The game of golf is known for its honor and etiquette, especially as it relates to its sacred golf rules with origins dating back to mid 18th century in Edinburgh, Scotland. Today, there are 34 fundamental golf rules. Many of these golf rules can be a little over complicated and lengthy, but their necessity is without question.
With that said, here is a condensed version of the most critical golf rules you should know:
14 CLUB GOLF RULE: You cannot take with you or play with more than 14 clubs during the round.
PRACTICE SWINGS: During a hole, you may take a practice swing but you cannot play a “practice” stroke. Between holes you may practice chipping or putting on or near the putting green of the hole last played or on the tee of the next hole.
PLAY YOUR BALL AS IT LIES: The golf rules state that you must play your ball “as it lies” (or as you find it). While playing a hole, you cannot touch your ball unless it is on the putting green where you can lift your ball and clean it if need be. But you must replace it in its exact previous location on the putting green.
PLAY ONE BALL: When you “play the ball” the golf rules state that you only play ONE ball. You cannot substitute another ball for the ball you are playing while you are playing that hole unless it becomes “unfit for play.” Of course, if you lose the ball, you can use another one. You can, however, switch to another ball at the beginning of another, distinct hole (unless you are playing a tournament and the tournament committee imposes the “one ball” golf rule).
SWING AND MISS: If you make a full swing with intention of hitting the ball, but miss it, it still counts as a stroke.
WATER HAZARD: A “water hazard” is a body of water that lies in your path to the green and is marked by yellow lines or stakes. Your goal is to hit your ball over it. If your ball lands in the water hazard you may play the ball as it lies if it is indeed playable. If it is unplayable, you must “drop” the ball under penalty of one stroke. Under the golf rules, you may drop the ball any distance behind the water hazard (and not toward the hole) keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard. You can also replay the shot from the original shot position under penalty of one stroke.
“LATERAL” WATER HAZARD: A “lateral” water hazard is marked by red lines or stakes and runs parallel to the hole. If your ball lands in a lateral water hazard, under penalty of one stroke, you may drop within two club-lengths of (a) the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin or (b) a point on the opposite hazard margin equidistant from the hole.
GROUNDING YOUR CLUB: If your ball ends lands in a hazard area but it is still playable, you must ensure that you don’t “ground” you club, which means letting it the club head touch the surface. This golf rule also applies to sand bunkers i.e. you cannot touch the sand with your club head before you make the stroke. In either case, if you ground your club you have to take a penalty stroke per the golf rules.
OUT OF BOUNDS: Out of bounds areas are usually defined by white stakes, sometimes by a line on the ground and sometimes by a fence or wall. The entire ball must lie out of bounds. If any part of it is in bounds, the golf rules state that you can still play it, if possible. Also, you can stand out of bounds to play a ball that is in bounds. If your ball is out of bounds, you must count the stroke and replay the shot, adding a penalty stroke. This is called the stroke and distance penalty. You count the stroke, lose the distance and add another stroke. In other words, go back to where you hit the original shot and do it again. In the case of a drive, you’re now hitting your third shot from the tee.
LOST BALL: If you lose or cannot find your ball your ball, you have no more than five minutes to look for it. If you can’t find it within that time, the ball is lost and you have to replay. This golf rule is the same as an out of bounds shot. Count the stroke, return to the original spot, add a penalty stroke and re-hit.
PROVISIONAL BALL: If you think your ball may be lost or out of bounds after a shot, you can hit a “provisional” ball so you do not have to come back to the original spot to hit another. You must tell your playing partners you are hitting a provisional ball. If your first ball is indeed out of bounds or can’t be found, play the provisional (at this point your ball is lying at three strokes – one shot for original ball, one shot penalty for losing the ball and a third shot for the provisional ball.) If your original ball is found and in play, then simply put the provisional ball back in your pocket.
UNPLAYABLE LIE: If you hit your ball into a place where you can’t play it (against a tree, in a bush, etc.) you have three considerations according to the golf rules:
- Drop within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lies, but not closer to the hole.
- Return the ball to the original spot and replay it.
- Drop the ball as far back as you like from the point where the ball lies, ensuring that you keep the point between you and the hole.
In each case you count the original stroke and add a penalty stroke per the golf rules.
PUTTING GREEN – BALL STRIKES ANOTHER BALL: The golf rules state that if your ball is on the green and strikes another ball on the green, you incur a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.
PUTTING GREEN – BALL STRIKES FLAGSTICK: If your ball is on the green and it strikes the flagstick in the hole, you incur a two-stroke penalty in stroke play. Note that if your ball is off the green and you hit onto the green and you either strike another ball or hit the flagstick, there is no penalty.