10 GOLDEN RULES
The original Rules of Golf issued in 1744 numbered just 13 Click Here to read. Today’s Rules of Golf has 34 Rules with over 200 sections and subsections, totaling more than 20,000 words.
Rhodes suggests that these 10 areas would probably cover 90% of the situations that golfers routinely encounter. Why not test your knowledge of each to keep abreast of any changes. Many of these rules will be explained below from time to time, as well as other items of interest.
1. Play the ball as it lies unless a rule gives you relief.
2. Don’t move, bend, break or press down anything growing or fixed, except in fairly taking your stance or swing. Do not touch or move your ball unless allowed.
3. You may lift natural objects not fixed or growing, except in a water hazard or bunker. No penalty.
4. Movable man-made objects may be moved – check the Local rules for exceptions. Relief can be taken from most immovable objects.
5. Relief is available from casual water and ground under repair except in a water hazard. No penalty.
6. Two stroke penalty for touching water or ground in a water hazard or bunker with your hand or club before the stroke – note exceptions.
7. Ball in a lateral water hazard, lost or not playable – 3 relief options – One penalty stroke.
8. Out of bounds or lost (5 minutes searching) – stroke & distance penalty – think provisional ball.
9. Unplayable lie – 3 Relief options, one penalty stroke – NOT the same as GUR – Nearest Point of Relief does NOT apply!
10. Repair ball marks and old hole plugs on the putting green on the line of your putt, but not spike marks.
This page is designed to provide a number of articles containing basic information about the Rules of Golf and applying them on our golf course, as well as some short stories on unusual rules situations from around the world. It is also hoped to occasionally provide some short quizzes on the rules, to challenge readers to test their knowledge.
Most of the stories and quizzes will be drawn from Barry Rhodes’ blog, but we would also like your feedback on rules you would like explained that may be of general interest.
ACCIDENTALLY MOVING A BALL IN PLAY
ON THE PUTTING GREEN
The Club has adopted the Local Rule recommended by Golf Australia and the R&A which removes the one stroke penalty if you accidentally touch or move your ball on the putting green.
To find out more, read the wording and application of the local rule on the Local Rules Page.
TOUCHING OR MOVING A BALL IN PLAY
WHEN IDENTIFYING A BALL IN THE ROUGH
To avoid a one stroke penalty, you must not touch or move your ball (Rule 18-2) unless one of the other rules lets you. While searching, before touching your ball to identify it, you must follow the procedure in Rule 12-2 – even if you don’t actually “lift” the ball (Decision 12-2/2).
WHILE SEARCHING FOR BALL
To check that a ball found, say, in the rough, is yours before you make a stroke** at it, you MUST follow the procedure set down in Rule 12-2 – announce your intention to your marker or fellow competitor in stroke play, and then mark the position of your ball before touching it, giving them the opportunity to witness the actions.
You must do this to avoid a penalty even if you do not actually lift the ball (Decision 12-2/2). DO NOT clean ball more than necessary for identification.
DO NOT just rotate your ball until you can see your identification mark etc without announcing and marking or you will incur a penalty of one stroke.
** If you hit a “wrong ball” it almost always costs you 2 strokes and you have to go back and play the right ball.
ACCIDENTALLY MOVING YOUR BALL
Usually, if you accidentally move your ball that is in play, there is a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2 and the ball has to be replaced. For “you” read also your playing partner (in 4BBB etc) and your caddies. For Example:
- Treading on, or kicking your ball while searching for it – but note exceptions in sand, hazards and abnormal ground conditions (see later articles).
- Striking your ball when making a practice stroke.
- Dropping a glove, towel, club or other equipment on your ball.
The same is true if you pick up your ball when not entitled to – for example:
- Ball is on the apron, not the putting green.
- Picking-up in a stroke competition before holing out.
- If you think that you are entitled to relief but you are not.
- When wind or gravity has moved your ball – do NOT replace it.
