The United States Golf Association (USGA), in conjunction with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A), in St. Andrews, Scotland, writes, interprets and maintains the Rules of Golf to guard the tradition and, integrity of the game. The two organizations are joint authors and owners of the Rules of Golf and decisions on the Rules of Golf. Through an agreement with the R&A, the Rules jurisdiction of the USGA includes only the United States, its possessions and Mexico. The latest version of the Rules went into effect Jan. 1, 2008, with the next revision taking effect Jan. 1, 2012. Here is a brief summary of golf’s most important rules:
The definition, as it is written in the Rules, reads, “The Game of Golf consists in playing a ball from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.” You may not take any action other than striking the ball with the clubhead to influence the position or movement of your ball. For example, if your ball is hanging on the lip of the cup, you cannot jump anywhere close to the hole or blow on the ball in an attempt to make it fall into the hole. Also, if your ball is in a dangerous place (i.e. near a bee’s nest or close to a live animal such as an alligator, a snake or even a skunk), you may take a free drop at the nearest spot that is not dangerous (as long as it is no closer to the hole).
MATCH PLAY & STROKE PLAY
On each hole, the player with the lowest score wins that hole, and the winner of the match is the player who wins the most holes. In match play, if you inadvertently violate a rule, you can only be penalized up until the time either you or your opponent hits the next tee shot. In match play, the term “dormie” refers to the player who is as many holes up as there are left to be played in the match. For example, you are “dormie” if leading by three holes with three holes to play. If a player concedes the hole or his opponent’s putt and the opponent putts it anyway and misses, the miss does not count. If you are playing in a four-ball match (two against two) and your opponents concede your putt, you may not take the putt to show your partner the line. If you do, your partner is disqualified from the hole.
The winner is the player who has taken the fewest strokes after 18 holes. You cannot concede putts, and you are disqualified if you fail to hole out.
PLAYER’S SCORING RESPONSIBILITY
Each player is responsible for making sure his/her scores are recorded correctly by the marker (the opponent appointed to keep his/her card). If you sign a scorecard with a score for any hole lower than what you actually made, you are disqualified. If you sign a scorecard with a score for any hole higher than what you actually made, you must accept that score.
Hitting practice putts on one of the course’s greens before a round results in disqualification. You cannot take a full swing in order to send a range ball back to the range or into the woods otherwise it’s a two-stroke penalty in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. Casually chipping a range ball back to the range to clear up the fairway is not a violation.
Asking for advice
Asking for advice (such as club selection on a hole) from anyone other than your caddie or your partner in a team competition results in a two-stroke penalty (stroke play) or loss of hole (match play). It should be noted that asking about the positions of hazards or flagsticks is not considered asking for advice.
In match play, if you give out the wrong number of strokes taken during a hole to your opponent and then fail to correct it before your opponent plays his/her next stroke, you automatically lose the hole.
Order of Play
There is no penalty for playing out of turn. In match play, however, if a player plays out of turn, the opponent may ask the player to cancel his/her stroke and play in the correct order. On the first tee, players proceed in order determined by random draw. If there is no draw, the order should be determined by any other random method (i.e. by lot, flipping a coin or tossing a tee). Once in play, the player whose ball is farthest from the hole hits first. After the first hole, the honor on each tee is determined by the results of the previous hole – lowest score on the hole goes first in stroke play, and the winner of the holes goes first in match play. When a provisional ball is necessary, you must not hit it until all of your fellow competitors have played their first stroke.
The teeing ground is defined as a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and sides of which are determined by the outside limits of the two tee markers. Striking the ball from outside the teeing ground results in a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, and the player must then play a ball from within the teeing ground. In match play, the opponent may require the offending player to cancel the stroke and play from within the teeing ground. If your ball falls off the tee or you knock it off accidentally at address, it may be re-teed without penalty.
GOLF BALL GUIDELINES
“Long grass, bushes, whins, heather, or the like” may be moved in order to find your ball, as long as you do not improve your lie. You cannot move grass, etc. for the purpose of obtaining a better view of the ball at address. You are allowed to lift a ball for identification purposes. You must first notify your opponent or fellow competitors and then mark the ball before lifting. The players in your group must observe the lifting and replacement. If you do not follow this procedure exactly, the penalty is one stroke. You may not lift your ball in a hazard.
Play It as It Lies
A player must play the ball where it comes to rest and accept the surrounding conditions. You cannot improve your lie or the area of your intended swing or stance. You cannot move anything that is growing or fixed, and you cannot remove or press down divots, sand or loose soil not on the putting green. You cannot touch your hand or your club to the ground in a hazard, to the sand in a bunker or to the water in a water hazard before playing your stroke.
Striking the Ball
A stroke is defined as “the forward movement of the club made with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball.” Therefore, a whiff counts as a stroke. If you check your downswing before the clubhead reaches the ball, it does not count as a stroke. If you “double-hit” the ball, you count the stroke and add a penalty stroke. The Rules state that a stroke must be made with the head of the club. A violation of this Rule results in loss of hole (match play) or a two-stroke penalty (stroke play).
You must hole out with the ball played from the teeing ground unless a Rule permits you to substitute another ball. Using a different ball to putt, for example, results in loss of hole (match play) or a two-stroke penalty (stroke play). If you play with the wrong ball, you must go back and hole out with the correct ball. Strokes played with the wrong ball don’t count, but you are penalized two strokes before resuming play with the correct ball.
Ball at Rest Moved
If a ball at rest is moved by the wind on the putting green, it must be played as it lies. If you move your ball while trying to remove a loose impediment such as a leaf, the penalty is one stroke. When a ball at rest is moved by another ball, the ball at rest is replaced. If the ball is not placed at its original position, the penalty is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play.
Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped
When a moving ball is deflected or stopped, you simply play it as it lies. If a ball is deflected by anyone or anything on the player’s side (i.e. the player, his/her partner, his/her caddie or equipment), the player loses the hole (match play) or suffers a two-stroke penalty (stroke play). If the ball is accidentally deflected or stopped by your opponent’s side, you have the option of playing the ball as it lies or canceling the stroke and playing a ball from the spot where the original stroke was taken. In stroke play, it’s a two-stroke penalty if your ball strikes a ball at rest if both balls were on the putting green. There is no penalty for this in match play.
Lifting, Dropping and Placing
The ball must be marked if it is to be lifted and replaced. You are not penalized for accidentally causing the ball to move in the act of marking. If the ball moves because a player drops a marker or coin on it, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball. To take a drop properly, you must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and then release it. If the ball touches you, your partner, your caddie or your equipment either before or after it touches the course, you must re-drop with no penalty. You must also re-drop a ball if it rolls and comes to rest more than two club-lengths from where it first struck the course or if it ends up nearer the hole then its original position. If this happens on the re-drop, the ball is placed as near as possible to the spot where it first struck the course on the re-drop. If you drop the ball in the wrong place and play it, the result is loss of hole in match play. In stroke play, it’s a two-stroke penalty if the player has not gained a significant advantage. If, for example, you drop in front of a water hazard instead of behind it, you are penalized two strokes and you must then go back and play from the right place.
Cleaning the Ball
You may not clean the ball when lifting for identification, to determine if it is unfit for play or because it is interfering with play. The penalty for this infraction is one stroke. If the ball is on the putting green or if you are taking relief from an unplayable lie, an immovable obstruction or an embedded lie, you are permitted to clean it.
Ball Interfering with Play
You are entitled to have any other player’s ball marked and lifted if you think it might interfere with your next stroke (you also may require your fellow competitor to move his/her marker). Even if a ball is not in your line, you may ask to have it moved due to “mental interference.” If a ball that needs to be lifted is not on the putting green, it cannot be cleaned. Contrary to popular belief, you are not required to hold the ball a certain way when lifting someplace other than the green. But you must be careful when lifting in this instance because accidental cleaning incurs the same one-stroke penalty as intentional cleaning.
Lost Ball or Out of Bounds
If a ball is lost or out of bounds, you must add one penalty stroke and then play your next ball from the spot where the previous stroke was made. If you are not sure if your ball is lost or out of bounds, it is recommended that you play a provisional ball to avoid the walk or ride back after an unsuccessful search. When a ball is lost, you have a maximum of five minutes to search for, find and identify it.
You can declare your ball unplayable at any place on the course except when it is in a water hazard. You must take a one-stroke penalty and drop within two club-lengths of where the ball lies.
THE PUTTING GREEN
Any ball on the putting green may be lifted and cleaned, as long as your mark it first. You may move sand or loose soil in your line by picking it up or brushing it aside, as long as you don’t press anything down. You may repair old hole plugs or ball marks in your line of putt, but not spike marks. You may not test the green by rolling the ball. You are permitted to wait 10 seconds for a ball overhanging the lip to fall into the hole. There is a one-stroke penalty if the ball drops after 10 seconds.
If the flagstick is attended, the player making the stroke is penalized by loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play if the ball strikes the flagstick or the person attending it. If the ball is resting against the flagstick but is not yet holed, you may remove the flagstick. If the ball falls into the hole, you have holed out. If it does not, there is no penalty, and you simply place the ball on the lip of the hole and hole out.
They are defined as “stones, leaves, twigs, branches, and the like, dung, worms, insects and cast or heaps made by them.” They “cannot be fixed or growing, solidly embedded or adhering to the ball.” You may remove such objects anywhere on the course. Sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green only. They cannot be removed anywhere else, not even the fringe. Loose impediments may not be removed in bunkers or hazards. If the ball moves as you are removing a loose impediment, it’s a one-stroke penalty.
These are defined as anything artificial or man-made. There is no penalty if your ball moves when you’re in the act of removing a moveable obstruction. If your ball lies in or on the obstruction, lift the ball, remove the obstruction and drop the ball as near as possible to its original spot. In the case of an immovable obstruction such as a cart path or a sprinkler head, you are entitled to relief only if your ball lies on the obstruction, your stance is on the obstruction or the obstruction interferes with your intended swing. You do not get relief if the obstruction is merely in your line. To take relief from an immovable obstruction, you may drop within one club-length where interference ceases to exist as long as that spot is no closer to the hole. Objects defining out of bounds are not considered obstructions.
If your ball comes to rest in ground under repair, casual water, a hole cast or a hole made by a burrowing animal, you are entitled to relief without penalty. You may drop one club-length from the condition, not nearer the hole. In a bunker, if relief is not available no closer to the hole, you may drop at the point of maximum available relief in the bunker. You must take a one-stroke penalty to drop outside the bunker. You are entitled to relief without penalty for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in a closely mown area through the green. Many tournaments use a Local Rule to expand the relief area to anywhere through the green. You are not permitted to play your ball if it lies on the putting green of another hole. Drop at the nearest point off the green not closer to the hole.
A water hazard is marked by yellow stakes, while a lateral water hazard is marked by red stakes. If your ball comes to rest in a hazard, you may play it as it lies or you may take relief with a one-stroke penalty. For water hazards, you may take relief by going back to the spot where the ball was originally played or by dropping a ball anywhere behind the hazard in line with where the original ball crossed the margin of the hazard. For lateral water hazards, you may drop within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard.