The Rules Of Golf Explained – From Who Goes First To Score


From chipping on the green to taking a drop, golf is a very complex game full of strict rules that must be adhered to. Failing to comply with these regulations can be costly on your round, and that’s why it’s a good idea to have a good grasp of the rules of golf before you start playing.

In total, golf is an extremely complex game with many rules and regulations that players adhere to. The two most important rules in golf are to play the ball as it lies and to count your shots correctly. Also, golf is a game of integrity and etiquette that players commonly officiate.

Golf can be a complicated game but don’t fret; if you’re unsure of the rules or need a tune-up on the latest PGA and R& regulations, keep reading this guide. We’ll be walking you through everything from how to score to the basic rules of golf.

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What Are The Basic Rules Of Golf? 

In total, the basic rules of golf relate to etiquette and respect for the course and other players. The fundamental rule of golf is to play the ball as it lies and as it comes to rest on the course while respecting the course and repairing any pitch or divot marks you make while avoiding slow play. 

At its heart, golf is a simple game; get the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible. Oddly enough, for a game that is so straightforward, there is a very thick rule book that comes with the game.

Fortunately for most of us amateurs, and even the professionals, players don’t need to know many of the rules in that book. If you’re playing in competitions and tournaments, then sure, you’ll need to have a pretty good grasp of the rules. But for casual golfers, it’s wise to have an understanding of the basics. Here are the three basic rules of golf you need to know. 

If you’re wondering how golf rules tie into tournament formats, check our guide on how golf tournaments work for more information. 

Play The Ball As It Lies

Perhaps the most crucial rule in golf is playing the ball as it lies. Players must play their shot from where it comes to rest unless that shot has gone out of bounds or is submerged in water. Players are not allowed to move their ball’s position to improve or alter their lie in any way. It is the fundamental principle of golf, and players must understand that it is deemed cheating if they change their ball position on the course. 

Sure, it may be okay to do so if you have a casual round or if an outside influence or another player has moved the ball, but it’s an absolute no-no if you’re playing in a tournament or are scoring a round for your handicap.

Check out ‘Rule 9 – Ball Played as It Lies; Ball at Rest Lifted or Moved’ on the USGA website for more information on when you can lift and move your ball. Before heading out for your round, make sure also to check out our guide on what to do if you find a golf ball on the course.

Do Not Play Too Slow

Perhaps the bane of any golfer is getting stuck behind a slow four-ball. Golf etiquette is respecting other players on the course and the course itself, and part of that is keeping up with the pace of play. From being on time for your tee-off to not spending 20 minutes looking for your ball in the bushes, golfers must not hold up play on the course. 

‘Rule 5 – Playing the Round’ of the USGA rule book states that players must “Play continuously and at a prompt pace during each hole until your round is completed.The USGA has, in fact, recently implemented a new rule that requires players to play their shot within 40 seconds of arriving at their golf ball. Players can be disqualified or removed from the golf course for any unreasonable delay of play. 

Respect The Course

Don’t forget; you’re not the only person who will be playing at the golf course. Golf etiquette requires players to respect and play the course as they find it. That means you cannot try to change any feature, lie, or part of the grounds that will help you find a more favorable lie, neither can you play from an area that is out of bounds or under repair, and you absolutely should not drive buggies or place your bag on a green.

Changing your lie can include chopping grass with your club to get a clean shot at your ball or breaking tree branches to get a full backswing in. Although ‘Rule 8 – Course Played as It Is Found’ clarifies that players can move loose objects that impede their swing, you cannot move or break any natural growing object on the course.

The three most important points for golfers to remember are to repair their divots on the fairway, rake bunkers after you’ve taken your shot, making sure to sweep all of your footprints, and lastly, repair any ball marks left on the green.

Golfers can move their ball if it lands in an unrepaired divot, but it is always bad practice to not repair your ball marks or club divots. If you’re taking large and deep divots, you’re not swinging the club right, and perhaps you should take a look at our guide on how getting golf lessons can improve your game.

What Are The Most Important Rules In Golf? 

As a whole, the most important rules are playing the ball as it comes to rest and correctly taking relief or a provisional shot. Knowing when and how you can play your shot is vital to helping you get through 18-holes with as few penalties as possible. 

Playing the ball as it comes to rest is the most important rule in golf, but what happens when the ball lands on a pathway or an immovable object that will hinder your shot? A golfer can take relief from these situations or play a provisional. Here’s how taking relief works. 

Taking Relief, A Drop, Or A Provisional Shot 

When you hit a shot out of bounds or lose your golf ball, under USGA rule 14, you must play another shot from where your previous shot was taken. This is what’s called stroke-and-distance relief because it adds an extra penalty shot onto your scorecard, including the shot you hit out of bounds.  

If unsure as to whether you might find your first out of bounds shot, to save yourself time and keep up with the pace of play, golfers can hit a provisional shot, which but only if their original ball is unplayable.

Although you must announce firstly to your playing partner that the shot you’re about to hit is a provisional ball, as hitting another shot can be confused with you’re accepting the penalty without knowing if you’re original ball is in play or not. Having trouble keeping the ball in play, maybe you should check out our guide on how many lessons you need to start hitting flush golf shots. 

