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If you didn't already know, the point of the game is to hit/play the ball with your clubs and try to get the golf ball into the hole with as few strokes (aka shots) as possible. This is done without influencing the ball (or course) in any way outside the general rules of the game (2 stroke penalty if you do).
We have looked over the official golf rules and regulations and are going to summarize them as best possible so that you don't have to waste time reading all the obscure and not as important ones. Hopefully these simple rules of golf will make it easy for you.
That being said, all the rules for playing golf are important, and if you want to truly honour the game, you will learn them all with time.
We have also added an interpretation of the rules, or the easy way for beginners to handle the rules so as to speed the game along, and keep it fun while still learning the do's and don'ts of the game.
To start, there are two different types of play that can be done on the course Match Play and Stroke Play.
Match Play is when players compete for the lowest score on each hole. The 'winner' is the person with the lowest amount of shots, with 'ties' ending as ties. This continues throughout the round until one player cannot catch up to beat the other player.
Stroke Play is when players count the number of strokes they have throughout the game, the winner being the golfer who has the lowest score at the end of the round. Stroke Play is the most common type played, and this will be the one you play on the course with your friends (unless they specifically say otherwise).
You are only allowed to carry 14 clubs in your golf bag during the round. You shouldn't stress about this as a recreational golfer, mainly because most sets of clubs have 14 or less (driver, 3 wood, 5 wood, 3 iron - 9 iron, putter, sand wedge, and pitching wedge are in a typical set), but also because no one is going to count if you are just out having fun.
=Side note: If you are wondering about what might be the extra clubs, you should check out our Ultimate Guide to Golf Wedges =
You are not legally allowed to borrow a club from a fellow golfer according to the rules, but as a recreational player if you want to try out your buddies new driver, go ahead, keep the fun in the game!
Any regular approved (don't worry they are all approved at your level) golf ball will do as long as it has not been modified or doesn't have any cuts, cracks, or splits in it.
You can change your ball after the hole if you like. (Don't ask me to explain on how a ball picks up bad luck along the way!)
An interesting note here is that if your ball gets a cut or explodes you can replace it with no penalty.
=Side note: trying to choose a ball? We will bring you our definitive guide soon =
You may be assisted by one caddy throughout your round. You are expected to know the rules (why you are here obviously) and maintain the pace set by the course officials (they will let you know if you are too slow, don't stress about this.) Also, one person is the 'marker' or scorekeeper for the round.
This may seem odd, but you are not allowed to ask for advice throughout the round, except for your caddy or your partner if playing in teams. The only advice you can give is where the green (specifically "flagstick") is.
As an amateur/ recreational golfer, I wouldn't stress about this rule. You are learning the game, and sometimes advice is helpful, especially if you are playing with a pro for the specific reason of getting tips on how to improve.
=See our guide to golf etiquette for why you shouldn't ask for advice=
Order Of Play
The order of play is determined randomly at the start of the round. This can be done any number of ways but one of the most common is flipping a tee in the air and whoever it points to is up first (unless an official sets the order). This order is the order for the round, but the lead off golfer (or "person who has honours") may change throughout. The player with the lowest score on the previous hole gets to tee off first. All other players follow the same order the started in. In the event of a tie (even if it's not the person with honours) then the same order is maintained.
The player who's ball is furthest from the hole shoots first. If it is hard to tell, then mutual agreement on who shoots next is made.
There is no penalty for shooting out of turn, but in match play, the player who was supposed to shoot next can ask for the stroke of the other player to be cancelled.
A good variation of the order to golf in is to play 'ready golf'. This is simply, whoever is ready to golf goes first.
Tee Off Box
Your ball can be teed up anywhere in between the tee markers, but not further forward than them.
If your ball falls off the tee not during a stroke it is not a penalty. But if you swing and miss and it falls off then it is a penalty. As a beginner golfer this may happen to you a few times. Don't stress about it, and don't count it as a stroke if you don't want, the game is hard enough as is with all that stupid water and trees :p.
If you do tee up outside the tee off markers, it is a 2 stroke penalty in stroke play.
Searching For Your Ball
When searching for your ball you cannot move it, unless you need to identify it. In such a case, you must put it back to the original spot it was found. You cannot improve your lie. In fact, if the ball moves you are charged with a 1 stroke penalty. Make sure it is your ball that you are hitting because hitting the wrong ball is a two stoke penalty. You also have only 3 minutes to find your ball (used to be 5 minutes).
Play It As It Lies
As mentioned above you cannot move your ball without a penalty, which leads to this rule. You must play it as it lies. This also means you can't move the grass in and around your ball or where you will be standing.
You may move loose impediments such as twigs and branches provided you do not move your ball (1 stoke penalty if it does).
You may also move 'movable obstructions' such as rakes, bottles, etc. If your ball moves in this situation it is not a penalty. The movable object must be able to be moved without undue delay that is.
A note here is that if you are in a hazard you cannot let your club tough the ground (grounding) before your shot. Doing this results in a 1 stroke penalty. As a beginner you may not be used to there surfaces and / or the length of your clubs yet. To this I say go ahead and take a practice swing, so long as you do not move your ball in the process.
Striking The Ball
The technical rules are pretty funny in the area. It says it must be a fair swing and not putting, cupping or scraping. In other words, no wrist shots allowed. It also states that you can't use any artificial/ unusual equipment or be unassisted by any other player/ caddy. Sounds to me like someone was doing some major checking back in the day. That means no more 'hand wedges' for you!
