There's a par-five hole early on the back nine of the second course at Hawkstone Park that describes a semi-circle beside a lake.

Accurate positional play, especially off the tee, is important. Because the fairway's got a nasty ridge in it and you can hit a firm, straight drive, as I did, catch that ridge and then see your ball catapult very nearly at right angles into the water.

Or was it in the water? With fingers crossed, I went to look. And there, balanced on three or four reeds that overhung the lake, was a ball. Was it mine?

I couldn't tell; my two playing partners, whose eyesight is far superior to mine, couldn't tell, either. To step too close to the ball was to risk death by drowning. So what to do?

An address was possible, the length of a club was equal to the distance between me and the ball so I decided to try to play it. The result was not spectacular but I did get the ball onto dry land.

And while I was on my way to it, to discover that it wasn't mine after all, I spied something at my feet. My ball. Which I then played and got a double-bogey seven with. But was it a seven? I had only hit my ball five times.

This was one of those nightmare moments in golf when your grasp of the rules is inadequate. I thought I was able to take a swipe at the unidentified ball without penalty but I wasn't sure. One of my partners was.

"You've played the wrong ball, mate," said he. "That's a two-shot penalty."

So he put a seven on my card, I signed for it and I lost a competition that was rather dear to me by two shots.

I was second . . . oh! no I wasn't, I much later discovered. I should have been disqualified.

I had signed for a wrong score. The seven wasn't a seven, it was a five.

The evening's jollifications interrupted my intention to check on the rule. Next morning there was the drive home, then something came up, I never did get around to consulting the Rules Of Golf and soon the incident was forgotten.

Until someone sent me a snazzy little book last week entitled The Golf Bag Buddy (David & Charles £9.99) which bravely attempts to simplify all those complicated orders of law that blow the minds of the millions of us who just want to get on with the game.

It simplified Rule 12. "In a hazard . . . if you find a ball, hit it and then discover it is not yours, there is no penalty . . ." I wuz robbed!

No I wasn't; it was entirely my own fault for not knowing the rules. It is always your own fault in circumstances like these if you don't know the rules. And this book, written by journalist Bill Elliott, is what you are invited to stick in your golf bag so that it's instantly to hand any time there is a problem like the one I've just described.

Lots of people have written books on how to cut through the dense lettering in which the Rules are couched. Elliott's is one of the more readable because of its racy tone and humorous irreverence.

Acquire it, enjoy it and by all means shove it in your golf bag. But please don't start reading it if you're playing in front of me. The golf course is not where you should start reading books, no matter what size they are.

If your problem is similar to mine at Hawkstone, don't sign your card until you have made the check at your leisure in the clubhouse.

Elliott, who has been about the golfing scene rather more than a bit, has other sections in his miniature opus including the games that have been contrived which are not slavishly observant of the Rules. He has a treatise on etiquette and he is quite informative on the ways of winning (and losing!) money on the golf course.

But I shall be having a word with him about his explanation of the invention of the Stableford system of scoring. He claims that it was invented in 1931, the brainchild of Dr Frank Stableford who played his golf at Wallasey but concedes that there is some serious doubt about this in view of the fact that Dr F Stableford, while a member of the Glamorganshire GC, had introduced a similar system there 30 years earlier.

" Whatever the real facts . . ." writes Elliott before going on to bless the system.

The real facts are that Stableford did introduce his method of scoring in South Wales and Wallasey have accepted this to the extent that whereas they once described themselves as the home of Stableford, they are now content to be the home of the modified Stableford.

FOOTNOTE: This is not a fact but I have a feeling that the good doctor, before he left for South Wales and while a member of Robin Hood GC in Birmingham, may well have given practical birth to his idea there.