Basic Golf Rules Plain and Simple
Golf Rules in Concise Form
These Basic Golf Rules are designed to give the average golf player a concise summary of the key elements of the Official Rules of Golf.
The Rules of Golf are published by the USGA and R&A in a booklet you can find at your local Pro Shop or book store. The book is about 180 pages in all, presented in extreme detail and covers almost every possible situation that a golfer would face playing the game of golf.
We are going to define just the basics in this article. This brief summation of the rules should never be used to settle disagreements or disputes regarding the rules. Always consult the Golf Rule Book.
Because the vast majority of golfers are involved with "Stroke Play",
as opposed to "Match Play", we will not expand on the subject of Match
Play within each Rule, therefore keeping this subject as brief as we
Following is the table of contents with a brief summary of each subject within the Official Rules of Golf:
Rule 1: The Game
- 1-2: You or your Caddie cannot take any action to influence the position or movement of a ball except in accordance with the Rules; Removal of loose impediments (Rule 23-1) or obstructions. (Rule 24-1)
- 1-3: You must not agree to exclude the operation of any Golf Rules or to waive any penalty incurred.
Rule 2: Match Play (Please refer to the Official Rules of Golf)
Rule 3: Stroke Play
- 3-1: Each competitor is playing against every other competitor in the competition. The competitor who plays the stipulated round or rounds in the fewest strokes is the winner. (In a handicap competition, lowest net score wins)
- 3-2: You must play your ball into the Hole before starting the next hole.
- 3-3: If a competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a Hole he may without penalty complete the Hole with two balls.
- 3-4: If a competitor refuses to comply with a Rule affecting the rights of another competitor, he is disqualified.
CLUBS AND THE BALL
Rule 4: Clubs
- 4-1: Any part of a club that has been purposely altered is regarded as new and must in its altered state, conform to the Rules.
- 4-2: During a stipulated round, the playing characteristics of club must not be purposely changed by adjustment or by any other means. Foreign material must not be applied to the club face for the purpose of influencing the movement of the ball.
- 4-3: If during a stipulated round, your club is damaged in the normal course of play, you may continue the round with that club, or you may replace it with another club not belonging to any other player playing on the course.
- 4-4: You may carry no more than fourteen clubs according to Basic Golf Rules.
Rule 5: The Ball
- 4-1: The ball with which you play must conform to the requirements specified in the Rules.
- 4-2: Foreign material must not be applied to a ball for the purpose of changing its playing characteristics.
- 4-3: A ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape.
You may not change balls during the play of a hole unless Basic Golf Rules allows it.
Rule 6: The Player
- 6-1: You and your Caddie are responsible for knowing the Basic Golf Rules. During a stipulated round, for any breach of a Rule by your Caddie, you will incur the applicable penalty.
- 6-2: Always use your correct handicap. It is your responsibility to know the Holes at which handicap strokes are to be given or received.
- 6-3: Know your tee-time or starting time, and be there ready to play at that time.
- 6-4: You may be assisted by a Caddie, but you are limited to only one Caddie at any one time.
- 6-5: The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with you. You should put an identification mark on your ball.
- 6-6: Make sure your score for each hole is correct and sign your card before returning it.
- 6-7: Maintain a good pace during play. Keep up with the group in front of you.
Rule 7: Practice
- 7-1: Practice putting or chipping on or near the first Teeing Ground before starting a round is permitted.
- 7-2: You must not make a practice stroke during the play of a Hole, nor between the play of two Holes according to Basic Golf Rules.
Rule 8: Advice; Indicating Line of Play
- 8-1: During a round, you must not give advice to anyone other than your partner, nor ask for advice from anyone other than your partner or your caddie.
- 8-2: Off the Putting Green, you may have the line of play indicated to you by anyone. When
your ball is on the Putting Green, your partner or caddie may point out
to you a line for putting before the stroke, but must not touch the
Putting Green in doing so. A mark must not be placed anywhere on the Putting Green to indicate a line for putting.
Rule 9: Information as to Strokes Taken
- 9-1: The number of strokes a player has taken includes any penalty strokes incurred.
- 9-3: A competitor who has incurred a penalty should inform his "marker" as soon as practicable according to Basic Golf Rules.
ORDER OF PLAY
Rule 10: Order of Play
- 10-2: The competitor with the lowest score at a Hole, takes the "Honor" at the next Teeing Ground and plays first. After competitors have started play of the Hole, the ball farthest from the Hole is played first.
- 10-3: Based upon Basic Golf Rules, if a player plays a provisional ball or another ball from the Teeing Ground, he must do so after his opponent or fellow-competitor had made his first stroke.
Rule 11: Teeing Ground
- 11-1: Tee your ball between the Tee-Markers or slightly behind them. You may Tee your ball as far as two club lengths behind the markers, and you may stand outside the Teeing Ground to play a ball within it.
- 11-2: You may not move the Tee-Markers for any reason.
- 11-3: If your ball accidentally falls off the tee before making your first stroke, you may replace it without penalty. If you make a stroke without hitting the ball, the stroke counts.
- 11-4: Based upon Basic Golf Rules, you must not play a ball from outside the Teeing Ground.
- 11-5: You must not play a ball from the wrong Teeing Ground.
PLAYING THE BALL
Rule 12: Searching for and Identifying Ball
- 12-1: In searching for your ball anywhere on the course, you may touch or bend long grass, bushes or the like, but only to the extent necessary to find and identify it, provided that this does not improve the lie of the ball, the area of the intended stance or swing or the line of play. In a bunker or water hazard, if sand or leaves cover your ball, you may remove enough of the sand or leaves to be able to see a part of the ball.
- 12-2: Within Basic Golf Rules, it is your responsibility for playing the proper ball. You should place an identification mark on your ball. You may lift your ball to identify it anywhere on the course. You must tell your opponent or fellow competitor before you lift your ball to identify it.
Rule 13: Ball Played as It Lies
- 13-1: You must play the ball as it lies. You may not move it to a better spot.
- 13-2: You may not improve the area of your stance, intended swing or line of play by bending or breaking anything growing, such as tree branches or long grass. You may not improve your lie by pressing down behind the ball.
- 13-3: You are entitled to place your feet firmly in taking your stance, but you must not build a stance per Basic Golf Rules.
- 13-4: In a bunker you may not touch the sand, or in a water hazard touch the
ground or water, with your club before or during your back swing. In
any hazard, you may not remove loose impediments (natural things such
as leaves or twigs) but you may remove obstructions (artificial objects
such as bottles or rakes.)
Rule 14: Striking the Ball
- 14-1: According to Basic Golf Rules, the ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed or scraped.
- 14-2: In making a stroke, you must not accept physical assistance or allow your Caddie or partner to position themselves on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball.
- 14-3: You must not use any artificial device to assist in striking the ball in any way, unless the device alleviates a medical condition without giving you an unfair advantage over other players.
- 14-4: If your club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, that additional stroke counts, plus a one stroke penalty is added in addition.
- 14-5: You must not hit your ball while it is moving.
Rule 15: Substituted Ball or Wrong Ball
- 15-1: You must hole out with the ball played from the Teeing Ground unless the ball is lost.
- 15-2: You may substitute a ball when proceeding under a Rule which permits you to play, drop or place another ball in completing the play of the Hole.
- 15-3: If you make a stroke at a wrong ball you will incur a two stroke penalty based upon Basic Golf Rules.
THE PUTTING GREEN
Rule 16: The Putting Green
- 16-1: When your ball is on the green, you may brush away leaves and other loose impediments, but otherwise do not touch your line of putt.
- Always mark your ball by putting a small coin or other marker behind
it when you want to pick it up to clean it or get out of another
- You may repair ball marks or old hole plugs, but do not repair marks made by spikes or shoes before playing.
- You may not test the surface of the green by rolling a ball or scraping the surface.
- You must not make a stroke from a stance astride or with either foot touching the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.
- You must not make a stroke while another ball is in motion.
- 16-2: Per the acknowledged Basic Golf Rules, if your ball overhangs the edge of the hole you can wait ten seconds to see if it drops in. If it falls in after 10 seconds, add a penalty stroke to your score.
Rule 17: The Flagstick
- 17-1: Before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, you may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the Hole.
- 17-2: If a fellow competitor or his Caddie, without your authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and the act might influence the movement of the ball, the opponent incurs the applicable penalty.
- 17-3: Your ball must not strike the flagstick when it is attended, removed or held up according to Basic Golf Rules.
- 17-4: If your ball rests against the flagstick in the hole and the ball is not holed, or your Caddie may move or remove the flagstick, and if the ball falls into the hole, you become "holed-out" with your last stroke. Otherwise if the ball is moved, it must be placed on the lip of the hole and played from there without penalty.
BALL MOVED, DEFLECTED OR STOPPED
Rule 18: Ball at Rest Moved
- 18-1: If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced per Basic Golf Rules.
- 18-2: When your ball is in play, if you, your partner or your Caddie lifts or moves the ball on purpose you will incur a penalty of one stroke. If the ball moves once you have addressed the ball, add a penalty stroke, and replace the ball.
- 18-3: If during search for your ball, an opponent, his Caddie or equipment moves the ball, touches it or causes it to move, there is no penalty. If the ball is moved, it must be replaced.
- 18-4: If a fellow competitor, his Caddie or his equipment moves your ball, touches it or causes it to move, there is no penalty. If the ball is moved, it must be replaced.
- 18-5: If a ball in play and at rest is moved by another ball in motion after a stroke, the moved ball must be replaced.
- 18-6: According to Basic Golf Rules, if a ball or ball-marker is moved in measuring while proceeding under normal rules, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced.
Rule 19: Ball in Motion, Deflected or Stopped
- 19-1: Per Basic Golf Rules, if your ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies.
- 19-2: If your ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by you, your partner or your Caddie, you will incur a one stroke penalty. The ball must be played as it lies.
- 19-3: If your ball is accidently deflected or stopped by an opponent, his Caddie or his equipment, there is no penalty.
- 19-5: If your ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by a ball in play and at rest, you must play your ball as it lies.
- If your ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by another ball in motion after a stroke, you must play your ball as it lies.
RELIEF SITUATIONS AND PROCEDURES
Rule 20: Lifting, Dropping and Placing; Playing from Wrong Place
- 20-1: A ball to be lifted under Basic Golf Rules may be lifted by you, your partner or Caddie, but the position of the ball must first be marked prior to lifting. Place the marker directly in front of the ball. If a ball or ball marker is accidentally moved in the process of lifting the ball or marking its position, the ball-marker must be replaced.
- 20-2: A ball to be dropped under the Basic Golf Rules must be dropped by you only. When a ball is to be dropped as near as possible to a specific spot,
it must be dropped not nearer the Hole than the specific spot which, if
it is not precisely known to you, must be estimated. - - To drop a ball, stand erect and hold the ball at shoulder height and at arm's length, then drop it. If the ball when dropped touches any person or the equipment of any players before or after it strikes a part of the course and before it comes to rest, the ball must be re-dropped.
- 20-3: A ball to be placed under the rules must be placed by you or your partner. If the ball is to be replaced, you or your partner who lifted or moved it must place it on the spot from which it was lifted or moved.
- 20-4: If your ball in play has been lifted, it is again in play when dropped or placed.
- 20-5: When you elect to or are required to make your next stroke from where a previous stroke was made, you must proceed as follows: The ball to be played must be played anywhere within the Teeing Ground, and may be placed upon a Tee.
- 20-6: A ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Basic Golf Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and you must then proceed correctly.
- 20-7: If you make a stroke from a wrong place, you will incur a penalty of two strokes.
Rule 21: Cleaning Ball
- 21-1: According to Basic Golf Rules, a ball on the Putting Green may be lifted and cleaned. The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted, and the ball must be replaced.
- Other than the Putting Green, you may clean your ball when you lift it, with a few exceptions: when you are checking if it is unfit for play, identifying it, or if it interferes with another player's play.
Rule 22: Ball Interfering with or Assisting Play
- 22-1: A player required to lift his ball, may play first with permission from a competitor rather than lift the ball per Basic Golf Rules.
