Below is a list of rules every golfer should know before competing. This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are many obscure rules you will come across from time to time, but these are the basics. When in doubt about a rule, ask a rules official to assist you. They’re there to help. 5 Rules of Golf You Don’t Know
If a rules official is not nearby and you are in doubt about how to proceed, play two balls under rule 3-3. Rule 3-3 states “In stroke play, if a competitor is doubtful about his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls.”
You must announce to your marker or fellow competitor your intent to play two balls. You must also tell them which ball you intend to score with. Complete the hole with both golf balls and explain the situation to rules officials after the round. They will make a determination as to what your rights were under the rules and which ball should be counted.
There are many circumstances in which you may need to take a drop. Always take your drop with your arm extended at shoulder height. If you are in doubt about how many club lengths you are allowed to take, keep this simple rule in mind.
1 club length = free drop
2 club lengths = penalty drop
Your ball may roll up to two club lengths after you drop it. In the event that your ball rolls closer to the hole or more than two club lengths from where you measured, you must re-drop. If your second drop is still not in play, you must place the ball on the spot where your second drop first struck the ground.
Obstructions are man-made things that interfere with the normal course of play. Some of these include cart paths, sprinkler heads, bottle caps, and electrical poles. Boundary fences do not count as obstructions. The ball must be played as it lies near a boundary fence or you must take an unplayable. All other fences qualify as obstructions. Except when your ball is in a hazard, obstructions can be moved OR stance and swing relief may be taken without penalty.
Moveable Obstructions – If a moveable man-made obstruction is impeding your stance or swing, you are allowed to move the obstruction without penalty. If your ball is resting on the obstruction, you may mark the position of your ball, lift it, remove the obstruction and replace your ball.
Immovable Obstructions – You can’t move the cart path or a sprinkler head. But you are allowed to take a free drop from these mad-made obstructions. The drop is stance and a club length. Mark the position of your golf ball. Grab the club you intend to hit the shot with. Go to the nearest spot where you are able to take your stance so no part of the your stance, club, or swing will be affected by the obstruction. Make sure this spot is not closer to the hole. Mark the position of your club head with a tee. Then take out any club you want and measure one club length away from the obstruction. Mark this position with another tee. Now drop your ball between the tees, not closer to the hole.
If the ball comes to rest within two club lengths of the tees and your stance and swing are not impeded by the obstruction, your ball is in play. If it does not, you may re-drop. If your second drop is still not in play, you must place the ball on the spot where your second drop first touched the ground.
Water hazards are defined by yellow lines or stakes around the perimeter of the hazard. Lateral water hazards are defined by red lines or stakes around the perimeter of the hazard. You always have the option to play your ball as it lies from any hazard. If you choose to play the ball from within the hazard lines, you are not allowed to ground your club. You cannot touch the ground with your hands or pick up anything off the ground. If the sole of your golf club touches the ground or you pick up loose impediments (sticks, leaves, etc.), you will incur a two stroke penalty. Below are your options for taking a drop from water hazards and lateral water hazards. Any drop from a water hazard or lateral water hazard incurs a 1 stroke penalty.
You have three options for taking a drop from water hazards defined by yellow markings.
Option 1 : Drop a ball as near as possible to the spot to where your previous shot was played.
Option 2 : Drop a ball keeping the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard between you and the hole.
Option 3 (Sometimes): Sometimes there will be a designated drop zone for a water hazard. Check your local rules sheet to see if there are drop zones available for certain holes. You may take your drop in the drop zone if one is provided.
Lateral water hazards (red markings) have the same three options as water hazards PLUS two additional options.
Additional Option 1: You may drop a ball within two club lengths from where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, not nearer to the hole. This is an especially advantageous option when your ball enters a lateral water hazard near the green.
Additional Option 2: You may drop a ball within two club lengths on the opposite margin of the hazard from where your ball crossed. For example, if your ball wanders into a stream, you can go to the opposite side of the stream and take a drop within two club lengths, not closer to the hole. This is the option that is most often overlooked but it can be very useful in certain situations.
Note: In order to take a drop from a water hazard, you must be virtually certain that your ball is in the hazard. You are not allowed to assume your ball went into a hazard unless you saw it go in or there is no other reasonable place it could be. If you did not see it go in the hazard and/or there is reasonable doubt as to whether your ball is in fact in the hazard, you must treat it as a lost ball and proceed under rule 27-1. This can be a harsh pill to swallow sometimes but you have to be pretty certain your ball is in a hazard to treat it that way.
