The rules of golf are extensive and even expert officials have to refer back to the rulebook sometimes. Trying to remember the rules and provisions is no easy task and your game can suffer as a consequence. That’s why we’ve picked out the 7 most important rules of golf - keep them in mind when you’re on the course…
Play the ball as it lies
A golden rule in golf is to play the ball as it lies. That is, where it comes to rest.
You can’t move the ball to a preferred spot (or get your caddie to do it for you). You also can’t make the ball lie better by either pressing your club behind the ball to flatten the ground or pressing behind the ball with your foot.
If you do cause your ball or an opponent’s ball to move, you will usually receive a penalty. But of course, there are exceptions to this golf rule which enable you to play the ball from a different location. For example, if it’s moved by natural forces such as wind, you should play it from the new position.
For more background on this fundamental rule, check out ‘Rule 9 – Ball played as it lies’
Playing a provisional
We’ve all been there. Who knew that ball would rebound off a tree and find its way into the ravine? If you hit a shot that results in a lost or out of bounds ball, you should always play a provisional to maintain the pace of play.
However, you must declare to other players that you’re doing this beforehand – and you must use the word ‘provisional.’ If you don’t, that ball automatically becomes the ball in play and the original ball is considered lost, even if you find it.
Sounds unfair, we know, but it’s in the best interests of the sport. If you don’t play a provisional but you’ve lost your original tee shot, be prepared to walk back to the tee to play another.
For more clarity on when to play a provisional ball, check out this Provisional Ball rule (New for 2019) explanation video.
Dropping the ball
If you find your ball in an unplayable spot after a stressful day in the office, it has the potential to tip you over the edge. But don’t fret – you can proclaim an unplayable lie. You’re not simply able to drop under penalty at the nearest point where you can get a full shot. So, what options do you have?
The R&A introduced a new dropping procedure in 2019:
- The ball should be released from knee height as opposed to shoulder height and it shouldn’t touch the player’s body or equipment before it reaches the ground.
- The dropping procedure will be on a particular “relief area” (either one or two club-lengths from a reference point).
- The ball can only be dropped – and come to rest – in the relief area.
- If the dropped ball accidentally hits someone or something after reaching the ground but before it comes to rest in the relief area, you don’t need to re-drop.
- If the dropped ball comes to rest outside the relief area, it should be dropped a second time. If it comes to rest outside the relief area after being dropped a second time, it should be positioned where it first hit the ground.
- If the ball will not rest on the particular spot after two tries, you should place the ball on the nearest spot where it will come to rest – but no closer to the hole.
This new procedure lowers the height from which the ball is dropped to best ensure that it stays within the relief area.
The player has no guarantee that the ball will come to rest on a desired spot or in a good lie. This is especially the case when a ball is dropped in more difficult conditions such as thick rough or longer grass.
If you’re regularly losing your ball, the changes to this golf rule won’t work in your favour.
You now have three minutes to search for a potentially lost ball (down from five minutes) and the clock starts ticking when you reach the search area to look for it. This doesn’t apply if it’s another player looking for your ball – only yourself or your caddie. If you can’t find it within three minutes, the ball is considered lost.
Relief from loose impediments and moveable obstructions
It’s not uncommon for loose impediments like rocks, twigs and branches to make their way onto the course. They always seem to end up in the wrong place at precisely the wrong time.
If you find a branch is interfering with play, you can remove it provided you do not move your ball. You are also able to move ‘man-made’ moveable obstructions such as bunker rakes with no penalty.
The teeing area
Teeing up the ball is not only one of the most important rules of golf, it’s one of the simplest to follow. However, it is often broken by excessively keen players looking to shorten a hole.
The teeing area is a rectangle marked by the two tee markers and two-club lengths back, often around 40 square feet. It’s easy to overlook these basic parameters and tee up the ball outside the box. In this case, you’ll need to hit it again from within the box – and if you’re playing Strokeplay, you will likely get a two-stroke penalty.
That’s all there is to it: tee up the ball inside the box.
Count your clubs
We know this one is straightforward – but golfers eager to get onto the course sometimes forget to double-check how many clubs are in their bag before teeing off.
You are allowed to carry a maximum of 14 clubs in your golf bag during a round. If you are found with too many clubs, you are subject to a penalty of two strokes for each hole where a breach of the rule happened – so make sure an extra putter doesn’t find its way in there.
You’ll be happy to hear that the maximum penalty for breaking this rule is four strokes, so if you do make a blunder, it doesn’t have to cost you the match.
Unsure of what clubs you should have in your bag? Check out this article to get an idea of what a well-rounded set looks like.
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