- If a competitor's ball interferes with your stroke or swing, or is on your line of play, you may ask the competitor to lift it.
Rule 23: Loose Impediments
- 23-1: According to Basic Golf Rules, except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.
- If the ball lies anywhere other than on the putting green and the removal of a loose impediment by you causes the ball to move, you will incur a one stroke penalty.
- Loose impediments are natural objects that are not growing or fixed, such as loose fallen branches, twigs, leaves, or stones.
- When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.
- On the putting green, if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of removing a loose impediment, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty.
Rule 24: Obstructions
- 24-1: Moveable obstructions are artificial or man-made objects, such as rakes, cans, or bottles. Immoveable obstructions are sprinkler heads, cart paths, buildings, or any other "fixed" element of the golf course. - - Movable obstructions anywhere on the golf course may be removed. If the ball moves while moving the obstruction, there is no penalty incurred, but the ball must be replaced.
- 24-2: You may drop your ball away from an immovable obstruction if it interferes with your swing or stance. Find the nearest point not nearer the hole where the ball could be played without interference with your swing or stance. Drop the ball within one club-length of that point.
- 24-3: If it is known or virtually certain that a ball has not been found is in a moveable obstruction, you may substitute another ball and take relief without penalty per Basic Golf Rules.
Rule 25: Abnormal Ground Conditions, Embedded Ball and Wrong Putting Green
- 25-1: Per Basic Golf Rules, interference by an abnormal ground condition occurs when a ball lies in or touches the condition or when the condition interferes with your stance or the area of your intended swing.
- A ball imbedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground in any closely mown area through the green may be lifted, cleaned and dropped without penalty.
- Interference by a wrong putting green occurs when a ball is on the wrong putting green.
- If your ball lies on a wrong putting green, you must not play the ball as it lies. You must take relief without penalty.
Rule 26: Water Hazards (Including Lateral Water Hazards)
- 26-1: Water hazard areas are typically outlined by yellow lines or stakes. Lateral water hazard margins are identified by red lines or stakes within Basic Golf Rules.
- 26-2: If your ball lies in a water hazard (or lateral water hazard), you may play it as it lies. If you do not wish to play it, or cannot find it, add one penalty stroke and proceed with one of the following:
-- 1. Drop and play another ball from where you last played.
-- 2. Drop a ball behind the water hazard as far back as you wish on a straight line from the hole, keeping where your ball last crossed the hazard margin between the hole and where you drop the ball.
-- 3. If the ball is in a lateral water hazard, you may also drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the hazard margin, no nearer to the hole.
Rule 27: Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball
- 27-1: According to Basic Golf Rules, your ball is considered lost if it is not found within five minutes after the search for it has begun, or you have elected to put another ball in play.
Your ball is considered out of bounds if all of it lies beyond the inside line of objects such as walls, fences and white stakes that mark the boundary of the golf course. - - If your ball is lost or out of bounds, add one penalty stroke and play another ball from where you played your last ball.
- 27-2: If you think the drive you just hit may be out of bounds or lost, you may then choose to play a provisional ball from the place where your first ball was played. You must tell your opponent or fellow-competitor that you are playing a provisional ball and play it before you leave the area to look for the first ball. - - If your first ball is out of bounds or you cannot find it, you must count all the strokes with the first ball and provisional ball, add one penalty stroke and play out the hole with the provisional ball. On the chance you actually find your first ball within bounds, you must then continue play with that first ball, and then pick up the provisional ball per Basic Golf Rules.
Rule 28: Ball Unplayable
- 28-1: Within Basic Golf Rules, if you find your ball in a very bad situation and you decide you cannot play it, add one penalty stroke and proceed with one of the following choices:
-- 1. Go back to where you made your last stroke, and then proceed to play a new ball from that point.
-- 2. Go back on a straight line as far as you choose, keeping where the unplayable ball lay between the Hole and where you have chosen to drop a new ball.
-- 3. Measure two club-lengths (you can use your driver) from where the unplayable ball lay, and then drop a ball and play from there.
We hope this condensed version of the Basic Golf Rules has been helpful and informative!
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