I recently stumbled over the image of a scorecard from 1936 that had a curious thing printed on the bottom edge of the card. It was a six inch line with an arrow pointing away on each end and it said “stymie measure”. Scratching my head I could not recollect anything from memory that referred to a stymie measurement. To me a stymie was a condition in golf, before my appearance on this earth, when an opponent’s ball in a match play game stood between your ball and the hole and you simply had to play over or around it on your next shot. This chanced the possibility that you might knock their ball into the hole during that effort, effectively holing out for them.
Further research revealed that six inches was always an important incremental measurement when it came to a stymie in golf. The stymie was actually in the original 13 rules of golf drawn up in 1744 by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. It said that the only time you could lift a ball after teeing off was if two balls were touching or you lifted it out of the hole. In 1775 the rule was amended, a ball obstructing your way that was within six inches of your ball could be marked and lifted. So a ball in your way had to be more than six inches from your ball to comprise a stymie condition. Thus the stymie measurement on the card.
About 150 years later, in America where stroke play was the norm there was little tolerance for the penalty being laid a stymie could inflict on your scorecard. After unsuccessfully trying to convince the R & A in the 1930’s to abolish the stymie, the USGA in 1938 unilaterally altered it’s rules to allow any ball positioned within six inches of the hole to be marked and lifted if it interfered with another ball. Voila, a new use for the stymie measurement on the card.
Finally, in 1952, as a birthday present to the coming baby boomers, the R & A succumbed to the pressure and both ruling bodies eliminated the stymie entirely.