Rules and Etiquette of Golf

Following the simple rules of golf will keep you from having a bad day. A simple rules infraction could cost you the match. Knowing the rules of golf will dispel any confusion and ignorance on the golf course. For complete Rules of Golf as approved by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and the United States Golf Association, checkout            

Simple Rules of Golf

Golf is a simple game in concept, strike a ball with a club from a prepared area, known as the "teeing ground", across a fairway and rough to another prepared area, known as the "putting green", which has a hole in it, and put the ball into the hole. The object of the game is to complete a "round of golf", consisting of 9 or 18 holes, by hitting a ball from the teeing ground into the hole on the putting green in the fewest possible number of strokes.


There are two basic forms of play, match play and stroke play. In match play the winner is determined by the number of holes won and lost in the game. In stroke play, the winner is determined by the total number of strokes taken to complete the round.

There are three simple rules to remember when playing golf:

  1. Play the course as you find it.
  2. Play the Ball as it lies.
  3. Do what's right and fair.



The Rules of Golf contains over forty Definitions which form the foundation around which the Rules of play are written. A good understanding of the defined terms will help in the correct application of the Rules.

  • Teeing Ground - the starting place for the hole, defined by two tee-markers.
  • Through the Green - the whole area of the golf course except the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played and all hazards.
  • Hazards - any bunker or water hazard.
  • Putting Green - an area specially prepared for putting and containing a 4 1/2 inch diameter hole.
  • Out of Bounds - ground on which play is prohibited.
  • Loose Impediments - natural objects such as stones, leaves and twigs provided they are not fixed or growing, are not solidly embedded and are not sticking to the ball.
  • Obstructions - any man-made object in the area "Through the Green".
  • Casual Water - any temporary accumulation of water on the course which is visible before or after the player takes his stance (dew and frost are not casual water).
  • Ground Under Repair - any portion of the course so marked by the Committee. Also includes material piled for removal and a hole made by a greenskeeper, even if not so marked.


The Rules Of Play

Before beginning your round:

  • Read your score card and check for local rules.
  • Check golf balls with other members of your group. Make sure you are not playing the same identified golf balls.
  • Check your golf clubs. You are allowed a maximum of only 14 clubs, and make sure you have what you need for the round.

Teeing Off

Tee off between the tee-markers. You may not tee off in front of the markers, but you are allowed to tee off up to two club-lengths behind the front line of the tee-markers.

Playing The Ball

Play the ball where it lies, except in ground under repair or if there is an man made obstruction through the green.
If your ball lies in a sand bunker, you are not allowed to ground your club before your down swing.  You may ground your club in a waste area or within a penalty area (such as inside red hazard area).
Playing the wrong golf ball will constitute a 2 stroke penalty in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

Putting Green

You are allowed to mark, lift and clean your ball on the putting green. You must replace your ball to the exact spot.
You should repair your ball marks on the green.
As of 2019, there will no longer be a penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits a flagstick left in the hole. 

Ball At Rest

If your ball is at rest and it is moved by you, your partner or your caddie, except as permitted by the Rules, add a penalty stroke and replace your ball.
If your ball is at rest and it is moved by someone else or another ball, replace it without penalty to you.

Ball In Motion Deflected Or Stopped

Ball struck by you is deflected or stopped by someone else - play your ball as it lies without penalty, except (a) in match play, if an opponent or his caddie deflects the ball you have an option to replay the stroke or (b) in stroke play, if the ball is deflected after a stroke from on the putting green, you must replay it.

Ball struck by you is deflected or stopped by another ball at rest- in match play, no penalty and the ball is played as it lies. In stroke play you incur a two-stroke penalty if your ball and the other ball were on the putting green before you played.

Lifting, Dropping And Placing The Ball

If a lifted ball is to be replaced, its position must first be marked. If a ball is to be dropped or placed in any other position (e.g. taking relief from GUR, etc.) it is recommended that the ball's original position be marked.

When dropping a ball to take relief, the ball must be let go from knee height so that it falls through the air and does not touch any part of the player's body or equipment before it hits the ground.

Loose Impediments

You may move a loose impediment (new to 2019 - including within a sand bunker or penalty area). However, if you have touched a loose impediment within one club-length of your ball and your ball moves, the ball must be replaced and (unless your ball was on the putting green) you incur a penalty stroke.


Check the Local Rules on the score card for guidance on immovable obstructions (e.g. surfaced roads and cart paths etc.).

Movable obstructions (e.g. rakes, hoses, equipment etc.) anywhere on the course may be moved. If the ball moves it must be replaced without penalty.

If an immovable obstruction (e.g. sprinkler, fence) interferes with your stance or swing, you may drop the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief not nearer the hole.

Casual Water, Ground Under Repair

If your ball is in casual water, ground under repair or a hole made by a burrowing animal, you may drop without penalty within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole.

Water Hazards (Penalty Area)

Check the Local Rules on the score card to establish whether a sea, lake, river etc. is a `water hazard' or a `lateral water hazard'.

Ball in water hazard - play the ball as it lies or, under penalty of one stroke, (a) drop any distance behind the water hazard keeping a straight line between the hole, the point where the ball crossed the margin of the water hazard and spot on which the ball is dropped, or (b) play again from where you hit the ball into the hazard.

Ball in lateral water hazard - in addition to the options for a ball in a water hazard (see above), under penalty of one stroke, you may drop within two club-lengths of (a) the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard or (b) a point on the opposite side of the hazard equidistant from the hole.

Out Of Bounds or Lost Ball

Check the Local Rules on the score card to identify the boundaries of the course. If your ball is lost outside a water hazard (penalty area) or out of bounds you must play another ball from the spot where the last shot was played under penalty of one stroke, i.e. stroke and distance. You are allowed 3 minutes to search for a ball, after which if it is not found or identified, it is considered lost. If, after playing a shot, you think your ball may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds you may play a `provisional ball'. You must state that it is a provisional ball and play it before you go forward to search for the original ball. If the original ball is lost or out of bounds you must continue with the provisional ball under penalty of one stroke. If the original ball is not lost or out of bounds, you must continue play of the hole with it and the provisional ball must be abandoned.

Unplayable Ball

If you believe your ball is unplayable outside a water hazard, you may under penalty of one stroke, (a) drop within two club-lengths of where the ball lies, not nearer the hole, (b) drop any distance behind the point where the ball lay, keeping a straight line between the hole, the point where the ball lay and the spot on which the ball is dropped, or (c) replay the shot. If your ball is in a bunker you may proceed under (a), (b) and (c). However, if you elect to proceed under (a) or (b) you must drop in the bunker.


Etiquette is how you play the game after you have mastered the rules. It is the hidden rules that make golf what it is today. Following these simple etiquette rules makes golf fun for everyone:

  • Never talk, move or stand too close to a player who is making a stroke.
  • Make sure the group in front of you is out of the way before continuing play.
  • Keep up a steady pace, as not to slow play.
  • Let faster groups play through.
  • Spend only 3 minutes looking for a lost ball.
  • Leave the green after holing out. Record scores on the next hole.
  • Replace all divots and repair ball marks on the green.
  • Rake sand traps after use.
  • Do not step on another player’s line of putt.
  • Do not drop clubs on the putting green.
  • Follow all rules of the club house.


Following the rules and having good etiquette will make golf a much more enjoyable outing. Golf is an individual sport, played in an arena of many players. Remember, you are not the only one on the course.


Enjoy and have fun!




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