Technological advances, aimed towards improving how sport be governed, are often viewed by participants and spectators with distrust, skepticism and more usually a combination!
Introducing video referees in Rugby, play reviews in the American form of football. Followed by Hawkeye in tennis and cricket, were all initially welcomed in amidst a chorus of doubting voices.
The current ongoing argument over the use of video in football (soccer) is an often passionate one. There are those who continue to argument against implementing goal-line camera systems. Such arguments clearly ignore the evidence in support of those who seek to modernise.
The continuous resistant attitude to change in sport, leads one to speculate whether this is symptomatic of a general fear of change. A hardwired attitude, if you like, based on the promise of "that's how we've always done it, so why change"?
Of course, all change has to balance against the counter argument of 'if it is not broken, why fix it'? However, as an overriding rule of thumb the use of technology is acceptable in all cases where, a potential for controversy or unintentional breach of the rules of the relative sports, exists.
Golf has exhausted for centuries. Governed by a vast and complex set of rules. Each designed to cope with the myriad of possessions which can occur during a round. Television viewers of significant tournaments around the world often witness players waiting while waiting for a rules official. Such are the complexities of the rules, along with the potential consequences of an unintentional infringement.
Beneath the major tours, golfers, both professional and amateur continue to play the game, using the same set of rules, but without welcoming referees. Understandably, disputes arise, often as a result of misinterpretation, sometimes in pursuit of a player's ambition to succeed regardless of the officially imposed limits.
Generally, the primary solution is greater education both through official channels and by players acquisiting themselves with the contents of the freely available rules booklets. It is also an interesting and disturbing fact that, a very small proportion of players actually carry a set of rules while playing. That truism applies equally to professional and amateur players of all levels. A straw-poll among your playing partners will almost certainly confirm that being the case.
Unfortunately current technology is unable to offer a comprehensive solution to this regrettable situation. However, one important aspect, rarely Rule 27-1, c, has now been properly addressed. This rule, which defines that a player has five minutes to search for and find a lost ball, is a key element of golf.
The problem which arises is that, very few players actually have a means for timing the search period on their person. In practice, the player and, possibly playing partners and maybe even a caddy, start a search. If the ball is not located immediately, the group, or parts of it, may continue to search. This may well result in the ball finally being located, identified and deemed as 'in-play'. Clearly, the problem is that, with nobody timing the search, how can anyone be sure that the owner of the ball has taken within the rule?
The 5-minute rule was first introduced by the R & A in 1842, briefly dropped and then re-introduced in 1891, since when it has been the basis of the game through the world.
Now, a simple technological solution is on the market. Priced at around twenty pounds Sterling and serving the single purpose of counting down the five minutes. Each minute, the user hears an audible tone together with a series of lights. These combine to keep the player informed of how long the search has occupied. This permits the owner of the missing ball to make informed and sensible judgments.
So, the question goes … why bother? We've managed to get by so far, why change now? Which brings us back to the opening lines above. Why indeed!
The first, and most obvious answer is that golf's rules-makers intended that they be strictly observed. This can not be the case on every occasion when estimation happens as an inaccurate means of governance. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that parties will necessarily agree on the estimated time period anyway. In match play for example, each side will have their own reasons for increasing or reducing the search time. So, disputes can and do occur.
Equally, in stroke play the difference between winning and losing can easily hinge on whether or not a ball is found within the allocated period. It is questionable whether, over the course of a golfing lifetime, there is a single player who can say, with absolute certyty that they have always returned cards which comply in every possible way with the Rules.
Next, there is the constantly replay complaint about on-course hold-ups. You've heard it, I've heard it … complaints about holding everyone up because of a protracted search. Who knows how long it really took. So, self-governance will also help in keeping the course moving at a reasonable pace.
A small, light and beautifully designed unit, is detachable from a golf bag, making it available in any search area. The function is available in the software of some models of electronic trolley. Not at all a bad thing, but the functionality is due reduced due to accessibility.
So, before going out on the course, whether it be the monthly medal or a satellite tour event, a small investment can go a very long way to ensuring that when you sign your scorecard, you will be doing so with your conscience clear. Oh and by the way, have you got a copy of the Rules in your bag?