The Basic Golf Rules of the Game


Golf Rules Book

Understanding every golf rule can be overwhelming which is why I put together this basic golf rules guide for you to enjoy. Below you will find an outline of the rules that I hope you will find helpful to read or if you would like you can try reading through the 86 pages of small font of the new rule book instead.

Yes, I know you didn't want to do that, so let's get started by covering the scoring terminology first.



Below are basic golf rules that govern both match and stroke play:

14 club rule

  • No more than 14 clubs can be used during a round
  • If you find your ball cracked, cut, or out of shape then you may replace the ball with another ball without penalty
  • On the day of a tournament round, a player must not practice on the course before a round in Stroke Play, or it will result in disqualification. As for Match Play you are able to practice on the course before the round without penalty
  • A draw will determine who will tee off in what order on the first tee, then the honor goes to the team or player who had the fewest strokes on the previous hole to determine the order on the next hole
  • On the Teeing ground a player must tee the ball behind the markers and within 2 club lengths behind the marker (Match Play- No penalty, but the competitor may ask for the stroke to be canceled and will have to replay the stroke within the teeing ground. If the ball falls off the tee while the player addresses it or knocked off, it can be re-teed without penalty. (Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • When playing a round the ball must be played as it lies unless the golf committee notifies otherwise (Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • The player may test the ground by taking practice swings but must not test the ground in a hazard "water hazard" or a bunker "sand trap" (Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • If a player contacts the ball during a stroke more than once, he must count the stroke and add an additional penalty stroke (Failure to do so = Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • If a player makes a stroke at the wrong ball, that is considered a penalty (Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty).
  • On the Putting Green a player must not touch his putting line unless he is: repairing a ball mark, addressing the ball, moving loose impediments, removing movable obstructions, lifting and cleaning the ball, or tapping down a ball marker (Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • A player may lift and clean his ball on the putting green only after he has first marked his ball with a ball marker such as a coin
  • If a player makes a putt from anywhere on the green and the ball goes in the hole with the flagstick in (Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency such as a referee, forecaddie, spectator, or a marker, the ball may be replaced without penalty. If the ball at rest is moved by the player, his partner, caddie, or equipment, he will receive a 1 stroke penalty and must replace it to its original spot. If the ball is not replaced(Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty)
  • If a player's ball in motion contacts himself, partner, his caddie, or his equipment he will receive a penalty of one stroke and must play the ball where it lies


Basic Golf Rules - Taking Relief

Tiger taking a drop

  • When dropping a ball, you must hold the ball at shoulder height with arm straight out to release the ball. If dropped any other way you will get a penalty of one stroke
  • If a loose impediment is interfering with a line or ball, it can be removed except when the ball and the loose impediment are in the hazard. If a player removes a loose impediment while in the hazard penalty will result(Match Play- loss of hole, Stroke Play- 2 stroke penalty).
  • If a player's ball lies in or near a movable obstruction or the movable obstruction interferes with the player's swing then the player may take relief by removing the movable obstruction without penalty.
  • If a player's ball lies in or near an immovable obstruction or the immovable obstruction interferes with the player's swing then the player must without penalty drop a ball within 1 club length of the original spot
  • If a player's ball is deemed to be in a movable obstruction and cannot be found then the player may substitute another ball without penalty after moving the movable obstruction at the nearest point of where the ball crossed into the movable obstruction
  • If a player's ball is deemed to be in a immovable obstruction and cannot be found then the player may substitute another ball without penalty at the nearest point of relief within 1 club length of the original spot the ball crossed into the immovable obstruction
  • If a player's ball is embedded in its own mark in a mowed area through the green then the player may place the ball as near as possible to the original spot without penalty.
  • If a player has hit his ball into a water hazard then, under a one stroke penalty the player may drop a ball from where the original ball was last played. They can also drop a ball behind the hazard on the line it crossed into the hazard without limitation on the distance between the hole and spot the ball crossed into hazard. They may also play the ball from the water hazard if that is a possibility.
  • If a player has hit his ball into a lateral water hazard, then the player may drop a ball within 2 club lengths of the hazard making sure that he doesn't go closer to the hole, or play from the opposite side of the lateral water hazard keeping the same distance from the hole
  • If a player loses a ball or hits a ball out of bounds then the player must play another ball under the penalty of one stroke from where the last ball was played.
  • If a player believes he may have lost his original ball then he can declare to his opponents that he is hitting a provisional ball just in case he does not find the original ball. The provisional ball will become the ball in play under the penalty of one stroke if the player does not find his original ball. If the player finds his original ball then the provisional ball can be picked up without penalty.
  • If at any time a player declares that his ball is unplayable then he can under a penalty of one stroke drop the ball to the nearest point of relief


See, that wasn't so bad after all. By reading through these basic golf rules you will have a general knowledge of the rules of the game and should be able to apply these basic golf rules to your game.

If you have found yourself confused with some of the terms used in explaining the basic golf rules then I highly recommend visiting the USGA's website and reading its Definitions.

If you would like to learn about golf etiquette and what you should expect when playing for the first time at a golf course then please visit Etiquette of Golf. I hope by learning these basic golf rules you will shave strokes off of your game. If you have any further questions of these basic golf rules just ask me a question over in my Golf Questions section.


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