However, you DO NOT incur a penalty if you cause your ball in play to be moved in the following cases:
- In searching for a ball anywhere covered in sand, in a hazard covered by loose impediments, or for a ball in an obstruction or abnormal ground condition – Rule 12.1 – see later articles for more details.
- In repairing a hole plug or ball mark – Rule 16-1c
- In measuring – Rule 18-6
- In lifting a ball under a Rule – Rule 20-1
- In placing or replacing a ball under a Rule – Rule 20-3a
- In removing a loose impediment on the putting green – Rule 23-1
- In removing movable obstructions – Rule 24-1.
- If you accidentally cause your ball on the putting green to move – read the Local Rule.
Note that there is no penalty if you accidentally touch your ball while removing a loose impediment lying close to it, providing the ball does not move (Decision 18-2a/31).
Nor is there a penalty for touching a ball with the clubhead – providing the ball does not move. Decision 13-4/12 confirms this even when in a bunker or water hazard.
ON THE PUTTING GREEN
A ball at rest on a putting green may be lifted and cleaned (or touched and rotated) only after its position has been marked (Decision 18-2a/33) without notifying anyone else. If you rotate your ball on the putting green to line-up, say, the trademark with the hole, without marking it, you incur a one stroke penalty for touching the ball other than as provided for in Rule 16-1b.
Note that the Club has adopted the recommended Local Rule that removes the penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green. Read the Local Rule for more details on how to apply the local rule.
NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF
WHEN DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THAT?
The “Nearest Point of Relief” (NPoR) is used to work out where you can drop your ball to get relief without a penalty if it finished in an immovable obstruction or in abnormal ground conditions such as ground under repair or casual water.
You can of course play it where it lies, unless a Local Rule says otherwise, but if you decide to take the relief allowed by the rules, you must take “FULL” relief from the condition eg you can’t drop your ball and play it while your feet are still in the condition.
Note – there is only ever ONE “Nearest Point of Relief” (unless the two trial positions are exactly the same distance from where your ball finished), so the “Nearest Point of Relief” may be in a tree or wall etc.
Once defined, you can drop your ball, without penalty, within one club length of the NPoR, no nearer the hole.
WHERE IS IT?
Find the point on the course that avoids the condition fully (ball, stance and swing), but no nearer the hole.
Drop your ball within one club-length of that point, no nearer the hole (ie to first land in the dark green quadrants in the diagram above).
Note that the ball must be re-dropped if it rolls more than two club lengths, rolls nearer the hole than the NPoR, or rolls so that you won’t have full relief from the condition you are taking relief from (See Rule 20).
Note that choosing which trial NPoR you take is NOT optional – you can only select the one that is nearest to where your ball finished in the condition. This means that in some cases (eg position C in the diagram) you would have to drop in the bushes – probably not a great option – so maybe you need to think about playing your ball from where it lies on the path etc.
ON THE TEE
You must tee off from inside the teeing ground with the ball on the ground or on a conforming tee. A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground. You can use or create a small mound within the area to sit the ball if you wish.
You can stand outside the teeing ground, as long as the ball is within. Tee markers for the hole are FIXED before you tee off on that hole; moving them before teeing off incurs a penalty of two strokes under Rule 13-2.
If your ball falls off the tee before you make a stroke, replace with no penalty.
If you tee off with a ball outside the teeing ground, you incur a two stroke penalty, and must re-play the hole to correct the mistake (strokes played before you correct the mistake do not count). If you don’t correct the mistake before you tee off on the next hole, you are disqualified.
HELP BY SPEEDING UP PLAY
Please help to speed up play by moving quickly to the tee from the previous green and playing your tee shot.
In stroke play, there is NO penalty for playing “out of order” and the Club strongly recommends that players agree to “play when ready” if that would reduce delays.
Don’t let marking your card delay your playing your shot – mark after playing. Do not visit each player’s ball down the fairway – go to your ball (without getting in the way) and be ready to play your shot as soon as the way is clear.
