October 8, 1999
October has special meaning for many golfers.
The sun is out for a few minutes less each day, and it’s increasingly noticeable. Turning the clocks back is only a few weeks away. Starting times before 6 a.m., common in June, are simply not possible. In the Cape Region, Bermuda grass shows signs of turning brown and dormant, while bentgrass turf is probably never greener.
The leaves begin to fall in earnest, also bringing into use a major American contribution to the Rules of Golf—The Leaf Rule.
The Leaf Rule is fairly simple to explain. Suppose a player hits a drive and can trace its trajectory to a spot in the rough or fairway. Nonetheless, after a diligent search for the required five minutes, neither the player nor the playing partners can find the ball among the orange, yellow, and brown leaves covering the turf. Under the strict Rules of Golf, at this point the ball is to be declared officially lost. The player is supposed to return to the original spot and try again, with a penalty stroke added in, apparently just for spite.
On the other hand, it’s hard to find anyone who actually follows the Rules of Golf in these circumstances.
Instead, the player announces in a loud voice that The Leaf Rule is going to be used, drops a new ball in the approximate location she believes it actually landed, and plays on without a penalty stroke.
The creator of The Leaf Rule was a genius.
After all, golf was first played along sand dunes and bogs. There simply weren’t any trees around. Once it was decided to play in tree-lined park settings, an adjustment such as the Leaf Rule was needed to keep golfers from going crazy.
The coming of fall often has another effect on golfers and their relationship to trees (or, as they are also called, Aerial Biomass Hazards). Players attempt far more risky shots close to now-bare oaks and maples, on the well-known theory that with the leaves gone, the trees are “90 per cent air.”
This theory is hypothetically correct and factually impossible.
Golfers usually take cover when their playing partners tell them they believe in the theory, and attempt a recovery shot.
Belief in this 90 per cent air myth is also responsible for one of the definitions of a “nanosecond.”
Four out of five scientists will tell you that a nanosecond is a billionth of a second.
Five out of five golfers will tell you that a nanosecond is the time interval between a attempted shot out of the trees during the fall and the player’s reaction to the usual results, as shown below:
” <%@#&*^+( !!! “
October also has an effect on golfers and their handicaps. For most parts of the country, including the Cape Region, scores are posted for handicap purposes between April 1 and October 31. The theory is that posting scores from wintertime playing, with the frequent bad weather, would have an inappropriate effect on players’ handicaps. After the official golf season ends on Halloween, players keep their existing handicaps until the spring.
Many players are playing at their peak in October. By then they’ve made as much improvement in their game as could be done during the season.
On the other hand, during early fall I also hear golfers complain that their handicaps are going down too far, and that they have to keep their handicap “up.” When I hear this, the word “sandbagger” floats across my mind. I make a mental note to think twice about a dollar Nassau with these players during a winter round.