Golf: Most Common Rules

The “Rules of Golf” is an extensive publication by the USGA, please become familiar with all the rules of the game. This page will explain some of the common rules and situations and options that you will most often be confronted with, during a normal round of play.

Golfers have a devotion to the rules unlike any other game and that is what makes golf so much more different and the rules and the etiquette are the game not just a part of it.

Stroke play vr Match play: In STROKE PLAY the competitor who plays the stipulated round or rounds in the fewest strokes is the winner. In MATCH PLAY the game is played by holes. A hole won by the side which holes its ball in the fewest strokes, with the winner being the side which is leading by a number of holes greater than the number of holes remaining to be played.

General Rules:

  • Have an identifying mark on your ball. If you cannot identify a ball as yours it is lost. If your ball becomes unfit for play during the play of a hole, you may replace it, without penalty, while playing the hole or between holes.
  • You may carry no more than 14 clubs in your bag, including your putter. 2 stroke penalty in STROKE PLAY for each hole each hole at which any breach has occurred: maximum penalty per round: 4 Strokes. In MATCH PLAY: a deduction of one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred: Maximum deduction per round: 2 Holes.
  • Do not ask for advice from anyone except your partner or caddie or give advice to anyone other than your partner: Stroke Play=2 Strokes, Match play=Loss of hole.
  • During a hole you may practice swing but not play a practice stroke. Between holes you may practice chip or putt on or near the putting green of the LAST hole played or the tee of the next of the hole but not from a hazard. SP=2 strokes, MP=loss of hole, for breach of rule. (If the breach between the play of two holes, the penalty applies to the next hole.)
  • Play without delay: SP=2 strokes, MP=Loss of hole: If the breach is repeated it is grounds for disqualification in both circumstances.
  • The proper teeing ground for your ball is within the front of the markers to within 2 club lengths back (WITHIN 2 club lengths, not beyond), a player may stand outside the teeing ground. If a ball not in play falls off a tee or is knocked off by the player while addressing it-it may be re-teed without penalty, but if a player’s intent was to strike the ball, then a stroke was made and it counts but without penalty. SP=2 stroke for playing a ball outside teeing ground, MP=no penalty but the opponent may require you to replay the stroke.


  • Play the ball as it lies. Do not touch it unless a Rule permits (ex: to identify the ball)
  • Play the course as you find it. Don’t improve your lie, the area of your intended swing, or your line of play by moving, bending or breaking anything fixed or growing, except in fairly taking your stance or making your stroke. Don’t press anything down or build a stance. SP=2 strokes, MP=Loss of hole
  • If your ball lies in a bunker or a water hazard, do not touch the ground in the bunker or hazard before your down swing (do not ground the club). SP=2 strokes, MP=Loss of hole
  • If your club strikes a ball more than once in a single stroke, count the stroke and add a penalty stroke.
  • In stroke play, if you play a wrong ball (exception from a hazard) you incur a 2 stroke penalty and must then play the correct ball. In match play, if you play the wrong ball (except in a hazard) you lose the hole.


Definition: any lake, sea, pond, river, ditch, or other open water course (whether or not containing water). All ground and water within the hazard is part of the water hazard.

There must be reasonable evidence the ball is in the hazard or else it is a LOST BALL. A ball touching the hazard line is deemed in the hazard. You may not ground your club.


  • Play the ball where it lies without penalty.
  • Drop the ball behind the hazard along a line formed by the hole and the point where the ball last entered the hazard, one penalty stroke.
  • Use the stroke and distance option by playing your next stroke fron the spot where the original ball was struck, one stroke penalty.


Definition: a water hazard or part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible or is impracticable to drop a ball behind the water hazard.


  • Play the ball where it lies without penalty.
  • Drop a ball behind the hazard along a line formed by the hole and the point of entry in the hazard, one stroke penalty.
  • Invoke the stroke and distance rule and take the next stroke from the original lie, one stroke penalty.
  • Drop within 2 club lengths of the point of entry, no nearer the hole, one stroke penalty.
  • Drop within 2 club lengths of a point no nearer the hole on the other side of lateral hazard, see illustration, one stroke penalty.


  • Do not touch the line of your putt, unless a Rule permits (16-1, 7 exceptions). You may repair ball marks and even old hole plugs on your line but not spike marks. SP=2 strokes, MP=loss of hole
  • You may lift and clean your ball on the green, after the ball has been marked, replace it in the exact position. SP=2 strokes, MP=loss of hole
  • You cannot test the surface of the green by scraping it or rolling a ball. SP=2 strokes, MP=loss of hole.
  • The ball played from the putting green is not allowed to strike the flagstick, whether in the hole or laying on the ground. SP=2 strokes, MP=loss of hole.
  • Loose impediments may be removed.
  • SP-you must hole out (complete the putt). Penalty is disqualification. If mistake is not corrected before playing a stroke from the next teeing ground or leaving the putting green of the last hole of the round. MP-your opponent may concede your next stroke (sorta “gimmee”).


  • Anywhere but in a water hazard, if the ball LIES in casual water, ground under repair or a hole or cast made by a burrowing animal-You may drop the ball within one club length of the nearest point of relief not nearer the hole without incurring a penalty, EXCEPT:

    A.) in a bunker, drop within one club length of the nearest point of relief in the bunker no nearer the hole, or with one stroke penalty of one stroke, drop any distance behind the bunker keeping the point where the ball Lay between you and the hole, or

    B.) on the putting green place in the nearest position which affords maximum relief and is not nearer the hole.