STAKES, DIRECTION SIGNS and ROPES ARE IMMOVABLE OBSTRUCTIONS
Because of the Local Rule YOU DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE in how to treat hazard stakes and the other items specified in the Local Rule.
If you take relief by removing a stake or other item declared to be an immovable obstruction in the Local Rule, you are in breach of Rule 13-2 of the Rules of Golf – Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play and incur a penalty of two strokes (in stroke play) or loss of hole in matchplay.
TAKING RELIEF WITHOUT PENALTY (BALL NOT IN A WATER HAZARD):
You can only take relief if the stake etc interferes with your stance or the area of your intended swing. Except when your ball is on the green, intervention on the line of play is NOT, of itself, interference by the stake etc. – for details, check Rule 24-2.
In brief, you can lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief, but you should read the rule to see how to obtain relief in the various situations covered.
Check the notes on how to determine the “Nearest Point of Relief” for a case like this because your nearest point could be to the left, or over the other side. Remember “Relief” covers the lie, stance and area of intended swing but NOT the line of play, so take care where you drop within that one club length.
BALL IN A WATER HAZARD: Be aware, however, that if your ball lies IN A WATER HAZARD, you are NOT entitled to relief without penalty from the Immovable Obstruction (stake, sign etc), and you still CANNOT remove the stake etc. You can however take relief with penalty under any of the relief options under Rule 26 – Water Hazards.
The ball on the left is outside the hazard, so you can take “free” relief, but the ball on the right is within the hazard AND YOU CANNOT TAKE RELIEF FROM THE IMMOVABLE OBSTRUCTION WITHOUT PENALTY.
BALL IN A BUNKER – WHAT YOU
CAN AND CANNOT DO
To avoid a two stroke penalty, you must NOT test the sand, must NOT touch the sand with hand or club and must NOT touch or move any loose impediments in the bunker – unless falling or trying to prevent a fall – until making your (downward) stroke at the ball.
You CAN remove any movable obstructions (including rocks/stones if your local rules define them as movable obstructions) and you CAN generally shuffle your feet in the sand to place your feet firmly while taking your stance – take care not to look like you are testing the sand.
Rule 13-4b states that you must not:
a. Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard;
b. Touch the ground in the hazard with your hand or a club;
c. touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard;
before “making a stroke at the ball” – the stroke starts when you start the down-swing but does NOT include the back-swing.
Some implications of this are:
- You must not touch any sand in the bunker on your back-swing (Decision 13-4/31) – often difficult if your ball lies at the back of a steeply-sloped bunker. It might even mean playing out sideways or backwards.
- You must not touch any loose impediments in the bunker with your club other than on your down-stroke with the intention of striking the ball, and certainly not with a practice swing
- You incur a penalty if you casually lean on your club in the hazard while waiting for another player to play (Decision 13-4/2).
You CAN, without penalty:
- touch any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing with your club at any time, including on the back-swing preceding your stroke (Note to Rule 13-4);
- touch the sand or loose impediments in a bunker as a result of or to prevent falling, (Exception 1.(a) to Rule 13-4);
- touch the sand in a bunker when removing an obstruction (e.g. a rake), in measuring or in marking the position of, retrieving, lifting, placing or replacing a ball under any Rule (Exception 1.(a) to Rule 13-4);
- lay a club, or clubs, in a bunker whilst you are playing out of it (Exception 1.(b) to Rule 13-4);
- smooth sand in the bunker, providing this is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and you do not improve the position or lie of your ball, the area of your intended stance or swing, or your line of play with respect to your next stroke (Exception 2 to Rule 13-4);
- move sand or loose impediments in order to find or identify a ball that is believed to be in the bunker, but the ball must be replaced and re-covered with the sand or loose impediments to recreate the lie – you are allowed to leave a small part of the ball visible (Rule 12-1a & b).
