What makes golf different from other sports?

Categories: Life Skills


The First Tee has established Nine Core Values that represent some of the many inherently positive values connected with the game of golf.

Participants learn about these values, like honesty, and are encouraged to practice them on the golf course, with friends and at home.

Golf is unique from other sports in that players regularly call penalties on themselves and report their own score.

Only at the highest level of competition – major championships like The Open Championship – is there a rules official nearby or walking with every group. In other sports such as football, basketball and baseball a referee or umpire oversees the entire competition from start to finish, calling the rules and implementing penalties.

Jim Furyk and Brian Davis shake hands after the 2010 Verizon Classic
Jim Furyk and Brian Davis shake hands after the 2010 Verizon Classic

Flashback to the PGA TOUR’s 2010 Verizon Classic played in Hilton Head Island, SC. Brian Davis was in a playoff with Jim Furyk to determine the champion.

Davis had hit his second shot in the hazard left of the green and chose to play the shot from the sandy beach front. The rules of golf state that loose impediment’s in the hazard may not be moved prior to hitting the shot or during the back swing.

RoughTo explain the difference, living growing items such as rooted grass can be brushed in the back swing but items such as sand or loose sticks may not be touched on the back swing.

Though it was not visible to the spectator, Brian realized upon taking his shot that he may have clipped a reed behind the ball. Before hitting his next shot, Brian consulted with a rules official. Had the reed been attached to the ground he was ok but in this case it was not. The rules official tugged on the reed and it came out. A two-stroke penalty was assessed for hitting a loose impediment and Brian lost in the playoff.

At the following week’s PGA TOUR event Brian was asked if he ever considered not calling the penalty on himself. He replied by saying:

“That never crossed my mind. I’d broken a rule that’s in the rule book for a reason. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. If I had won in doubt? I don’t think I could ever walk through a clubhouse without feeling ill. There’s no worse black mark on a player than ‘cheater.’”


At The First Tee we look to teach participants honesty through hands-on activities. Games that require them to implement honesty by tallying their own score, determining if their ball stayed within the boundaries of the course and learning what it means to be accessed a penalty stroke.

After losing to Furyk, Davis summed up his thoughts on the rules by saying:

“Honoring the rules is taught at a young age in golf. The game is full of rules, including the way you are supposed to dress and behave. To be truthful, I don’t know every rule and some rules change so it’s a challenge to keep up. I’m not perfect, but I can sleep at night knowing I am honest.”

Click here to read more about the 2010 Verizon Heritage tournament.

Written by Courtney Stiles, Executive Director, The First Tee of the Sandhills 

5 responses to “What makes golf different from other sports?

  1. Please interpret the rule for dropping from a cart path. It says nearest point of relief no closer to the hole. But I hear a couple different versions s please explain. Thank you.

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