by Gavin Owen, Manager of Golf Operations

When sports and cinema collide, it is fair to say that we are not always playing by the Rules. But what happens when you bring some of those magical moments off the silver screen and into reality by applying the 2023 Rules of Golf to see how the outcomes would truly play out?

For instance, Danny Noonan’s double or nothing putt on the final hole of his match with Judge Smails teeters, overhanging the hole for an eternity while chaos ensues all around the course. If you allowed him reasonable time to reach the hole and then ten more seconds, the ball would still not have fallen into the hole within that allotted time. By my count, it’s closer to 40 seconds, and therefore his ball, even after it drops, is considered to be holed with the previous stroke and a penalty stroke is applied under Rule 13.3a. Credits roll, lights come up and Smails is victorious.

Should we talk non-conforming clubs or equipment? Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy plays an entire round with garden tools and a baseball bat. Not to mention, he picks up his ball in the fairway, and pool cues a putt with a rake handle. All bets aside, just for teeing off on the first hole with something other than a conforming club would result in a DQ, Rule 4.1a; Clubs Allowed in Making a Stroke. Popcorn on the floor, curtains close, and Cup can’t get his clubs out of hock.

But the most sinister and interesting case to apply today’s Rules to is the classic match between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond at Stoke Park Golf Club in the film “Goldfinger.” The significance in examining this particular match is, because unlike the other examples, the two opponents agree to play “strict Rules of Golf.” This is of course, Rules as they pertain in 1963, but we will look at each moment with the updated rules of 2023, with specific reference to Rule 3.2d(4), Protecting Own Rights and Interests.

As stated before, we are dealing with match play here, which is again a significant wrinkle. We also know they are playing at scratch as the club pro tells us they have the same handicap. First off, when we actually pick up the match they are teeing off on their 17th hole, and as should be done, the status of the match is stated and agreed upon. Regardless of whether that is correct is irrelevant because Bond hits his tee shot, and the agreed match score is now the actual match score, Rule 3.2d(3).

We now reach the complicated bit with Goldfinger’s search for his ball in the rough. Bond informs him correctly that his search time is almost up and will be required to take stroke-and-distance relief for a lost ball, Rule 18.2a(1) & 18.2b. Goldfinger’s caddie then “drops” a ball and claims to have found the original ball. Bond subsequently finds Goldfinger’s original ball and is standing on it. Let’s pause here to mention this is an absurd situation and both players and caddies are subject to Rule 1.2a/1 violations of serious misconduct; but continue we shall. Regardless of Bond finding the original, the caddie, even though not allowed to drop, has intended for this ball to be in play, which it now is, Rule 10.3c & 14.4. Referencing 3.2d(4) once again, Bond has chosen to not act on a breach of the Rules by his opponent, which is his prerogative. On the green, Goldfinger states his putt is to halve the hole, to which Bond agrees, and the putt is holed. The match moves to the 18th tee and Goldfinger steals the honour, which Bond is all too happy to allow, Rule 6.4a (2), although, this will mean the match score remains officially tied and Bond cannot dispute the earlier breach.

So now, let's get tricky because the entire plot rests on the facts that Bond has switched Goldfinger's ball from the Slazenger 1 to a Slazenger 7. Goldfinger does nothing in breach of the Rules here, 4.2c(2); the Rules permit a player to substitute another ball between the play of two holes.

He simply tees off and puts a ball, Slazenger 7, in play and holes out with the same ball. Bond then pulls his ruse by falsely accusing his opponent of playing a Wrong Ball, Rule 6.3c, which incurs the general penalty, to which correctly he states, “We are playing strict rules, so, I’m afraid you lose the hole and the match.” Here again, Goldfinger, disgruntled and in a huff, walks off accepting defeat, without thinking of Rule 3.2d (3)&(4), and definitely not protecting his own rights and interests.

By knowing the Rules, and never agreeing to waive the Rules, the two nemeses in Goldfinger are in fact, more compliant within the Rules than “Caddyshack” or “Tin Cup!” Music plays, fade to black, and the hero still gets the last laugh… though I’m not so sure the statue outside the clubhouse would share the same amusement in 007’s or Hollywood’s Handicap for their applications of the “strict” Rules of Golf.