golf rules                    

          ………well a few of them



First rule

You should always carry a copy of the Rules of Golf when you play. These are free and can be obtained from the Junior Committee or can be downloaded from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s website .  The Royal and Ancient is the golf club in Scotland that make all the rules and there is a good interactive quiz on their website with easy, moderate and hard questions – take a look and test your knowledge of the rules.

Rules may seem a pretty boring thing to have to read but they can help you get out of some tricky places without wasting shots, so they are worth knowing. If you don’t understand some of the golfing words used in this part of the website take a look at our web page on ‘What do the funny words mean?’


Local Rules


Each golf club can make its own rules, which will be in addition to those made by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. The local rules are very important because they are made specially for the golf course that you will be playing. You can find the local rules on the Club’s scorecards, or, on the Club’s notice board.

For instance one of the local rules at Peel Golf Club says that the clubhouse is out of bounds, but what about the roof? Well the rules say that out of bounds include anything directly above any out of bound markers (white posts), which means that a ball on the clubhouse roof is out of bounds; but another local rule says that 'all paths including the patio around the clubhouse are classed as "Integral Parts of the Course" unless they have an artificial surface, in which case relief may be taken under rule 24-2B' (whatever that is!!). Well if you read on you may just find out, although the picture here may give you a clue.

                                             Michael Condra dropping ball

Note the tee pegs stuck in the ground between which the ball is being dropped. To learn more about why they are there, look at Obstructions/cart paths below.


Identify your ball          Rule 12


Before you start your round, you should mark your ball with an indelible pen so that you can identify it easily. The professionals usually put several dots on their golf balls but the design is up to you. Why should you do this? Well many golfers play exactly the same type of ball and if you don’t know which ball is yours it counts as lost – more strokes wasted!


                           Frightened golf ball

If you think a ball is yours but you cannot see your identification mark then with the permission of your opponent, you may mark the position of the ball and then lift it in order to identify it. Then you must replace it in the same place.


If you play the wrong ball you must add a two stroke penalty to your score and must then correct the mistake by playing the right ball (Rule 15-3). In match play this mistake means you lose the hole.


How many clubs have you got?     Rule 4-4 



              golf bag


You are allowed to take up to 14 clubs on the course when playing in a competition. Anymore and penalty strokes will have to be added to your score. Two strokes are added for each hole you have played whilst having too many clubs in your bag. The maximum penalty under this rule is 4 strokes. In match play the penalty is loss of a maximum of two holes – not much chance of winning now!

Tee Shot Rule 11

Teeing in area















The area you play your first shot from on any golf hole is called the ‘teeing ground’. The teeing ground is a rectangular area two club lengths deep, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two coloured tee markers. Before starting your game find out which colour tee markers you should play from. Tees may have as many as three different coloured tee markers. At Peel these are red (ladies’ tees), yellow (men’s tees) and white (men’s competition tees) each colour of marker defines a different teeing ground. On each hole, you must use the same colour of markers that you started with on the first hole. Your ball should be placed in the ‘teeing ground’. You can stand outside the teeing ground when playing your tee shot as long as your ball is within the teeing ground. If the ball is played from outside the ‘teeing ground’ then another ball must be played from within the ‘teeing ground’ and a two stroke penalty added to your score but in match play there is no penalty except that your opponent can ask you to replay the stroke from within the teeing ground.


If a ball falls off a tee, or is knocked off by a player when he is preparing for a stroke, it may be re-teed with out penalty. But if the player’s intent was to strike the ball when the ball fell off the tee e.g. an air shot, then a stroke was made and the stroke counts, but no other penalty is incurred except that the ball is now in play following the air shot and so it cannot be re-teed.

Attending the Flagstick  Rule 17

Before and during a stroke the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or held to indicate the position of the hole. The player is the one who must decide whether or not, the flagstick is to be attended, so it the player’s fault if the ball strikes an unattended flagstick when he is putting. If this happens, the player will incur a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. There is no penalty if the player hits the flagstick from off the putting green.

 Girls tending flag


Water Hazard     Rule 26  


Waterhazard BBC

A ‘normal’ water hazard is any lake, sea, pond, river ditch, or any other open watercourse (whether or not containing water). All ground and water within the hazard is part of the water hazard. There must be reasonable evidence that your ball is in the hazard for this rule to apply. A ball touching the hazard line is in the hazard. You must not ground your club in the hazard. A water hazard, as opposed to a lateral water hazard, is marked by yellow stakes or by yellow lines painted on the ground. 


Water hazard scan



You have 3 options when your ball finishes in a water hazard


1.      Play the ball where it lies without penalty. 

2.      Use the stroke and distance option by playing your next stroke from the spot where the original ball was last played; penalty one stroke.

3.      Drop a ball behind the hazard along a line formed by the hole and the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (A); penalty one stroke.

 The yellow marker stakes are movable obstructions so if they interfere with the ball or your stance you can usually move them without penalty but don’t forget to put them back when you have played your shot.

The entire area of the ditch between the yellow stakes is deemed to be the hazard, not just the water.

So even if your ball lands on the bank, you may still not ground your club or remove twigs etc.

If the ball is lying in the water you may attempt to play it, but may not use any artificial aid to help your stance - although you can take off your shoes and socks!


Lateral Water Hazard            Rule 26

Red stakes are used to mark a lateral water hazard as shown here on Peel's 16th hole.