You also cannot strike a moving ball, and if it hits your club twice it is a penalty of 1 stroke.
Once on the green you are allowed to lift your ball and clean it. You must put it back no closer to the hole. You are allowed to clean debris from your putting line, but you cannot touch it with your hand or club. You can, however repair ball divot or impact marks.
You cannot test out a green before making your put.
Also if your ball is sitting on the rim of the cup, you are allowed to wait 10 seconds to see if it will drop.
This rule has recently changed... You used to be penalized for hitting the flagstick on your shot when putting, but that has now changed. You can decided to leave the flag in or take it out before taking your shot without fear of costing you any strokes.
Golf Balls In Motion Or At Rest
You might be wondering what happens to your ball if another ball hits it? Well, (un)lucky for you, it gets replaced to the spot it was originally in. If it was your ball that hit the opponents ball, then you must play yours as it lies. The only caveat to this is if you are on the green. On the green if you hit another ball you get a 2 stroke penalty! So make sure that you get the other players to mark their ball.
What about if your ball gets picked up by a gopher or some other ‘outside agent’? In this case you estimate where the ball would have ended up and play from there. On the green, however, you must replay the shot.
What if your caddy stops your ball? If it is accidental, then it is a 1 stroke penalty and you play it as it lies. If it is intentional then a 2 stroke penalty is incurred. If, however, it is your opponent that does this intentionally during stroke play, they received the 2 stroke penalty.
Lifting, Dropping, and Placing
You can chose to re-drop your ball in certain circumstances. This must be done by you, your caddie, or someone you authorize, and must not touch and equipment or players (if it does, it must be re-dropped).
To drop a ball you must stand erect, with the ball at knee height (used to be should height), and arm’s length to drop it.
Don’t worry if your ball rolls out of bounds or into a hazard when you drop, as this results in a free drop.
Abnormal Ground Conditions
If your ball comes to rest in abnormal ground conditions, you get a free drop (i.e. No penalty). Some examples of this could be puddled water in the middle of a fairway, a gopher hole, some grass clippings that were piled for the grounds crew, an area marked as under ground repair, etc. The rule is also applicable if your feet end up in the ‘abnormal ground conditions’.
Some common questions that come up:
What if my ball comes to rest on a cart path? Answer: You get a free drop!
What if my ball comes to a stop on a different green? Answer: You get a free drop with this one as well. You drop this one off the green.
My ball is stuck in it’s own impact mark on the ground, what do I do? Answer: You can pick up your ball, clean it if you want, and drop it as close to the spot you picked it up from with no penalty.
Remember that the free drop is within 1 club length and no closer to the hole.
Water hazards are found throughout a course, often near the greens. They are usually staked with yellow markers.
Sometimes there are lateral hazards that run alongside a hole. These will be staked with red markers usually.
When your ball ends up in the water (or ‘in the drink’ as some call it) you can try to play it from there with no penalty stroke (this is fun and hilarious, but generally a bad idea), or you can take a 1 stroke penalty.
If you decide to take the penalty on a normal hazard, you have 2 options.
- Drop the ball from where you played your last shot.
- Drop a ball from behind the hazard in line with where it entered the water. (Note: there is no limit to how far back you go).
With a lateral hazard you also have 2 options (both a 1 stroke penalty).
- Play another shot from the spot of your last shot.
- Drop a ball within 2 club lengths of where it entered the hazard.
On some golf courses there will be ‘drop ball circle’ that you can use to drop your ball in.
As a rookie golfer, you may find that you have thirsty golf ball. If you lose a couple balls in the same hazard, you can take your penalty stroke and go to the other side of the hazard to continue. There is no sense losing all your ball because of an impossible shot for you.
Lost Ball, Out Of Bounds, and Provisional Balls
If you, for some crazy reason have a terrible shot and your ball runs away, say into some trees or shrubs, you have a few options.
You can look for it, for up to 5 minutes. Playing it if you find it. If you can’t find it you incur a penalty of 1 stroke, and must go back to the spot you hit from and re-hit.
You can assume it’s lost and take another from where you are at and play the new ball. Taking a 1 stroke penalty.
Play a provisional ball if you think you can’t find the original. This is basically another ball hit/played until you can search for your first ball. If you can find your original ball you play it, if not you add a stroke and continue on with the provisional ball. Before starting with your provisional ball you must inform others that that is what you are doing.
Option 3 is the most common as it is unrealistic to walk back to your initial spot to reshoot on a busy golf course.
Another option or adaptation to the rules for beginner golfers is to take a stroke penalty and drop from the area around where the ball was lost.
Also note that, while the rules allow for up to 5 minutes of searching, you shouldn’t waste too much time doing so. 1 minute is usually sufficient so as to not hold up the other golfers on the course.
At any point a golfer can deem his ball unplayable and take a 1 stroke penalty to pick up his/her ball and ‘drop’ it, no closer to the hole.
It is dropped at the spot of the previous shot or at a point behind the ball (no limit how far) still in line with the flagstick, or within 2 club lengths of the ball.
There is a 2 stoke penalty if this is violated.
The game of golf is about honour and integrity, although we gave some suggestion for how amateurs can use or adapt the rules, as we believe it is important to have fun out there, the reality is that all the rules should be followed if you are to truly honour the game and accurately measure your improvement in the sport.
Hopefully you found these simplified rules of golf helpful. We summarized them as best as possible for beginners. If you want to see the full version of the rules of golf, you can find the pdf when you visit Usga.org.