No single sport is complete without a set of rules. And golf being one of the most popular games, it comes with its own set of instructions.
This helps bring out a fair and competitive game among the players.
So, if you’re serious about getting into this sport, you ‘ve to start by learning all the essential rules that you should observe whenever you hit the course- whether you’re planning golf for fun or business.
Thankfully, I’ve outlined all these rules for you below in a simpler language.
(As a bonus, I’ll also give you some essential golf etiquette tips that go hand in hand with its rules)
Basic Golf Rules:
The Number of Clubs To Carry
If you’re entering the course for a competitive round, then you MUST only carry a total of 14 clubs or less (NO more!).
Always ensure you check your bag for extra clubs and discard them before entering the course as this might cost penalty strokes for all the holes you play!
Playing The Ball
Golf revolves around playing a single ball right from the tee box to green while keeping the number of successive strokes you’ve made until the ball enters the hole. This must be played as rests, which means you CANNOT adjust your ball into a better position (no matter how awkward it rests).
However, there are a few exceptions where you might get a chance to move your ball:
- If you lose your ball during the hole, you’re allowed to replace it with a new one…but you’ll have to observe the set rules- on whether you’ll get a penalty stroke for losing/replacing your ball
- There are also some cases where you’re allowed to move your ball without costing you penalties
Let’s discuss these cases in more details in our next key golf rule.
The Rule of Strokes
For the sake of beginners…what’s a golf stroke? Can you guess? Well, this is a term used to explain the forward motion of your golf club. To gain the power to move your ball, you’re allowed to make a back stroke which is a necessity for making the forward stroke- that’s self-explanatory!
Mind you, spooning or scraping a golf ball is NOT allowed, which makes the back stroke 100% legal!
If you happen to stop a forward stroke halfway- or before it hits the ball- that’s not a complete stroke. In other words, a full stroke occurs if you make the slightest contact with a ball.
But don’t get me wrong…you’re allowed to make practice swings, but in case you accidentally hit that ball during practice it automatically becomes a stroke!
What if your ball moves on its own from wind or fall of the tee before you make a stroke? In that case, you don’t incur any penalty, and you’re allowed to replace it (failing to replace in such scenarios might cost you a penalty).
Beware of The “Hazards. ”
I promised to teach you these golf rules in the simpler language, so let me start by explaining what the term hazard entails in golfing.
Hazard: refers to sections of the golf course that poses difficulties to your score; i.e., it’s hazardous to your score. Examples include getting into the tall grass, getting behind a tree, etc. if you just get into anything hazardous, you’ll hear your playmates say- Hazard!
That being said, there are some rules to be observed whenever you find yourself in hazard to avoid getting penalty strokes. To explain this, I’ll take a closer look at two key hazards below:
1. Water Hazard (yellow marked): if you ever run into any part of a golf course marked yellow, whether it contains water or not, that’s a yellow hazard! And according to the official rules from USGA.org, these are some options you have at hand:
>“play the ball as it lies without penalty (Rule 13-1); or under penalty of one stroke;”
>“play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5)”
>“ drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.”
2. Lateral Water Hazard (red marked): in a red hazard scenario, it’s not possible to drop your ball behind the water based on the fact that it runs parallel (laterally) to the hole.
That being stated, you’ll have to drop your ball at a distance within the length of 2 clubs on the lateral hazard side (i.e., where the ball entered the hazard) and place it at the point of entry.
An unplayable lie occurs when your ball lands in a spot that’s clearly unplayable. This can cost you a penalty or go penalty free depending on the situation.
Let’s discuss the Free Penalty Scenario first:
A FREE penalty occurs in standing water or plugged golf ball situations as explained below:
>Standing water: For the beginners in the house, standing water comes up when your ball hits a water puddle (note that this is not the water hazard we just discussed earlier). This issue is common when heavy rains fall and create puddles on fairways, in the bunkers, on the greens, or in the roughs.
Also, note that standing water can arise when you’re in a fairway or rough and a fair amount of water gushes up your shoes.
Now, when your ball hits standing water, you’re allowed to move it to the nearest relief away spot (that is, a dryer ground) penalty free. However, if the situations occur when in a bunker, you’re ONLY allowed to move your ball elsewhere in the bunker but NOT outside the bunker.
>Plugged ball: These can also happen when playing on wet grounds. You’re allowed to move your ball next to a normal ground-next to the plugging spot- penalty free. Making you hit your ball from a plugged spot will be unfair of the golf rules as it might never come out!
For penalty unplayable lies:
Now! Now! Unplayable lies that cost you penalties occur when obstacles stand in your way…obstacles such as trees, tall grass, bushes, and so on.
If you haven’t already made a stroke from this position or simply don’t want to risk the many attempts you might have to make to get your ball to playable spots again, you can take your ball to the nearest spot of relief.
For that reason, you’ll incur a penalty stroke.
Out of Bounds (OB) and Lost Ball
Out of bounds, commonly abbreviated as ob, is just what you think it could be- when your ball steps outside the confines of your course. Usually, the boundaries of a golf course are marked using white stakes.
So, what happens when you ball hits OB?
One thing is for sure- you CANNOT play it as it lies. So, you’re required to replay it from the same position you were when it hit the out of bounds. Most of the times, this spot is the tee box…but it can also be a point in the rough or fairway.
Besides replaying the shot, you’ll also need to add a penalty stock (this is the reason why a ball that hits out of the bounds is usually regarded as a two-stroke penalty).
What if you’re not sure if your ball just hit out of bounds?
Well, in that case, you can play the second ball (known as a provisional ball). This actually saves you the trip you might have made to hit the ball back again after discovering it was indeed out of bounds.
BUT…the provisional ball comes with its owns set of rules as well: you MUST first search your ob ball and confirm that it’s actually out of bounds before attempting to play from the same spot you where your provisional ball landed.
Else, hitting the provisional ball to the green only to discover that your first ball hadn’t gone out of bounds limits you from playing your first ball. Instead, you’ll have to count the strokes of the provisional ball as well as penalty strokes.
Though this rule stands on its own, I decided to put it here since it’s directly related to the ob rule. It states that if you don’t find your ball (after it gets out of bounds), then you MUST get back to the position where you last played and replay that shot.
And because you’ve just replaced a ball, you’ll incur a penalty stroke…and that makes the total number of additional strokes two- just like in the provisional ball situation.
Cart Path Rule
The day your ball will end up on the cart path, the Cart Path Rule will come into play.
The rule is easier on you as it lets you move your ball off the path penalty free. OR you can opt to play it in that position, keeping in mind that you might damage your golf clubs.
NOTE: when moving your ball, you must drop it a club length from the path and on the side it appears closest to the path (judging from its current position).
The Green Rulings
After you’ve reached the green, you’ll need to observe a couple of rules for successful golf round completion.
Firstly, you cannot hit the flag with the golf ball on the putting green. Otherwise, you’ll get a penalty stroke. Have you ever seen golfers removing the flag when putting? Now you know the reason why they do it.
And if someone lays down the flag on the green and you hit it with your ball, that’s still a penalty stroke. Removing the pin before putting is the surest way to survive this penalty.
Putting should be done based on who stands farthest from the hole first and the closest last player.
Your score stats stops immediately your ball enters the hole. In other words, you can’t pick the ball once it putts out (on the green).
In case your ball hits your playmate’s ball, that’s a direct penalty on your side! The player whose ball has been affected must move it back to its original position, failure to which they’ll also get a penalty.
Key Golf Etiquettes:
These aren’t really rules but merely the Do’s and Don’ts to observe to observe when on the course. The idea is to make you a respectful player.
Let’s take a quick look at the key golfing etiquettes:
- Respect all the rules and regulations of the course you’re golfing in
- Remain silent/still when another player is hitting
- Don’t stand on someone’s visual line or right behind them when they’re hitting to avoid distracting them
- Allow the player furthest from the hole to putt first
- It’s okay to cheer a great shot, but in a moderate and professional manner
- Play at an average, reasonable pace
- Replace divots, repair ball marks and rake bunkers
- Allow the winner of the last hole tee to start off in the next tee
- Avoid taking your temper and bad language into the course
- Don’t show up late
- Don’t continue playing when you’re out of the hole
- Avoid talking on the cell phone
- Don’t drink excessively
- Don’t ridicule bad shots by other players
Because it’s a sport like any other sport out there, golfing too needs its set of rules to guide players on how to act when they get into the course. Hopefully, you’ve learned the basic golfing rules that you must observe in this post, right from the tee box to the green putting.
Ignoring any of these rules will surely cost you a handful of penalties and make you lose terribly!
Above all, let the key golfing etiquette tips we’ve offered you in the last section guide you in being a respectful golfer to your fellow players.