Instead of running across a hole, a lateral water hazard runs towards it. In photograph red and yellow stakes are shown together in order to show where the water hazard becomes a lateral water hazard as the stream changes direction.


      Lateral hazard


You have 5 options when your ball finishes in a lateral water hazard.


1.      Play the ball where it lies without penalty.

2.      Use the stroke and distance option by playing your next stroke from the spot where the original ball was last played; penalty one stroke.

3.      Drop a ball behind the hazard along a line formed by the hole and the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (A); penalty one stroke.

4.      Drop within 2 club-lengths of point A, no nearer the hole, one stroke penalty (yellow area left side of river).

5.      Drop within 2 club-lengths of point B, no nearer the hole, one stroke penalty (yellow area right side of river).

Points A and B are equidistant from the hole

Ball lost or out of Bounds and Provisional Ball    Rule 27

Provisional - If the ball is lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, another ball must be played from where the last ball was played under penalty of one stroke.

Provisional ball

If after playing a shot you think the ball may be out of bounds or lost, you may play a provisional ball. You must tell the other players that you are going to play a provisional ball before you play one. If the original ball is lost you must continue with the provisional ball adding a penalty of one stroke to your score. If the ball is found you must continue to play with it and the provisional ball must be abandoned.

You are allowed 5 minutes to search for your ball, after which time if it has not been found, it is lost.

Casual water, GUR and abnormal ground conditions Rule 25

If your ball is in; casual water i.e. water lying in a place on the course where normally there isn’t any water; ground under repair (marked by a GUR marker), or, a hole or cast made by a burrowing animal (eg rabbit but not a dog – dogs are not burrowing animals), you may drop without penalty within one club length of the nearest point of relief but not nearer the hole.

Cleaning the Ball        Rule 21

A ball on the putting green can be cleaned when lifted but a marker must be put on the green to show the position of the ball before it is moved. The ball must be replaced in exactly the same place that it came from.

Obstructions/Cart paths     Rule 24


The use of this rule can save a lot of shots because many golfers find themselves facing obstructions during their round. Rule 24 is quite a long rule with different sections on movable obstructions and immovable obstructions. Only a small part of this rule is mentioned below. Go to the R & A rules at for the full rule.

What is an obstruction is the first question we need to answer and under this rule, it is any artificial obstruction including the artificial surfaces of roads and paths. It does not include any object defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences and white stakes and most importantly it does not include anything that the local committee define as an Integral Part of the Course (see the local rules on the scorecard for any obstructions falling into this category). 

 An artificially surfaced path is an immovable obstruction unless the local rules say otherwise and you are entitled to relief, without penalty, if either your stance is on the path, or the path interferes with your intended area of swing, or if your ball has come to rest on the path. So  as the patio around the clubhouse is an artificial surface and also immovable, you can have a free drop under rule 24-2B. It is interesting to note though that on the seventh and eighth hole at Peel there are two paths which allow you to walk through the grassy mound that runs right across the fairways of these two holes. One of the pathways through the mound has a gravel surface, so again relief can be taken under 24-2B if your ball ends up on the gravel because the surface is artificial. The other pathway is just made of earth and grass and so no relief can be taken if your ball lands there because this is not an artifical surface.

Here’s what you do to get relief under this rule. 




1.      Find the nearest point of relief that does not interfere with your stance or the area of your intended swing. For a right-handed golfer this is point B in the illustration on the left. Note: point C is NOT the nearest point of relief because the distance A-C is greater than A-B. The nearest point of relief for a left-handed golfer is point D.

2.      Drop your ball within one club length of point B, no nearer to the hole (yellow area on the cart path on the left of the illustration).

3.      You have the option of playing the ball where it came to rest i.e. point A in the illustration.

Note that you should mark your ball before moving it from the cart path with either a coin, a marker or a tee peg. Then put another marker at the nearest point of relief on the grass and measure one club’s length from that second marker, putting a third marker at the end of the club. Your ball should be dropped between the second and the third marker (see picture of ball dropping under Local Rules above).

By the way the above demonstrates rule 24–2B, which is mentioned in Peel Golf Club’s local rules. So now you know what your alternatives are if your ball finishes up on the Peel clubhouse patio.

Playing the ball as it lies      Rule 13

1.      Play the ball as it lies. Don’t touch it unless a Rule permits.

2.      Play the course as you find it. Don’t improve your lie, or the area of your intended stance or swing, or your line of play, by moving, bending, breaking anything fixed or growing, except in fairly taking your stance or stroke. Don’t press anything down or build a stance.




Taking a drop     Rule 20

There are some instances under the rules of golf, where you can pick up the ball and relocate it – sometimes with a penalty and sometimes free. To drop the ball, you must stand upright, hold the ball at shoulder height and arms length and simply drop it. If you drop it and it accidentally touches you, your partner or equipment and rolls closer to the hole, you must drop the ball again, without penalty.


Loose Impediments    Rule 23

Loose impediments are natural objects (such as stones and leaves) that are not fixed or growing, nor solidly embedded and not sticking to the ball.

You may move loose impediments provided that your ball and the impediment are not in the same hazard.

If you move a loose impediment and this causes your ball to move, then your ball must be replaced and you incur a penalty stroke, except where this happens on the putting green.

Good Luck and why not try the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s rules’ quiz  

Alternatively try the quiz on the BBC's Golf Rules web page.

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