  • If your ball is Lost in such conditions (except in a water hazard) take the same relief based on the point where the ball last CROSSED the margin of the AREA.
  • Loose impediments are natural objects (stones and leaves, etc.) not fixed or growing, not permanently embedded and not adhering to the ball.
  • You may move them unless the loose impediment and your ball lie in or touch the same hazard. You may not move a loose impediment that lies in or touches the same hazard as your ball. SP=2 stokes, MP=loss of hole
  • Except when your ball is in a hazard, if you move a loose impediment within one club-length of your ball and your ball moves, the ball must be replaced and you incur one stroke as your penalty.


“out of bounds” is the ground on which play is prohibited, when defined by white lines or white posts-the line itself is out of bounds, fence or stakes or posts it is the inside edges of the out of bounds lines

  • If your ball IS out of bounds, you MUST play another ball at the spot from which the original was played, penalty of one stroke.
  • If your ball MAY be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, you may play a PROVISIONAL ball before you go forward to look for the original, provided you announce your intention to do so. If your original ball turns out to be in a water hazard or is found outside a water hazard you must abandon the provisional ball.
  • If your ball IS lost outside a water hazard or is out of bounds, add a penalty stroke and play the provisional ball.
  • The provisional ball becomes the ball in play when a stroke is played with the provisional ball from a point where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place.

A ball is out of bounds when the entire ball is out of bounds. You may stand out of bounds to play a ball that is in bounds.


  • Obstructions are artificial, man made, objects. Objects defining out of bounds such as fence posts or stakes and immovable objects out of bounds are not obstructions.
  • Movable obstructions may be moved regardless where they are located. If your ball does move it must be replaced without penalty.
  • In the event an immovable obstruction interferes with your stance or swing, you may, except when your ball is in a water hazard, drop the ball within one club length of the nearest point of relief not nearer the hole. In a bunker, must drop in the bunker, and on the putting green, place in the nearest position which affords relief, no nearer the hole. There is no relief from an immovable obstruction that is an interference between the ball and the hole unless both the ball and the obstruction are on the putting green, in which case place the ball in the nearest position such that the obstruction no longer is an interference.
  • If your ball is lost in an immovable obstruction (except in a water hazard) take the same relief based on the point where the ball entered the obstruction.
  • An artificially surfaced cart path is an immovable obstruction. You are entitiled to relief, without penalty. If your stance would be on the path, if the path interferes with your area of intended swing, or if your ball has come to rest on the path.

  • Find the nearest point of relief that does not interfere with your stance or the area of your intended swing.
  • Drop your ball within one club length of your nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole.
  • You do have the option of playing the ball from where it lies.


A ball is deemed to have moved is it leaves its position and comes to rest in any other place.

  • If your ball is moved by you, your partner or your caddie, except as permitted by the RULES, or it moves after you have addressed it, you incur a one stroke penalty and must be replace to original position before your swing.
  • If your ball is moved by someone else or another ball, replace it without a penalty to you or the other player.
  • MP=If your opponent or his caddie accidentally moves your ball while searching for it, there is no penalty. If it is moved by the opponent or his caddie other that during search, the opponent incurs a penalty stroke, in either case the ball must be replaced.


  • You may lift your ball if it might assist any other player.
  • You may have any other ball lifted if it might interfere with your play or assist any other player.


  • If your ball in motion is deflected or stopped by your or your partner or your caddie: SP= 2 stroke penalty, MP=loss of hole
  • If your ball in motion is deflected or stopped by someone else, you will play the ball where it lies, without penalty, except if your ball is deflected after a stroke on the putting green-you must replace it, in MP you play it as it lies or replay it.
  • If your ball in motion is deflected or stopped by another ball at rest, play your ball as it lies: SP=Without penalty unless both balls were on the putting green prior to the stroke, in which case there is a 2 stroke penalty, MP=no penalty.


You may declare your ball unplayable at any place on the course EXCEPT when a ball is in a water hazard. You are the sole judge as to whether your ball is unplayable.

You have 3 options each does carry a one stroke penalty:

  • Play a ball at the spot from which the original was last played (the stroke and distance).
  • Drop a ball within 2 club lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.
  • Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.

Note: If your ball is in a bunker, and you elect to use option 2 or 3, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.


  • If a ball to be lifted is to be replaced, its position must be marked.
  • When dropping, stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and at arm’s length and drop it. A ball to be dropped in hazard must be dropped and stay in the hazard.
  • If a dropped ball strikes the player or his partner, caddie or equipment, it must be re-dropped, without penalty.
  • A dropped ball must be re-dropped if it rolls into a hazard, out of a hazard, onto a putting green, out of bounds or to a position where there is interference by the condition from which relief was taken or comes to rest more than two club lengths from where it first struck a part of the course or nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief or other reference point under Rule 26-1. If the ball when redropped rolls into any position listed above, place it where it first struck a part of the course when redropped.
  • If the original lie of a ball to be replaced has been alteredm place it in the nearest similar lie within 1 club length, not nearer the hole, except in a bunker recreate the original lie and place it in the lie.

These are the most often confronted issues met on a golf course, they usually are the only ones that are needed for an enjoyable round with your foursome. To learn more please go the USGA for details.

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