Golf Rules: The Basics Series Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about the Rules of Golf. “Golf Rules: The Basics,” is an attempt to simplify the game. I have put the rules into a conversation about golf. The rules are not in any specific order or numbered.

Golf Rules: The Basics Part I

One reason so many players complain about the complexity of the Rules of Golf is because they have not read them. There are only 34 rules in the game of golf. If you look up rules for basketball, the PDF is over 60 pages! NFL Football has over 100 pages not including the six pages of index. You get my point.

Now I will grant you this: the Decisions of Golf has about 1200 decisions in the book. But no one is expecting anyone to read this. It really is a good coffee table book to flip through when you’re bored. Just remember, only 34 rules. I explained to a group of PGA Professionals during one seminar how basic the rules are. You either can or can’t do something. The rules are black and white. Period.

But for now let’s take a closer look at the basic rules of golf. We don’t need to go over all 34 right now, but let’s just understand the basics.

Prior to the start of the round, review any local rules, and count your clubs. You may only carry 14. If you have a weighted club you use to warm up prior to the round, remove it or count it as one of the 14. Mark you ball with an identifiable marking. You are probably not the only player playing a Titleist Prov1. This may come in handy later in the round if it is necessary to identify a ball as your ball.

Show some courtesy to the others in your group and shake hands or at least approach each one directly and say something like, “Play well.” Or “Let’s have a good time.” Even if it’s your regular foursome you should start with a greeting to each player.

Most people today play a stroke play format, which means counting all your strokes until the ball is holed, including penalties if necessary. In stroke play you are a competitor playing against the field. This means all the rules are to apply the same to all competitors.

In match play, generally it is one opponent (side) against another opponent (side). Scoring is by played by holes and the side taking the least amount of strokes to hole out wins the hole. But for our discussion today, we will be using stroke play format.

Now you’re ready to choose the order of play. It’s best to toss a tee into the air and wherever the bottom of the tee points, that person is first. Do this until everyone knows the order. When the others are teeing off, stand behind them. If you stand beside them or in front of the player it can be distracting. If it bothers you it probably bothers them also.

Tee off behind the tee markers, no farther back than two club lengths from the front of the tee markers. The ball must be played from within that area but the player may stand outside of that rectangle. Teeing off from outside that area is not a penalty in match play but your opponent is allowed to ask you to re-tee. In stroke play it is a two stroke penalty and you must re-tee from inside the teeing ground.

Once the round has started; you can’t ask for or give any advice except to your partner. Any player may ask about the rules, distance to a hazard, or even the location of the hole. This is information that is common knowledge. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take any practice shots during the round. Eliminate the word ‘mulligan’ from your golf vocabulary.

Make note of the time you started and keep your pace of play to around four hours. It is your responsibility to keep up with the group in front of you, not to just stay ahead of the group behind you. Be ready when it is your turn to play. I doubt if you are playing on TV so don’t act like it. The rules say you have 40 seconds to make your stroke once it is your turn to play. You don’t have to take 40 seconds just because you are allowed to. Be ready to play.

If at any time you are uncertain if a ball is yours and you need to identify it, you must announce to your fellow competitors or opponents your intentions. You must always mark the ball before lifting it. Whatever you do, don’t clean it unless you need to remove a little mud to identify it. Replace it back exactly how it was when you marked it.

Remember you can’t improve your lie or intended area of your swing. Don’t bend a tree branch or break off anything growing around you. You may move stones, sticks and other debris. These are classified as loose impediments. You can’t brush away sand around your ball unless you are on the putting green. Be careful when removing the loose impediments not to cause your ball to move. If you do, it’s a one stroke penalty and you must replace it back to its original location.

If or when your ball ends up in a water hazard or a bunker, don’t touch anything natural such as leaves, sticks or stones. Any man-made object can be removed like a soda can or piece of trash. Whatever you do, don’t touch the ground or the water with your hand or the club until you are striking the ball. If you do, it is a two stroke penalty.

Be certain the ball you play is yours. Hitting a wrong ball will cost you two strokes and you must correct your mistake. As mentioned before, if you need to identify your ball, announce to your competitors your intentions and be sure to make the ball first. You must replace it exactly as it was prior to lifting for identification. When you need to move a loose impediment in the hazard to identify your ball, don’t forget to put it back as you found it. It’s best to do this with your competitor watching to avoid any problems.


Do you have a Rules question you would like answered? Contact me.


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