Learn About The Rules of Golf

Fully understanding the golf rules can get rather complicated.  We will discuss each rule in great detail within the pages of this website, but not on this page. For the purposes of this article, we will highlight some of the more important aspects of each rule and focus on the more important rules for beginning golfers.

The “official” rules for the game of golf are governed by the United States Golf Association and can be found at the following link:

The USGA Official Rules of the Game of Golf

The challenge for most beginning golfers is twofold, one it’s tough enough just learning how to play, secondly, the rules are complicated and most do not apply to your average weekend warrior.  That’s why Beginning Golf Tips will read through the rules for you and select those nuggets that mean something to the beginner.

Below I will list all 24 rules, that’s right, there are only 24 rules in Golf.  Except they all have about 20 sub-parts, so as mentioned, it’s not as cut and dry as it sounds.  As promised, here is a list of the 24 rules of golf:

  1. Rule 1 – The Game, Player Conduct and Rules
  2. Rule 2 – The Course
  3. Rule 3 – The Competition
  4. Rule 4 – The Player’s Equipment
  5. Rule 5 – Playing the Round
  6. Rule 6 – Playing a Hole
  7. Rule 7- Ball Search, Finding and Identifying Ball 
  8. Rule 8 – Course, Played as it’s Found
  9. Rule 9 – Ball Played as It Lies; Ball at Rest Lifted or Moved
  10. Rule 10 – Preparing for and Making a Stroke; Advice and Help; Caddies
  11. Rule 11 – Ball in Motion Accidentally Hits Person, Animal or Object;
    Deliberate Actions to Affect Ball in Motion
  12. Rule 12 – Bunkers
  13. Rule 13 – Putting Greens
  14. Rule 14 – Procedures for Ball: Marking, Lifting and Cleaning; Replacing
    on Spot; Dropping in Relief Area; Playing from Wrong Place
  15. Rule 15 – Relief from Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions
  16. Rule 16 – Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable
    Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball
  17. Rule 17 – Penalty Areas
  18. Rule 18 – Stroke-and-Distance Relief, Ball Lost or Out of Bounds,
    Provisional Ball
  19. Rule 19 – Unplayable Ball
  20. Rule 20 – Resolving Rules Issues During Round; Rulings by Referee and Committee
  21. Rule 21 – Other Forms of Individual Stroke Play and Match Play
  22. Rule 22 – Foursomes
  23. Rule 23 – Four-Ball
  24. Rule 24 – Team Competitions

Section I – Rules 1 through 4

The Official Rules of Golf are broken into 9 sections and each section contains at least 1 rule.  The first sections include Rules 1 through 4 and are called “Fundamentals of the Game”.  It just sounds like a great place of a beginner to start, doesn’t it?  So let’s do just that:

Rule 1 – The Game, Player Conduct and Rules

You should have already learned that Golf is a “classy” game, often referred to as the “Game of Royalty”, golf was originally played by the elite somewhere in Europe.  But we will discuss the origins of golf later in another article.  However Rule One does discuss some of the expected conduct that has followed the game since it’s early days.  You are expected to act accordingly, respect other golfers and their property and play by the rules.

Rule One also explains that you must play the course “As you find it” and play the ball “As it lies”.  And while this is certainly a rule, most beginning golfers will not be expected to maintain strict adherence to Rule One while learning the game.  Now, please don’t misunderstand, you should always play by the rules, but if you are new to the game and your ball is under a stick in the rough, move the ball and swing away.  You are not going to earn any extra points for making impossible shots when you are learning.

The Golf Course - Beginning Golf TipsRule 2 – The Golf Course

This rule describes the various areas found on the golf course and how each area is treated within the rules.  Rule Two defines four main areas of the course including the teeing area, penalty areas, bunkers, and the putting green.  Rule two does not go into great detail regarding these areas but does refer you to other rules that cover the defined area.

Rule 3 – The Competition

With Rule Three, we start to discuss the way the game is played. The rule describes the difference between “stroke play” and “match play”. It also explains briefly the difference between individual scoring and partner or team scoring, once again referring you to more detailed rules covering the subject.

Lastly the rule covers “gross” scoring and “handicap” scoring. This is a subject that a new golfer may want to be generally aware of, not because you will calculating handicaps, but a better golfer may offer to spot you some points. In general, here is how handicapping works… Let’s say you typically shoot around 108 and the course has a total par of 72 (common course par), your handicap would be 108 minus 72 or 36 and your per hole handicap would be 36 divided by 18 holes or 2 strokes per hole.

