Golf has more rules than most other sports, since there is more scope for incident on a 100-acre (40-ha) plot of varied landscape than there is, for example, on a tennis court. A basic understanding of the rules is given here, so that you can enjoy the game better.
Table of Contents
Rules Of Golf On The Tee
Before you begin, check the number of clubs in your bag. If it exceeds 14, you will be penalized. In a matchplay competition, you will have to deduct one hole for every hole played with an extra club, up to a maximum of two holes. In a strokeplay event, you are penalized two strokes for each hole played with the extra clubs.
Playing Out Of Turn
In a strokeplay event, if you play out of turn, there is no penalty, but it is poor etiquette. However, if you do so in a matchplay event, your opponent can ask you to play the stroke again.
Two tee markers indicate the width of the teeing area. You can’t move these, but you can stand on either side of them, provided that the ball is teed up within the area. If you play from outside the area, the penalty varies, depending on the type of game.
If, when you address the ball, you accidentally nudge it off the tee with the clubhead, there is no penalty. You simply place the ball back on the tee and start again.
Trouble Off The Tee
If you lose your ball off the tee, or hit your tee shot out-of-bounds, use the illustrations on the right to help you work out the correct procedure to follow and the appropriate penalty to add to your score.
Hitting Out Of Bounds
- Your tee shot is wildly off line, and the ball disappears out-of-bounds.
- You have now incurred a stroke- and-distance penalty. You must play another shot from the tee.
- As long as this tee shot stays “in bounds,” it counts as your third.
Playing a provisional ball
- Your first shot lands in deep rough, and you fear that it might be lost.
- Play a provisional ball if you can’t find the first within fifive minutes.
- Add two penalty strokes to your score. Because of the penalty strokes, the next shot is your fourth.
Striking The Ball
A stroke is defifined as the forward momentum of the club made with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball. It is useful to recall this description when considering what to do, for example, if you play an air shot. A legal strike of the ball also requires a backswing: you cannot scoop or push a ball toward the target.
Rules For Hazards
The number one rule in sand is to hover the clubhead above the surface, since touching the sand before playing a shot incurs a one-shot penalty.
There are, however, finer points to consider with bunker play. If the clubhead touches the sand in your backswing, you are penalized as you would be at address.
When you face an unplayable lie (where you can’t play a shot because of ground conditions or an obstruction, such as balls hit under pine trees, or into rocky areas), opt for a penalty drop. First, signal your intentions to one of your playing partners or the opponent.
As you make the drop, stand upright with your arm extended in front of you at shoulder height, and let the ball fall out of your hand and drop to the ground.
Do not inflfluence its flflight. If it comes to rest nearer the hole, drop again. If this happens again, place the ball on any lie, choosing a position within two club-lengths of the original spot.
You can make a free drop (“free relief”), in cases where, for example, the ground is damaged or there are immovable obstructions. But although a free drop does not incur a penalty, you are allowed a relief of only one club-length.
Playing The Wrong Ball
It is against the rules to play a stroke with a ball that is not your own. In matchplay, the penalty is the loss of the hole, while in strokeplay, you receive a two-shot penalty and must take your next shot from where you played the wrong ball.
If you fail to do so, you are disqualifified from the competition.
There are two types of water hazard on a golf course: “water hazards” (marked with a yellow stake or a yellow painted line) and “lateral water hazards” (indicated by red stakes or a red painted line).
Whenever your ball fifinishes in water, identify which of the two hazards you are dealing with, since the procedures for each vary slightly.
Regular water hazard: You may play the ball in the water—without incurring a penalty. But as you address the ball, the club must not touch the water.
A safer option is to drop the ball on an imaginary line running from the target through the point at which your ball first crossed the edge of the hazard. However, this incurs a one-stroke penalty.
You may take a drop of two club-lengths from where the ball first crossed the water edge. Do not give yourself a lie closer to the hole.
Lateral water hazard: You may take a drop of two club-lengths from where the ball first crossed the water edge. Do not give yourself a lie closer to the hole.