- Note 1 – if you move the ball while searching for it in sand, or while re-building the lie, there is no penalty under Rule 12-1a.
- Note 2 – if you move the ball while searching for it under loose impediments, you incur a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2a – the same as when searching for a ball through the green – see the article on “Identifying a Ball in the Rough”. However, there is no penalty if the ball moves as a result of your re-building the lie with the loose impediments.
- accidentally touch your ball with your club, providing it does not move (Decision 13-4/12).
- smooth sand in a hazard, even if your ball is in the hazard, provided that it is done for the sole purpose of caring for the course and nothing is done to breach Rule 13-2 eg lie, stance, area of swing etc.
Remember, if it is natural it is a loose impediment:
Leaves, branches and twigs, pine cones, dung and droppings, insects, worms and their casts, spiders and their webs, half-eaten fruit, fruit skins, ant hills, dead birds and animals, aeration plugs, clods of earth, gravel, crushed shells, wood chips;
and if it is artificial, it is an obstruction. Note – our Local Rules define Stones in bunkers as movable obstructions.
Don’t be tempted to remove that leaf or twig lying close to your ball in a hazard.
Here are some situations that could occur:
- You disturb several leaves as you enter the bunker and walk up to the ball – no penalty.
- You disturb some leaves as you fairly take your stance in the bunker – no penalty.
- You pick up a leaf (or any loose impediment) from the bunker – 2 stroke penalty.
- You take a practice swing and accidentally move a small twig lying in the bunker – probably a 2 stroke penalty (Decision 13-4/28) but you might be able to argue no improvement in lie etc, so no penalty (Decision 13-4/13).
- During your back-swing you move a small twig lying in the bunker – 2 stroke penalty.
- During your back-swing you brush the sand in the back sloping “face” of the bunker – 2 stroke penalty.
- During your stroke (which starts with the forward movement of the club) you move a leaf lying in the bunker – no penalty, because the restriction on touching loose impediments in the same bunker only applies before commencing the downswing of the stroke.
WHEN YOUR BALL IS IN A WATER HAZARD
FOUR OPTIONS AVAILABLE
All water hazards on our course are declared to be lateral water hazards. If your ball is found in the water hazard, or not found but virtually certain that it is lost in the water hazard, you have four options:
- Play it as it lies – no penalty (you should try this from in the water at least once!);
- Play under “stroke and distance” from where you last played (one stroke penalty);
- Drop on a line behind the water hazard, keeping the hazard margin crossing point in line with the flag, as far behind as you like (one stroke penalty); or
- Drop outside the hazard within 2 club lengths of the last margin crossing point, no nearer the hole, or on the opposite side of the hazard – see below – (one stroke penalty).
PLAY AS IT LIES FROM IN THE WATER HAZARD
You can play your ball from within the water hazard whether it is in water or not – no penalty. Remember that if a stake marking the water hazard affects your stroke, YOU CANNOT MOVE IT because of our local rules – stakes are immovable obstructions. There is NO relief available under the rules for a ball in a water hazard affected by an immovable obstruction.
Note that you cannot touch the ground or the water or any loose impediments in the water hazard at any time other than when making your (downward) stroke at the ball (two stroke penalty).
DROPPING BEHIND THE WATER HAZARD
You can also drop your ball “behind” the water hazard, as far back as you like within the course, keeping the drop point, the hole and the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line (one stroke penalty).
DROPPING WITHIN TWO CLUB LENGTHS
Because the water hazards are all lateral water hazards, you can also drop your ball outside the water hazard within two club lengths of the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard no nearer the hole (one stroke penalty).
ON THE PUTTING GREEN
Do not touch the line of your putt except when removing loose impediment, placing putter ready to putt, measuring, lifting or replacing ball, marking the ball location, repairing old hole plugs or ball marks on the green or removing movable obstructions – without pressing anything down more than needed.