So if you were playing golf with someone who typically shoots a 90 and has a handicap of 1 stroke per hole, he or she may split the difference and give you a one stroke per hole advantage. Now, we will discuss handicaps in much greater detail, but for now, you can read all about it in Rule 3.

Rule 4 – Golfing Equipment

Golf Equipment - Beginning Golf TipsRule 4 covers in great detail the equipment that is allowed during a professional round of golf. So for the amateur, there is only one aspect of Rule 4 that means much of anything; you can only use 14 clubs during a round of golf. Once again, we remind you that the majority of the rules will apply to professional golfers and govern the play during tournaments. This website is geared toward the beginning golfer and quite frankly no one is going to count the number of clubs that you have in your bag. And I doubt seriously if anyone will ask if your pitching wedge conforms to USGA Official Rules.

You, me and most amateur golfers like us will only need to know that you play the game with standard clubs made by known golf equipment manufacturers and you are covered. Anything that is designed to give you an “artificial” advantage over other golfers is prohibited.  Check out some “USGA APPROVED” starter golf sets here.

Section II – Rules 5 and 6

Rule 5 – Playing the Round

You may recognize a trend where we “paraphrase” a rule to the point where it is reduced to a single paragraph.  The reason for this is that most of the rule does not apply to a beginning golfer.  This certainly pertains to Rule 5.  The only two bullet points that are relevant to the beginner in this rule are:

  • Start your round on time, and
  • Keep pace while playing your round

Although we are all very far away from playing in the Masters Tournament, there remains an expectation that we be on time for our tee time, otherwise they will skip you and move on.  For golf courses, foursomes are money, so they will get as many groups off the first tee as comfortably possible.

Additionally, they will do everything they can to keep the pace of play moving along.  Most experienced golfers do not want to wait to take their next shot and as you progress, you will know exactly what I am talking about.  To learn more about “Keeping Pace” feel free to visit our article:

Learn to Play Golf – Keeping Pace when Playing

Rule 6 – Playing a Hole

With Rule 6 we start to look at parts of the game that may be relevant to most beginners.  It’s important to remember that although we suggest that beginners not concern themselves with strict adherence to the rules, we all need to know when to follow them and when to apply them, Rule 6 has some important guidelines.

First and foremost, Rule 6 states that each hole begins in the Tee Area and that a golfer must strike the ball from between the appropriate markers. Just about every golf course will have at least three colored markers within the tee area.  The meaning of each marker is as follows:

Red Tee Area Marker – Used by female golfers, often called “Ladie’s Tee”
White Tee Area Marker – General Competition Tees, used by most male golfers
Blue Tee Area Marker – Used by Advanced golfers, often called “Tournament Tees”

Rule 6 clearly states that each hole must start between or behind the appropriate tee markers and any beginning shot that is taken from anywhere outside of that area does not count and incurs a 2 stroke penalty.

This rule is where we learn that we do not need to use an actual tee when on the tee box. We can, if preferred, just simply place the ball on the grass and swing away (not recommended for beginners).

The subject of ball identity is also discussed in Rule 6. Basically, the rule states that you should finish the hole with the same ball that you started it with and that losing the ball will result in a penalty.  The rule does allow for replacing the original ball under certain circumstances, but as beginners, this seems a little like strict adherence.

Playing a ball that is not yours is a “big no-no” in golf.  Rule 6 covers what happens in such an event, but in the beginning golfer world, it’s just embarrassing and awkward.  However, if you are playing with a “rule lover”, playing the wrong ball is a 2 stroke penalty, so make sure to mark your ball properly.

The Order of Play – Rule 6 introduces us to “honors” or the order in which we start each hole.  This could be important depending on who you are playing with.  Generally, the person with the best score on the previous hole would tee off first on the next hole, then the next best score and so on…

The term “honor” simply means that by winning the hole you have the honor of going first.  Now with all of that said, most golfers will use a method called “ready golf” and that simply means, if you are ready then go ahead and tee off.  This will keep the pace of play as quickly as possible and is preferred in most courses.


Section III – Playing the Ball (Rules 7-11)

Rule 7- Ball Search, Finding and Identifying Ball 

I love this rule when teaching a beginning golfer because trust me, you will spend a fair amount of time searching for your ball.  So Rule 7, explains how to appropriately do that and stay within the rules.