If the first option is not practical, you may drop a ball as described in the step above, except on the other side of the hazard.
Rules On The Green
What you can do on the green
If you want to clean your ball before putting, mark it by placing a coin or ball-marker behind the ball before lifting it away. You can replace a damaged ball with a new one, providing your opponent agrees.
If your ball-marker interferes with the line of an opponent’s putt, use your putterhead to measure as far to the side as is necessary and remark. Put the marker back before you replace the ball.
What you can’t do on the green
To avoid breaking rules on the green, remember to not touch the putt-line, unless you are brushing aside loose impediments, repairing a pitch mark, or measuring distance to determine whose putt should be played first.
Do not test the putting surface by rolling a ball along the green. Avoid hitting your putt while another ball is in motion. And, don’t brush aside dew from the putt-line.
If you are far from the hole, you will probably choose to have the flagstick attended (so you can see where the hole is). The flflag must be pulled out before your ball goes in the hole. If you remove the flagstick, keep it out of the way, as there is a two-stroke penalty if it is hit.
Moving The Marker
You should move your marker if it is on the line of another player’s putt or if it interferes with the stroke or stance of another player. The procedure outlined below will show you the correct way to do this.
Position the club
To move your ball-marker away, place the toe of your putterhead so that it sits next to the marker.
Move the marker
Position the marker behind the heel of the putterhead. Move several putterhead-lengths away if needed.
Unusual ground conditions
Always play the ball as it lies, but there are exceptions to this rule. One such scenario is if your ball lands in casual water—a temporary accumulation of water.
This is a free-drop scenario, and whenever possible, identify the original ball position, mark the nearest point of relief with a tee, and drop within one club-length of the tee in any direction.
If the water is in a bunker, identify a dry patch (within the confifines of the bunker) on which to drop the ball. If the bunker is waterlogged, either drop the ball into the shallowest area or drop it outside the bunker and incur a one-stroke penalty.
Ground under repair
A portion of the course that would be damaged if played on, can be declared “ground under repair” and encircled by a white line. If the ball lands inside this line, measure one club-length from the point where it is no longer an interference, and take your drop.
When a ball plugs in its own pitch mark on a mown area of grass, you’re allowed a free drop. Mark the ball position, clean it, and drop it as close as possible to where it became plugged. You are not permitted a free drop in the rough.
Movable natural objects, such as leaves and stones, are loose impediments. If the object is not growing and is not solidly embedded in the ground, you can move it without penalty. But you will bepenalized one shot if the ball moves as you clear the object away (unless youare on the green). You can’t move looseimpediments in a hazard.
An exception to this rule is that you can move stones from around the ball in a bunker. Sand and loose soil are impediments if foundon the green, but not off it.
Obstructions are artifificial objects and include fifixed sprinkler heads around greens and concrete tee boxes to the side of a teeing area. If these interfere with your stance or intended swing, you are entitled to free relief. You are not allowed relief if the obstruction is in the flflightpath of your next shot.
Empty cans and bunker rakes are movable obstructions. If your ball comes to rest touching any of these or in such close proximity that it interferes with your stance or swing, you may move the obstruction. Mark the ball position with a tee.
Ball in motion
If your ball is deflflected while it is in motion, the correct procedure varies according to the cause of the deflflection. If your ball hits something natural, such as a tree, play the ball from where it comes to rest. The same is true if your ball hits an “outside agency,” such as a mower.
If an animal intercepts your ballwhile it is in motion, replace it on the spot from where it was first taken. If your moving ball hits oneat rest, you must play your ball from wherever it fifinishes. If it happens on the green, you incur a penalty.
Stationary ball deflected
If your ball, while at rest, is moved by an outside agency, such as an animal, replace the ball as close as possible to the spot from where it was moved (there is no penalty).
Even if the ball disappears, place a new ball where the original had been, and proceed without penalty.
The rules are not so benevolent if a ball is moved by you, your caddie, partner, or any piece of equipment belonging to you or your partner. In this situation there is a one-stroke penalty, and you must replace the ball in its original position.