If your ball is lost or out of bounds, you must take a stroke and distance penalty, Return to where your previous stroke was played and add one stroke to your score. For example, if you hit your first shot out of bounds from the teeing ground, you must play again from the teeing ground. You will add a one stroke penalty and you will now be playing your third shot.
Sometimes you run into a situation where you just can’t play your ball. You have 3 options in this situation. If you take a drop for an unplayable ball, you will incur a penalty of one stroke.
Option 1: You may drop back at the spot where your previous shot was played. If your previous shot was played from the teeing ground, you may re-tee.
Option 2: You may take a drop within two club lengths of the ball’s current position.
Option 3: You may take a drop keeping the point where your ball is between you and the hole.
Playing the wrong ball is a two stroke penalty and must be corrected before completion of the hole or it will result in disqualification. No strokes played with a wrong ball are added to the player’s score. So long as you correct the error before the end of the hole, you will add two strokes to your score and play your original ball from wherever it lies. If your original ball has been mistakenly hit by another player, you will place your ball as close to its original location as possible and play from there.
If you think your golf ball may be lost or out of bounds, you can play a provisional ball to help speed up play. When playing a provisional, make sure you announce it to your competitors. State your intent to play a provisional ball and state what the provision is. For example, “I’m playing a provisional for a lost ball”. You can continue playing your provisional ball until you reach the point where your original ball is likely to be. If your original ball is not lost, you can pick up your provisional ball. You cannot score with your provisional ball if the provision is not met. If your original ball is lost, your provisional ball is now in play and the one you will score with.
You always have the right to identify your golf ball. This is true on every part of the golf course. If you’re not sure if a ball is yours, announce to your fellow competitors that you need to identify your golf ball. Place a tee behind your ball and pick it up so you can identify it. After you have identified the ball, put it back in its exact original position. Any attempt to alter the original lie will result in a two stroke penalty.
There is a good chance someone else on the golf course is playing the same brand and number golf ball you are playing. There are a lot of Titleist 2’s out there. You must be able to identify your golf ball and be certain it is yours. Always put an identifying mark on your golf ball before putting it in play. This will help you avoid hitting the wrong ball in the heat of the moment.
This is a local rule that is in effect for most tournaments. It states that you must play the same make and model golf ball the entire round. If you start your round with a Callaway ball and switch to a TaylorMade in the middle of the round, for example, you will incur a penalty of two strokes on each hole you play with the TaylorMade ball. The maximum penalty for breach of this rule is 4 strokes. This is a harsh penalty. Be sure to check your local rules sheet to see if the one ball rule is in effect for your tournament.
Marking your ball on the green is done for two reasons. To clear the way for other players
to give you the opportunity to clean it. Always put your ball back in exactly the same spot when you replace it. If you replace the ball closer to the hole or off to the side, you will be penalized. If this is habitual, you could be disqualified.
You are allowed to fix pitch marks and old hole plugs on the the green. You are not allowed to tap down footprints or spike marks. If you are in doubt as to the type of imperfection on the green, ask your fellow playing competitors to take a look. If a consensus cannot be reached, ask a rules official. Never fix anything on the green unless you are certain it is a ball mark or an old cup. The penalty for fixing anything else is two strokes.
Be careful when you ask other players questions. You cannot ask other players for any information that is not general knowledge. You cannot ask them what club they just hit or which way their putt just broke. The penalty for breach of this rule is two strokes.
General knowledge does not fall into the category of advice. According to the USGA, “Information on rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice”. There is no penalty for asking players questions relating to general knowledge.
You are responsible for making sure that the score entered for every hole is correct. Before turning in your scorecard, make sure you have resolved any rules questions that may have come up on the course. You are not responsible for adding up the total score, only for checking the accuracy of your scores on each hole. Once you have checked your scores and ensured their accuracy, make sure you sign your scorecard and make sure the player who kept your score has signed it as well. Then turn in your scorecard to make your round official.
Note: If you turn in a scorecard with a score that is lower than the score you made on a hole, the penalty is disqualification. If you turn in your scorecard with a score that is higher than the score you made on a hole, the higher score will stand.
Knowing all your options when it comes to basic rules can help lower your scores and build confidence. You will make smarter decisions in the heat of the moment when you know the rules. For more golf information you may find useful, take a look at these additional golf lessons.