But what about an unplayable ball from a cart path or a shot that has landed too close to a tree? Golfers are allowed to take a one-shot penalty to move the golf ball to an area that is one club-length away from where the golf ball landed.

Golfers are allowed to take free relief of an object that has been placed on the course from outside forces or a cart path, but players should note that they are not allowed to reduce the distance between them and the hole when taking any form of relief.  

How Is The Scoring In Golf? 

Golf scoring is typically scored by match play or stroke play, but players can compete in different formats. Stroke play is scored by how many shots it takes to reach the hole; match play is where players compete against opponents to win a hole by reaching it in the fewest number of shots.

Golf is typically scored by how many shots you hit on each hole. But there are variations on that format and rule implications that golfers must adhere to play fairly, in keeping with the values of the game. Typically golfers will score each other’s cards on a round of golf to ensure no cheating. Consider taking a look at the best golf scorecard books on Amazon.

Every hole on a course has a par score, which is the expected number of shots you should hit on each hole. If you shoot that number on a hole, you walk away with a par; if you shoot under that number, you can subtract how many shots you hit less off your overall score. But if you hit over par and score a bogey, you need to add the number of shots you recorded that were over par. 

When playing Stableford rules, golfers calculate their score by how many pars, birdies, and bogeys they hit on a round. A par will usually score you one or two points, a birdie three to four points, while any hole over par will score you zero points. The aim is to outscore your opponents by hitting more pars and birdies than them. For more information on scoring a round of golf, check out our guide here.

What Are 5 Rules Of Golf? 

  • you must not ground your club in the bunker;
  • players have three minutes search time;
  • drops must be from knee height;
  • Players must have the correct equipment; and
  • You must tee off from the designated teeing area. 

Do Not Ground Your Club In The Bunker

It’s one of the stranger rules in golf, but players should not ground their club in the bunker as they approach or address the golf ball. The reason being that it can be deemed as improving a player’s lie or testing the density of the sand, which can both give you an unfair advantage on the shot. 

Players Have Three Minutes To Find Their Ball

This ruling has recently been amended to instead of giving players five minutes to find their ball, they now only have three minutes; this is to help speed up play on the course and prevent players from slowing down groups behind them.

It means that if you cannot find your golf ball in the allotted three minutes, you have to forfeit a penalty stroke and play your next shot from where you anticipated the ball to have landed. 

Drops Must Be From Knee Height

Another fairly recent law change requires golfers to drop their golf balls from knee height, which helps golfer drop the ball at a even height instead of dropping the ball from an arms-length position.

This gives golfers more control over where they wish to drop the ball and can be beneficial for finding a good lie after taking a drop. For more information on laws on relief, schedule an outdoor golf lesson with your coach; here’s why it can help you.

You Have Equipment Limits

This usually applies you’re playing in tournaments. Players should only use USGA and R& conforming equipment does not excessively enhance or give players an unfair advantage over their playing cohort. That also includes performance-enhancing clothing but is not limited to compression or thermal base layers.

It’s important to note players can also only keep a maximum of 14-golf clubs in their bags and cannot replace damaged or broken golf clubs during your round. For more information on what clubs beginner golfers should be using, please check out our guide here,

The Teeing Area

A lot of golfers get into hot water when teeing off in a tournament. It’s important to remember to place your tee and golf ball inside the designated tee box and behind the tee markers. Typically for tournaments, you’ll play off a specific set of colored markers during your round, and you’ll need to ensure that you tee off from a position behind the two tee markers but not outside them either. Grab a pair of tees for a bargain on Amazon.

My top piece of advice is to sacrifice a few extra yards off your shot to ensure you’re well within the tee marker. It’s better to sacrifice a few extra yards than sacrifice a penalty shot because you placed your ball outside of the regulation area, so play smart and always watch where you tee off. 

What Is The First Basic Etiquette Rule In Golf 

The first basic etiquette rule in golf is calling ‘fore’ when you hit a stray shot close to another playing group. Golf can be a dangerous game, and accidents can happen on the course, and it is a common courtesy of golf to shout and warn other golfers if you think your shot is going awry.

No golfer is flawless; even Tiger Woods hits a shank now and then. But if he does, he will always call ‘fore’ and the direction that the ball is traveling to warn other players, spectators, and officials that the ball is coming their way.

Even if you think the golf ball will miss, it’s good practice to send the call out, just in case. Many golfers are too lazy or are scared to call fore, but the fact is, things can be a lot worse if you don’t warn other players. Aside from causing someone some severe harm, you’ll also have to pay out insurance and medical bills for causing the damage.

That’s why it’s common courtesy to shout loudly and clearly if you catch the golf ball poorly. 
Remember, when playing golf, the rules are there to ensure everyone stays safe on the course while people can compete and have fun in a fair environment.

Putters are crucial in the game of golf and they come in three distinct types with one type favoring a beginner, to learn which one is good for you see our complete guide on putters and when to use them.

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