name is Hodgman. In 1838, a distant relative of hers—that is to say, a relative not related to her by money—founded the Hodgman Rubber Co., which still sort of exists. In fact, my wife has a Hodgman camo rain jacket (which she never wears). She also has an old box of Hodgman rubber bands, and she claims that the company was once famous for manufacturing horse condoms.

Hodgman Rubber Co., 1913.

Hodgman Rubber Co., 1913.

In 1913, Hodgman Rubber published a self-celebratory book, on the occasion of its seventy-fifth birthday. “The orderly business man at his desk is lulled by the harmonious music of the rubber band,” the book’s author wrote; “the eager traveler hastens swiftly on his unwearied way in the glad knowledge that not he but his motor car is rubber tired. Rubber is the main spring of sport in football and in tennis. The urgencies of business are sped by messages over telephones that are rubber wired.” And so forth. Also, eventually, rainsuits for golfers.

GD Hodgman 9-58

Hodgman rainsuits couldn’t cure a reverse pivot, apparently (see advertisement above). But they did leave plenty of room for unavoidable age-related increases in B.M.I.

GD rain clothing 4-61

Ann “Distant Relative of Possible Inventor of the Rainsuit” Hodgman and I are currently in Amsterdam, celebrating our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. There was a little rain here this morning, and when we walked to breakfast I wore a golf rain jacket—which, I’m sorry to report, was not a Hodgman. But, at any rate, it’s not raining now.

Earliest Known Photo of My Father Playing Golf: 1927

My father trying golf in 1927, with a corner of my grandmother's rose garden in the background.

My father trying golf in 1927, with a corner of my grandmother’s rose garden in the background.

He was two, and his grip was close to the one he used as an adult. I took up golf in my mid-thirties, and when my brother watched me hit a weak slice with a five-iron, shortly after I’d started playing, he said, “You’re already the second best golfer in the family.” The clubs in the photo belonged to my grandfather, who was a decent player. They were custom-made by Kenneth Smith, who was also from Kansas City and hadn’t been making golf clubs for very long. Among the other golfers who played with Kenneth Smiths, eventually, were Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, and the King of Morocco. I played golf a little when I was twelve and thirteen, and the driver I carried (which I hated) was a cut-down Kenneth Smith.

Here’s a Kenneth Smith advertisement from the December 1961 issue of Golf Digest:

GD Kenneth Smith 12-61

My father underwent major surgery when he was in his seventies, a few years before he died. The operation lasted for six hours, and he ended up with sixty-one staples in his abdomen. When he finally began to come around, a couple of days later, the doctors had to put restraints on his arms to keep him from inadvertently ripping out various tubes and catheters and monitoring devices. He was on a ventilator for a while, too. It was a rough time for him, and an even rougher one for my mom, who, after all, was conscious through it all. She was at his side when he opened his eyes. The first thing he said, in a voice that was weak but filled with hope, was “Am I at the country club?”—exactly what I would have asked in the same situation.

Kenneth Smith

A Few Words About Golf Socks

In 1981, the host was Robin Ward, who was born in Canada and is considered by some to be the poor man's Alex Trebek.

In 1981, the host of To Tell the Truth was Robin Ward, who is considered by some to be second only to Alex Trebek among U.S. game-show hosts born in Canada in the 1940s.

In 1981, I was a contestant on the television show To Tell the Truth. I had just written a book to which Barry Manilow had optioned both the movie and the song rights. (The book, called High School, was about a semester I’d spent pretending to be a senior at a large public high school in Connecticut—a stunt for which, if you tried it today, you’d probably end up in prison.) On the show, only one of the panelists—Kitty Carlisle Hart—picked me as the non-impostor. My co-contestants and I fooled Nipsey Russell, Rex Reed, and an actress named Marcia Rodd, and we each received a hundred dollars, a case of Quaker State motor oil, and a fifty-dollar gift certificate from Kinney Shoes, a national chain that’s now (deservedly) defunct. I couldn’t find shoes I liked at Kinney, so I used my certificate to buy fifty pairs of tube socks.

Kitty Carlisle during the show's golden age. I watched it when I was home sick from school.

