9 things that have been banned from golf

The anchoring putting technique joins a long list of things that have been banned from the game of golf.

The anchoring technique will be banned as of January 1, 2016, but it isn’t the first thing to be banned from the game of golf. Here are some other things that have been banned including equipment, balls and another controversial putting technique that Sam Snead made infamous.

The small “British” ball
When I first took up the game as a kid, the small ball was still very much in play and the golf bag I inherited from my grandfather was full of them. The smaller ball was the same weight as the larger USGA-approved golf ball but was just 0.06 inches in diameter smaller (1.62 inches v 1.68 inches). The small ball could be shaped easier than the larger ball and was always the ball of choice at The Open Championship although under USGA golf rules the small ball was illegal.

The R&A and the USGA were keen to form one set of golf rules and the small ball was eventually outlawed in 1990. Although I still had plenty of them in my practice bag of balls for many years after.

The game itself
The game of golf itself was banned in the 1400’s. From 1457 – 1470 the game was banned in Scotland to preserve the skills of archery. I’m assuming that too many people were taking up golf instead of using the bow.

Golf was also prohibited from being played on the streets of Albany, New York in 1659 in what was the first reference of the game in America. Presumably where the US got its fascination with target golf.

Square grooves
The controversy surrounding square grooves and their place in golf is a complicated and ugly story. In summary, the USGA deemed square grooves legal in the early 1980’s. Club manufacturer Ping then made the slightly different square-grooved Ping Eye 2 irons but the USGA declared them nonconforming.

The PGA Tour then declared all square grooved clubs illegal in tournaments from 1990 – including the Ping Eye 2’s. Ping then sued both the USGA and PGA Tour and an eventual settlement was reached; all square grooved clubs, including the previously nonconforming Ping Eye 2’s (manufactured between 1985 and 1989) would be considered legal.

In 2010 the USGA and PGA Tour deemed all square grooved golf clubs illegal but strangely the Ping settlement is still in place meaning that the Ping Eye 2’s can still be used.

I told you it was complicated.

Croquet style putting
Sam Snead had won all seven of his major championships by 1954. Late in his career his putting was failing him and during the 1966 US PGA Championship he straddled the golf ball and decided to putt croquet style with good success.

After posting good results including a top-10 finish at the 1967 US Masters, Bobby Jones and others took a dislike to the style and by January 1, 1968 the putting style was outlawed and Rule 16-1e added to the rules of golf:

Rule 16-1e
The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.

The stymie was a tactic used in match-play golf that was outlawed from the game in 1952.

If a golf ball lay in the way of another – but more than six inches away from the other ball – it wasn’t marked and lifted. Instead, it stayed where it was and if the opponent happened to hit it then that was just too bad. The other golfer could then either replace his ball or choose to play it in its new location – sometimes closer to the hole.

It made for some interesting tactics around the green but it’s easy to see why this tactic was eventually banned – it just doesn’t seem in the spirit of the game.


Steel shafts
Believe it or not, steel shafts were initially banned when they first appeared. Both the R&A and USGA banned steel shafted golf clubs in 1914 (here is how it was reported) but after a decade of pressure from players and club manufacturers, the clubs were eventually allowed by the late 1920s.

Who knew golf club manufacturers held that much sway over golf’s ruling bodies?

Interestingly, golfers thought the ban hindered the types of shots they could play and began carrying many more golf clubs in their bag, which eventually led to the 14-club rule which was brought into effect by the late 1930s.

Concave-faced golf clubs
Concave golf clubs, especially concave wedges were popular around the greens and were considered the best club for getting out of bunkers.

At a time when golfers and golf club manufacturers were experimenting will a range of different grooves and faces on golf clubs the R&A decided to simplify things and ban the concave-faced golf club in 1931.

Transmitter  balls
I’d estimate that at least once a week on a golf course somewhere across Australia, someone says “Why don’t they invent a golf ball that we can easily track and find?”

Well in the 1970s they did but they were almost immediately banned from use in competitions. Quite possibly after pressure from regular golf ball manufacturers.

Anchoring technique
And so now we have the anchoring technique to be banned from January 1, 2016.

While most golfers have continued to use the technique since the announcement was made, expect to see more and more anchoring putters make the switch in 2015 as the deadline looms closer.

One thought on “9 things that have been banned from golf

  • Thanks for sharing this interesting article about banned things in golf. I found it fascinating to learn about the history of the game and the reasons why certain equipment and practices were banned. It’s amazing how much the game has evolved over time.

    I particularly enjoyed the section about the banned balls. The small “British” ball sounds like it would have been quite challenging to use!

    Overall, I thought this was a well-written and informative article. It’s definitely worth a read for any golf fan. John Tucker Golf Week Store


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