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The Stymie

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Daryl "Turboe" Boe:
Anyone know intimately how The Stymie used to work before it was outlawed?

What got me to wondering was, you may recall I posted a week or so ago about stepping back in time at Aiken Golf Club and went into great detail about some of the things on the course itself that brought me back in time.  Well another thing that I thought was interesting was on the bottom of the very classic and pure scorecard was a small red line exactly 6" across from the arrow on one end to the other that included the label "Stymie Gauge".  I thought it fit exactly with the quaint and historic flavor of the course.  I love it that they still included this on the bottom of the card.

Now back to my question.  When the Stymie was part of the game, what was a "Stymie Gauge" used for?   Did you have to be further away than this gauge showed (6") from you opponents ball or something in order to be allowed or something?  Does anyone know how this "Stymie Gauge" would have been used?

Hope this helps:

A stymie was possible only in matches involving one ball per side.  On the putting green, if two players' balls were more than six inches apart, there was no provision for the ball nearer the hole to be lifted. If that ball lay directly in the way to the hole of the ball to be played then the player was 'stymied.' He could try to play around or over the interfering ball, but if the nearer ball was struck, no penalty ensued. However, the opponent had the option of playing the ball as it lay or replacing it.  If the nearer ball had been knocked into the hole the opponent was considered to have holed out with his previous stroke.
The stymie was really born by default. In the original rules of 1744 only when balls were touching could one be lifted.
This was adjusted by the Gentlemen Golfers Of Leith in 1775 to touching or within 6 inches of each other.
1789 Gentlemen Golfers introduced this rule: 'In all time coming, in case in playing over the links any ball shall lye in the way of his opponent's the distance of six inches upon the hole green, it shall be in the power of the party playing to cause his opponent to move said ball'.
1812: St Andrews re-worded the rule slightly, but the principle of the stymie remained:  'When the balls lie within six inches of one another, the ball nearest the hole must be lifted till the other is played, but on the putting green it shall not be lifted, although within six inches, unless it lie directly between the other and the hole'.
1830 Montrose code specified that the rule did not apply to stroke play or four-balls.
Sept 1833 St Andrews Golfers voted to abolish it, but it was reinstated the following year (by the now R&A) as 'When the balls lie within six inches of each other in any situation the ball nearest the hole to be lifted until the other is played'.
The word stymie only appeared in the rules rarely: Musselburgh 1834, 1851 and 1858 R&A, applied to all stroke play. The USGA used the term in notes to Rule 31 in 1938 and 1947.  However, all the rules books of the 20th century, up to its abolition, used 'Stymie' in the index.
1891 R&A rules vaguely tried to remove the stymie from stroke play, stating that the ball may be lifted by the owner if he felt that it may be of advantage to the other player, or 'throughout the green' a player could have any ball lifted which might interfere with his stroke - but 'throughout the green' was not defined.
1899 Stroke Rule 11 and Medal Rule 9 stated the same thing.
The wording was made much clearer in 1902.
1920 USGA had a one-year trial of allowing the stymied player to concede his opponent's next putt.
1938 USGA introduced a modified stymie rule, initially for a trial period of two years, allowing a ball within 6 ins of the hole to be lifted if it was interfering, regardless of distance between balls. The rule was subsequently made permanent from 1941.
1950 abolished by USGA completely, but the organisations affiliated to the R&A were not inclined to do away with it.
Finally abolished worldwide in the joint rules of 1952. Now, lifting on the putting green was at option of owner or opponent if it was felt that the ball would interfere or be of assistance.
1956 In match play, the rule was changed such that the ball nearer the hole could only be lifted at the request of the player about to play.   In effect, the player about to play had 'control' over his opponent's ball.
From 1984, a ball may be lifted if it may interfere with or assist another player in all forms of play.

And finally, this might make Pat Mucci happy:
A small echo of the stymie can still be found in the Rules - on the putting green if a player's putt strikes an opponent's ball, there is no penalty in match play but it's a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.

Was there a controversy about the stymie that caused a rift (one of many) between the WGA and USGA in the early 1900s?  I seem to recall some reference to such in Macdonald's 'Scotland's Gift'.

And thanks, Jim Kennedy for the rules' cites.  


Terrific explanation of the stymie and its evolution.


Traditionally most score cards were six inches long for a reason. They measured the stymie rule!

It's ironic since Pat Mucci (a member of GCGC) is an advocate of returning the stymie to golf since an incident at the US Amateur in the late 1930s at GCGC involving a stymie (on the 17th hole?) was considered to have influenced the outcome of the winning of the championship.

Basically from that point on the stymie was doomed and it was voted out formally in the early 1950s

The interesting historic fact, as JimK notes, is the stymie was not something that golfers thought up--it was simply a result of a far more all encompassing rule and principle in golf that you put your ball in play on the tee and you did not touch it unitil you removed it from the hole.

There's another thing that's apparently relatively unknown about the old stymie--and that is it was considered to be ungentlemanly and not sporting to lay your opponent a stymie intentionally--it was supposed to be something that just happened. That evolution in thinking in the 20th century to looking at the stymie as something to do to your opponent on purpose (the only defensive mechanism known to golf) may have been the underlying reason the stymie's demise was inevitable!

Tom P

You have finally cracked it!

The demise of interesting GCA can be traced (as Pat M has said many many times) not to the ascendancy of the "card and pencil" mentality but to the demise of the "anti-defensive-mechanism-non-random-pernicous" mentality which arose in the US when the USGA went to their current handicapping system which penalized players who had a stymie laid on them (willingly or unwillingly) and had to abdjurate themselves to such treachery when posting their score using ESC, etc. after which they retired to the clubhouse for a 16" shower head shower, a shoe shine from ole' Blind Jimmie and a libation or twenty-two, and then over libations conspired to change the Rules of Golf and plot ways to emasculate the architectural intergrity of their Dead Architect-Designed Course.

As Watter Cronkite used to say (maybe he still does....), "And that's the way it was!"

Long live the Stymie



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