If your playing partner wants to indicate the line of putt, THE GREEN MUST NOT BE TOUCHED (two stroke penalty).
You can mark, clean and replace your ball if it is on the putting green – do not lift it while another ball is in motion if your ball may affect the other ball.
You MUST NOT repair damage to the green other than old hole plugs and ball marks if the repair may assist your subsequent play.
You must NOT test the surface of the putting green.
In Stroke play (single stroke, single stableford, 4BBB stroke & stableford) you MUST putt out for your score for the hole to be valid (unless you are playing stableford and you have already scored zero points on the hole, or in 4BBB if your score is not being counted (penalty is disqualification for signing for an invalid score). You can concede a putt ONLY in Matchplay.
OTHER STUFF ABOUT THE PUTTING GREEN
If your ball strikes the flagstick when attended, removed or held up, or strikes the person attending it, it will cost you 2 strokes.
It will also cost you 2 strokes if your ball strikes the flagstick in the hole unattended after you made a putt from on the green.
The flagstick must be attended etc before the stroke, otherwise it cannot be moved if it might influence the motion of the ball.
Note that you can putt one-handed while holding the flagstick out of the hole with the other (but don’t let the ball strike the flagstick!).
Don’t make a stroke if a ball is in motion after a stroke from on the putting green.
If your ball sits on the edge of the hole (overhanging), you are allowed 10 seconds after reaching the hole for the ball to fall. Otherwise you must hole out with a putt, or add a penalty stroke if the ball falls into the hole after the 10 second period.
A Local Rule is in force at this Club which provides no penalty if your ball on the putting green is accidentally moved – replace the ball. If wind or gravity moves the ball, you must play it as it lies.
ETIQUETTE WHEN ON THE GREEN
Normally, the person whose ball is furthest from the hole should putt first. However, if that player is eg raking a bunker or similar, the Club recommends that the remaining players putt out until the other player is ready to putt.
Avoid standing in the line of sight, moving or talking while a fellow competitor is putting.
BAD LIE IN THE ROUGH?
RELIEF OPTIONS EXPLAINED!
You cannot take free relief when your ball finishes in a difficult position in the rough – for example behind a tree root or on a stony area. On the fairway, the Match Committee will often mark bad areas as GUR, but there is no such relief available when in the rough.
You MUST play the ball as it lies, or take one of these defined penalties:
(a) you can play the ball from where it lies, chipping out sideways or backwards if you can’t progress towards the hole.
(b) you can play your next shot from where you played the previous one (ie under penalty of stroke and distance).
(c) you can declare the ball “unplayable” and drop a ball to play your next shot, under penalty of one stroke, 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 restriction on how far back you can go (Rule 28b) – see example picture below.
(d) you can declare the ball “unplayable” and drop a ball to play your next shot, under penalty of one stroke, within two club lengths of the spot where the ball lay, not nearer the hole (Rule 28c) – see example picture below.
THE FOUR OPTIONS AVAILABLE WHEN PLAYING FROM THE ROUGH
(a) you can play the ball from where it lies, chipping out sideways or backwards if you can’t progress towards the hole. Remember that loose stones are loose impediments (Definitions: … natural objects including stones …) and may be removed provided that they are not … solidly embedded or adhering to the ball … and you don’t move or touch the ball (Rule 23).
(b) you can play your next shot from where you played the previous one (ie under penalty of stroke and distance). This is always an option, but you might think about modifying your stroke so you don’t end up in the same place again (Rule 27-1a and Rule 28a).
(c) you can declare the ball “unplayable” and drop a ball to play your next shot, under penalty of one stroke, 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 restriction on how far back you can go (Rule 28b).
(d) you can declare the ball “unplayable” and drop a ball to play your next shot, under penalty of one stroke, within two club lengths of the spot where the ball lay, not nearer the hole (Rule 28c).