Kitty Carlisle and her fellow cast members Tom Poston, Bud Collyer, and Orson Bean, during the show’s golden age. I used to love to watch To Tell the Truth, along with practically anything else, when I was home sick from school.

Those Kinney socks, which were calf-height and had colorful stripes near the top, lasted me almost a decade—although for several years near the end I wore them only under jeans, so that no one would see them. Nowadays, hardly anyone wears tube socks, unless they’re participating in one of the tall-sock sports, like rugby, or they’re trying to be funny, like these members of the University of North Carolina women’s golf team:

This photograph appeared originally in Golfweek.

This photograph appeared originally in Golfweek.

My brother used to belong to a country club that didn’t allow men in shorts to play golf in socks that ended at or below the ankle bone. I was unaware of the rule but I did deduce its existence one day when I played there in quarter-height socks, which I had bought at the Gap. I noticed (first) that a surprising number of people in the clubhouse were staring at my feet and (second) that every male golfer I saw on the course was wearing crew socks, which were otherwise out of fashion with shorts. It was like a Star Trek episode in which a planet’s inhabitants look and act almost exactly like humans, but not quite. I deduced, furthermore, that my socks must be just tall enough to be considered borderline compliant, because, despite all the staring, no one asked me to change.

Fifty years ago, my father, and just about everyone else, played golf in Izod socks like these.

Fifty years ago, during the era of pulling pants way up, my father and his friends  played golf in Izod socks like the ones these guys are wearing. (The pictures ran in Golf Digest in the early 1960s.) I had a pair, too. They didn’t stay up very well, among other undesirable features.

My brother used to satisfy his club’s sock-height requirement by wearing Wigwam all-wool crew socks, which he claimed were self-laundering. (He kept them in the trunk of his car, along with his golf shoes and his clubs, and believed that the high temperatures had a sanitizing effect.) He continued to wear crew socks with shorts while playing golf for several years after joining a different club, out of habit, but eventually he came around, and now he wears normal, short golf socks. I got a little worried this past summer when I spotted a young guy in shorts at my own club wearing old-man-taking-his-grandchildren-to-Disney-World socks. (See photo below.) I thought, “Crap—are sock styles changing again?” But now I think it was just a fluke.

Are the ugly black socks on the left a harbinger or a fluke? I'm hoping fluke.

Are the ugly black socks on the young guy on the left a harbinger or a fluke? I’m hoping fluke.

When my kids were little, my wife and I got lazy about putting away laundry. We kept everyone’s socks in a single basket, like fruit in a cafeteria, and when any of us needed socks we would pick through the basket. There were always so many orphan socks that only about a third of the total were available for use at any one time. (The orphan socks accumulated at the bottom of the basket. They were like the big pieces of lettuce under the fruit salad which you aren’t supposed to eat.) Life at our house would have been simpler if we all could have agreed on a single color, style, and size. Now that the children have grown up and moved away, I have tried to institute a similar system for myself, with some success, by severely streamlining my own sock choices. I now have just two kinds of golf socks: quarter-height black ones, which I wear with shorts, and crew-height black ones, which I wear with long pants and which can pass as regular socks when I travel. The taller ones, which are nice and thick, are made by Thorlos. I bought them from Zappos.com. The short ones, which I bought from the Gap, apparently aren’t made anymore, if the Gap’s website is to be believed.

My wife, Ann Hodgman, at the Four Seasons in 1973

My wife in the kitchen at Four Seasons, in New York, in 1970, when she was fourteen.

Here’s an example of the cruelty of fate: when my wife, Ann Hodgman, was in ninth grade, Seventeen Magazine named her Teen Gourmet of the Year. They flew her to New York, and she got to hang around the magazine’s offices and the kitchen at Four Seasons, where she met the chef. After she’d flown back home, she was invited to return to New York and be a contestant on To Tell the Truth—and her parents said no. As a result, she and I missed a chance to be one of what must be a vanishingly small number of married couples who have both appeared on To Tell the Truth, albeit in different decades. What if Kitty Carlisle had picked her out, too? Alas, we’ll never know.

