Paul Greenberg

Sometimes all it takes is a single snippet in the news to open a world of insights. Consider this small item the other day: It seems two golfers in North Union Township, Pennsylvania have been charged with assaulting each other while arguing about the rules at a golf course there. North Union Township is clearly not on this side of Mason-Dixon's line, just as these two alleged golfers are just as clearly not gentlemen. For in the course of their disagreement over the rules of the game, one of them was said to have struck the other in the head with a 3-wood.

Shocking. Everybody knows that kind of shot calls for a No. 2 iron. Though a 9-iron might do in a pinch. Wasn't that Mrs. Woods' club of choice when she'd finally had enough of Tiger? I have no idea whether she'd remembered to keep her head down and follow through.

Golf has come a long way (down) since what became the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers issued the first 13 rules of the game in 1744. The present sub-rules include this: "Any dispute as to the proper action which is not covered by the Rules should be resolved by doing what is most equitable."

These sub-rules appear in an appendix to the first numbered rules and dictate the etiquette to be observed on the course. Like avoiding "actions made with intent to damage the course, facilities or other players' equipment" or "to injure other players or disturb/distract them while making their play...." In the age of the mulligan, such rules sound like relics of an earlier grace.

Naturally that brings me to mention Robert E. Lee, as almost anything will, but especially evidence that his code of gentlemanly behavior has become a thing of the past. The general would surely have approved of the Honourable Company of Golfers and their simple rules, though he knew that what is understood between gentlemen needn't be spelled out. Or as he told the members of an incoming class at what was then Washington College who inquired if the school had a rule book: "We have but one rule here, that every student be a gentleman." Enough said.

It was an English gentleman, Lord Moulton, who early in the last century theorized that there are three domains that govern the life of man: "First comes the domain of Positive Law, where our actions are prescribed by laws binding upon us which must be obeyed. Next comes the domain of Free Choice, which includes all those actions as to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom." But absolute law, dictating every action and maybe thought, too, becomes absolutely impossible to live with. It comes to be absolute tyranny. And absolute freedom becomes absolute anarchy. For what is freedom without law to ensure, interpret and guide it?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.