Unfortunately, these options do not always appear to be very helpful to the player, but hitting your ball into the rough unfortunately may create all types of difficulties for which you may get little or no relief. The R & A has let us into their thinking about the ball finishing on various parts of the course: “One of the main features of golf is that it tests the player’s ability to execute a wide assortment of strokes under a variety of different conditions. The skill factor in golf would be greatly reduced if players could eliminate difficult conditions, without incurring any penalty, rather than have to overcome them through execution of a particular stroke. It is therefore, a traditional golfing maxim that you should play the ball as it lies and the course as you find it. This is encapsulated in Rule 13-1 which provides, “the ball must be played as it lies, except as otherwise provided in the Rules”.
There are NO AVAILABLE OPTIONS under the rules to find a “nearest point of relief” and drop the ball within a club length, as you could do if the area were to be declared GUR. Poor and rough areas on the fairway would possibly be declared GUR by the Match Committee, but it would be unusual for such a declaration to be made for areas in the rough – the Rough is just that – Rough – and you are encouraged to try to keep your ball on the fairway and not have to play from the rough very often.
Having said that, there is a “two stroke” penalty described in the Rules if a player plays a ball from a “Wrong Place” – see Rule 20-7. The penalty applies if you play on without realising and correcting your mistake, but there is a strong possibility that a “Serious Breach” may have been committed, and is likely to result in disqualification. You should carefully read the rule in full to see how it might apply to your situation.
MY BALL IS LOST – WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
The default action if your ball has been lost is to play another ball from where you last played the lost ball, and add another stroke as a penalty (often called proceeding under penalty of stroke and distance).
However, there are a couple of situations where you can avoid the “distance” part of the penalty – if it is know or virtually certain that:
- the Ball is lost in a water hazard; or
- the Ball is lost in GUR or other “abnormal ground conditions” such as casual water.
The critical factor is that it has to be “KNOWN OR VIRTUALLY CERTAIN” that the ball IS “lost” IN the water hazard, GUR or casual water etc.
Remember – a ball lost in a water hazard costs a penalty stroke, but GUR or casual water etc. allows relief without a stroke penalty.
HOW IS IT “KNOWN OR VIRTUALLY CERTAIN”?
The Rules rely on the player and marker using common sense in determining this. If you don’t actually see the ball enter the water hazard/GUR and not come out, you probably need to consider a number of possibilities. Remember, if it is not “known or virtually certain” then you MUST apply the “Default” option “BALL LOST” and Rule 27 has to be applied.
HOW CAN YOU DECIDE IF IT IS “KNOWN OR VIRTUALLY CERTAIN”?
The Rules rely on the player and marker using common sense in determining this. If you don’t actually see the ball enter the water hazard/GUR etc and not come out, you probably need to consider a number of possibilities. Remember the “Default” option is “BALL LOST” and Rule 27 has to be applied.
You need to consider things like:
Was the ball seen to hit and bounce off rocks/an object etc – and therefore unlikely to be in the water hazard or abnormal condition?
Did the ball seem to be just “trickling” into the area – did it actually make it as far as the area?
Is the area around the water hazard/GUR etc clear of grass and hiding places so that if the ball is outside the the water hazard/GUR, it would be virtually certain that it would be found?
Are there areas on the probable ball path which could be hiding the ball – eg long grass, bushes etc so it can’t be virtually certain that the ball is in the water hazard/GUR etc?
WHEN IS THIS RELIEF ALLOWED, AND HOW?
Rules 25-1 and 26-1 allow relief when the ball is found and lies in or touches the water hazard or abnormal ground conditions, or when the area interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing.
These Rules also allow relief when the ball is not found in the water hazard or abnormal ground conditions, provided that the ball was struck towards one of these conditions and it is known or virtually certain that the ball is lost in the condition.
To take relief, find the “nearest point of relief” as explained in the companion article “Nearest Point of Relief”.
NOTE that “abnormal ground conditions” covers GUR, casual water and animal holes, but does NOT include other areas around the course that you would like to not have to play off.