Golf irons and golf ball - Beginning Golf TipsAs we first learned in Rule 6, each golfer should know the make and model of the ball you are using and preferably should mark the ball with an identifying mark, such as your initials.  These steps help you to identify the golf ball as yours after you have smacked the thing 200 yards down the fairway (hopefully).

Rule 7 also discusses what is allowed when trying to identify your ball. Can you move things? Can you move the ball? Well,Rule 7 tells us and just so you know, you can move things and you can pick up the ball, just as long as you do not excessively clean the ball or improve your lie.

Rule 8 – Course, Played as it’s Found

Rule 8 brings us right back to that beginner gray area where you really need to be a stickler for the rules to worry about this one. But the rule does discuss the concept of “play it as you find it”, which means that you cannot improve your situation by altering the course of your lie. When your ball comes to rest under a tree branch lying on the ground, you cannot technically move the tree branch to swing at the ball.

Additionally, you cannot move an object that blocks your path; you cannot improve your lie by moving your ball out of a divot and you cannot even remove dew, frost or standing water from the course. Of course, you know BGT’s stance on a rule like this one, when you are just beginning golf is challenging enough. Do not make the game any more difficult by trying to play strictly by the rules, it’s just not of any value.

USGA Rule 8 states that:
Except in the limited ways allowed in Rules 8.1b, c and d, a player must not take any of
these actions if they improve the conditions affecting the stroke:
(1) Move, bend or break any:
• Growing or attached natural object,
• Immovable obstruction, integral object or boundary object, or
• Tee-marker for the teeing area when playing a ball from that teeing area.
(2) Move a loose impediment or movable obstruction into position (such as to build a stance
or to improve the line of play).
(3) Alter the surface of the ground, including by:
• Replacing divots in a divot hole,
• Removing or pressing down divots that have already been replaced or other cut turf
that is already in place, or
• Creating or eliminating holes, indentations or uneven surfaces.
(4) Remove or press down sand or loose soil.
(5) Remove dew, frost or water.

Rule 9 – Ball Played as It Lies; Ball at Rest Lifted or Moved

Rule 9 is a rather straight forward rule which covers the ball being moved once it has otherwise come to rest.  The rule simply states that if the ball is moved by some natural force. like the wind, the ball should be played in the new location.  On the other hand, if the ball were to be moved by a person or other intentional force, then the ball must be placed in its original position and played from there.  This, of course, calls into serious question the last scene of Caddyshack, but I digress.

Rule 10 – Preparing for and Making a Stroke; Advice and Help; Caddies

Here again, Rule 10 is largely directed toward professional golfers, as many of these rules are.  But Rule 10 does tell us a few things like you cannot swing at a moving ball; ala Phil Mickelson,.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, NY in June of 2018.  He was penalized two strokes and ended with a score of 10 on the 13th hole.

The rule also covers getting and offering to give advice while on the course.  Now many of us may never have the pleasure of having a caddy while playing, but if you do this is the rule that covers getting advice. The rule states that:

During a round, a player must not:
• Give advice to anyone in the competition who is playing on the course,
• Ask anyone for advice, other than the player’s caddie, or
• Touch another player’s equipment to learn information

This is generally good advice, especially for a beginning golfer.  People very often do not want to have someone else pointing out what they are doing wrong, this will certainly be the case when they are struggling on the golf course.  WE recommend that you only offer tips and suggestions when prompted to do so.

Rule 11 – Ball in Motion Accidentally Hits Person, Animal or Object; Deliberate Actions to Affect Ball in Motion

This rule is very interesting, in that it basically put everything on the golf course “in play”, as long as it is in bounds.  The rule states that if a ball were to hit an object whether it is a bird, a goose, a rock, a golf cart, sign or any other object that is in bounds, then the player must accept the result, good or bad.

Rule 12 – Bunkers

In golf, we affectionately call bunkers, the beach, for obvious reasons.  Playing from the sand is not fun and certainly not easy.  Additionally, bunkers come with a very specific set of rules to follow and Rule 12 is that set of rules.

Rule 13 – Putting Greens

Section V – Lifting and Returning a Ball to Play (Rule 14)

Rule 14 – Procedures for Ball: Marking, Lifting and Cleaning; Replacing on Spot; Dropping in Relief Area; Playing from Wrong Place

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