Should a tarmac road ever be an integral part of the course?

Is it right that we should sometimes have to play off a road or incur a penalty?

David Howell plays off Granny Clark's Wynd on the Old Course... but he can afford to replace his clubs!

Many clubs allow relief from tarmac roads and other hard paths, but not all. Should a tarmac road ever be an integral part of the course in the modern era?

There are a number of annoying golf rules that seem to give us a particularly bad deal.

But the Rules of Golf’s real ‘two of spades’ is undoubtedly the tarmac, or other distinctly hard-surfaced road or pathway, that for some unfathomable reason the committee, in its infinite wisdom, has deemed an integral part of the course.

In other words, if you’re on it you either play it or take a penalty.

It could be argued that this is both blatantly unfair and practically irresponsible in an era where a decent full set of sticks can set you back as much as a nice secondhand family saloon.

Who would feel it fair if, to park your precious motor, you were required by the laws of the road to either first scrape your front wing on a nearby wall or pay a hefty fine.

But that’s exactly what golf’s outdated integral road rule asks you to do – damage your 5-iron or sand wedge, perhaps irreparably, or take a penalty drop and hand your opponent the advantage.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the Old Course at St Andrews.

Knock it through the back of the already devilishly difficult 17th – not hard to do as anyone who’s ever played there will readily testify – and not only do you now face an almost impossible chip up and over a 4ft bank onto a downslope, but it’s highly likely you’ll also find yourself having to play it from a rock-hard pathway or road.

No wonder the hole is renowned for humiliating cricket scores and fraught tempers.

Fancy the chip from here? The road after which the 17th at st Andrews is named

Fancy the chip from here? The road after which the 17th at St Andrews is named

Walk to the 18th tee and it’s a similar story – misclub, or misjudge your drive, especially into the wind, and the sparks will be flying as you attempt to pick a clean mid-iron off the neatly tarmacked Granny Clark’s Wynd that crosses the fairway at 240 yards.

Even if you do knock it on from here, you’ll be heading straight back to your club pro to get the loft and lie checked, and those irritating scratches and scrapes ground out of your costly 7-iron as much as possible. But it’ll never be the same again.

Another contentious Rule is the penalty drop from a waterlogged bunker, but that does at least have an element of fairness about it.

Yes, it’s annoying when your ball plops into a flooded trap, but to escape scot-free would be giving you a potential advantage your errant shot simply doesn’t deserve.

For the less-than-proficient bunker player, the penalty probably won’t cost them anything anyway as they’ll rarely find the green from a fairway bunker and are more likely to get up and down around the green with a chip from the grass than a splash from the sand.

Maybe in golf’s earlier, more primitive days, people weren’t overly fussed about the appearance of their golf gear.

But in our 21st century world of high-tech and expensive golf equipment, the majority of players most definitely are. So perhaps those more primitive days are exactly where the integral road rule now belongs?

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response