Saltman's ban highlights golf code of honour
All four 2010 major winners and the world number one are competing in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this week but all the talk in the build-up surrounds a player who does not even register on the current world rankings.
Elliot Saltman's three-month ban for what has been termed a "serious breach" of the rules at last year's Russian Challenge Cup raises difficult issues for the game.
That it has become the major topic of conversation on the eve of a tournament that boasts such a stellar cast list serves to show how seriously transgressions of golf's rules are taken within the game.
As Lee Westwood pointed out: "You don't see us jumping in the referee's face when something goes wrong and waving our fingers at him trying to get the other player on the other side of the fairway carded. You don't see us missing a putt and diving.
"I don't think there is a place for cheating in golf, or sport, for that matter," the world number one added.
In Saltman's case, it was the alleged repeated gaining of maybe a centimetre on the putting green that brought him before the Tournament Committee in Abu Dhabi.
Saltman plays out of a bunker at the Johannesburg Open - photo: Getty
The 28-year-old Scot was disqualified from the Russian event when his playing partners, Stuart Davies and Marcus Higley, reported him for continually replacing his ball incorrectly. They refused to sign his card and, after a meeting with referee Gary Butler, Saltman was thrown out of the tournament.
Banning any player and thus depriving them of their livelihood for any period of time is a serious matter, with all sorts of potential legal ramifications, and Saltman has 28 days to appeal to the Tour Board.
The way such matters are dealt with is not altogether clear. There is currently no set disciplinary procedure on the European Tour and the committee was working with little in the way of precedent when they dealt with Saltman.
He was being judged by his peers - fellow players who form the body responsible for Tour policy - and it is clear the committee felt the need to punish someone who had been judged to have broken the rules.
In the past, draconian punishments have been handed down, although the last ban to be handed out was back in 1992, when Swede Johan Tumba was accused of altering his scorecard at qualifying school and banned for 10 years, a suspension subsequently reduced to three.
Scottish professional David Robertson received a 20-year ban after being accused of moving his ball marker 15 feet nearer the hole during an Open qualifier in 1985.
There are cases where apparent breaches have not resulted in bans. The infamous "Jakarta-gate" incident involving Colin Montgomerie merely resulted in the committee expressing their "dissatisfaction" with the Scot.
Mark O'Meara was also belatedly accused of moving his ball closer to the hole en route to victory at the Lancome Trophy in 1997.
The difference in Saltman's case is that, even though there was no video evidence, he was disqualified at the time of the incident, on the evidence of his playing partners.
This is the heart of the matter. Each player is responsible for protecting the entire field when they are asked to mark the card of an opponent.
By and large, the system works because it does not allow for players trying to cheat an official referee or umpire, an often accepted practice in other sports. Footballers might dive for a penalty, a batsman may stand his ground after edging to a wicket-keeper or a forward might pull down a rugby scrum.
None of these actions would routinely attract the attention of a disciplinary committee.
Most professional golf is played with referees who are only there to offer rulings when a player is not sure how to proceed or to ensure groups play to time.
Essentially, a golfer is asked to play to the satisfaction of his opponents, which means those who seem to try to take an illegal advantage soon acquire an unwanted reputation in the locker room. The stigma is hard to shift.
Golf's reputation for fair play is its calling card and that is why the committee has taken such a dim view of Saltman.
However, there is something uncomfortable about players sitting in judgement of each other, particularly with no established code in place.
This is likely to change soon. It is understood the committee want to set up a separate disciplinary panel for future cases and this move is likely to be put before the players' annual general meeting later this year.