Hillside Golf Club, which is next door to Royal Birkdale, in Southport, England, is one of the few golf clubs where my Kinney tube socks would be considered too short.

Hillside Golf Club, which is next door to Royal Birkdale, in Southport, England, is one of the few golf clubs where my Kinney tube socks, if I still owned any of them, would be considered too short.

Black Friday Special: Still More Holiday Gift Ideas for Golfers

Not many shopping days left. Here are some more gift ideas from the Golf Digest Time Machine.

This ad is from almost exactly fifty-five years ago. Even then, selling these would have been a slow way to get rich. There’s still a Rome Paper Company, although it’s in Georgia, not Indiana. Among its many products: a “germ-shaped stress reliever” (not suitable for children under three).

Golf umbrellas, transparent or otherwise, strike me as more trouble than they’re worth, but some people like them. If you forget to take yours on a golf trip to Scotland or Ireland, you can usually find one or two inside-out ones in the trashcan on the second tee of whatever course you’re playing in the rain.

A golf bag that’s also a chair, from 1958. The ad says it’s lightweight, but to me it looks heavy enough to make itself necessary. Could that be Mr. Moreland himself?

This is similar to Stanley’s eBay club carrier, though probably more useful as a weapon. Is that Sam Snead in the photo on the right?

The Sit-n-Rest, from 1959, combines the best (as well as the worst) features of the previous two items. Note the four-club head cover in the bottom right hand corner. Order now!

More Holiday Gift Ideas for Golfers

Every year, my secret Christmas wish is “Please don’t buy me golf balls from the big sale display at Dick’s.” Instead of those, how about something from the pages of Golf Digest fifty years ago:

These glasses are from 1958. They wouldn’t do me any good, because I play better with distractions, but I can think of guys they might help. If you could move the side shields to the top, they would be useful in the rain. (Tip: the best way to dry your glasses is with the fingers of your cotton rain gloves, which work almost as well as a chamois.)

Did the pros really heat their balls in 1961, when this advertisement ran? Whether they did or not, is it legal today? If so, Zippo makes a gizmo that looks a lot like the Jon-E Warmer. (You can buy one here.) Gary, our superintendent, usually brings hand-warmers for everyone when we play in the winter. I don’t really care for them, although I did once play while wearing a back warmer. Note the handy “odd” and “even” designations, to prevent confusion on the tee.

This Creature-form-the-Black-Lagoon glove is also from 1961, and also possibly illegal. The digital cluster on the right looks as though it’s about to divide into separate fingers—including, possibly, a sixth one.

Is this the sort of thing Lance Armstrong was doing? Also: why the emphasis on the twelfth hole?

This device, from 1961, might actually be a partial solution to the dirty-pocket-rim problem, which I complained about over the summer. Maybe add a tee bandoleer and some magnetic ball markers?

Still baffled about what to give (or ask for)? More soon.

Five Holiday Gift Ideas for Golfers

It’s never too early to start shopping for the golfer in your family. These gift ideas are from the pages of Golf Digest in the late 1950s and early 1960s:

This item is from 1957, when golf, cocktail-drinking, and home refrigeration were all ascendant in the United States. U.S. Royal was a trade name of the United States Rubber Company, which renamed itself Uniroyal in 1961. It no longer makes golf balls, although it may still make ice trays.

The reflective metallic golf hat, also from 1957, is an idea that never caught on, for unknown reasons. The hat was probably most useful in match play, since by standing in the right place and tilting your head you could temporarily blind your opponent. The logo notwithstanding, I don’t think anyone ever wore one in the Masters.

Wehrmacht surplus? Somebody must have bought a load of these, because they were advertised all over, and not just in golf publications. This ad is from 1960. Hats like this are still available, although they’re of interest mainly to Third Reich fetishists.

Also from 1960. Golf ball repair is a concept that doesn’t really exist anymore.

This ad is from 1958, but versions of it ran for several years. The price is per week, not per night, and it includes room, golf, meals, tips, and just about everything else. (Dove hunting may have been extra.) Today, you’d pay almost as much at Pinehurst for a dozen Pro V1s.

Don’t see anything you want? More gift ideas soon.