Golf 101: All The Rules You Need To Know

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When you are new to the game of golf, you need to understand the rules. Golf follows the USGA board of rules, though some courses have distinct differences because of course variations. Before you start your game, check with the course to see what different rules are in play.

The History Of Golf

Golf developed in Scotland somewhere in the middle ages and gradually spread throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. The Royal Golf Club of St. Andrews is the oldest known golf organization in the world and has led the development of golf across eighteen holes. Though restricted at times by the crown and church as a distraction from military practice and religion, the sport continued to spread and find acceptance in courts around the United Kingdom and eventually France.

Golf found its way into the American colonies in the seventeenth century in New York. Many players received citations for breaking too many windows around Albany when playing in the streets. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that golf grew firm roots into American culture, and several clubs opened. The United States Golf Association (USGA) arose at this time.

Golf Terminology – Terms To Know

Putting Green

A putting green is the area where the hole is.

Out Of Bounds

Out of bounds is any area outside of the golf hole or from areas where play is not allowable. Your course should have markers letting you know the boundaries.

Loose Impediments

Loose impediments are anything on the course that is not attached to the ground that can cause your ball to move. These can include sticks, leaves, and brush.


Obstructions are anything that stop you from playing your ball or causing it to halt in its play.

Casual Water

Casual water is a term for water developing on the golf course. Casual water is from rainstorms that collect in certain parts of the grounds. It is not a hazard.

Ground Under Repair

Ground under repair is abnormal ground conditions. They generally are not playable because of construction on the course. Natural flooding, land movement, or general course maintenance are examples of this.

Man about to tee off

Golf Rules 101

Count Your Clubs

The USGA rules limit the number of clubs you can have in your bag at a time. The USGA restricts the number of clubs to fourteen regardless of how or when they make their way into your bag. Regardless of whether you may be borrowing, adding or replacing clubs due to damage, this rule still applies.

Giving Advice

Preparing to make a stroke is a process of analyzing the distance, wind, sun, and obstacles. Golf is a combination of mathematics and controlled action. The USGA does not prevent giving advice, but it is not something you should do either. The challenges of determining the right amount of velocity, angles, and other associated matters are yours alone.

The USGA prohibits advising other players while in a competition on the same course, though talking with your caddie is acceptable. You can point out a line for playing their ball on the green or point out a ball that is out of bounds, but once you have done this, you must step back and let the player solve how to play their ball.

Order of Play

Rule 6.4 in the USGA rule book covers the order of play. The order of play determines who has the “honor” of playing first. The player whose ball is farthest away from the hole is most often the one to play first. You can also play “ready golf,” which allows and encourages players to take a turn if ready before other golfers.

Teeing Off (Ball Falls Off Of Tee)

Teeing off can only occur in the designated area where the ball rests in relation to the direction of play. You may stand outside this area if your ball is on the edge of it, but the ball itself must be in the designated zone. You may play the ball from the ground, or a tee placed on the ground.

The term “ground’ applies to all areas within the teeing area. The teeing area may include sand or natural traps for your ball. If it falls off the tee before you can take a stroke, you may move your ball and tee within the teeing area without taking a penalty. If the ball falls off your tee while you are taking a stroke, the ball is in play, and the stroke counts.

On The Putting Green

When your ball is on the putting green, you may not touch it except to lift it for cleaning. You must return the ball to the exact spot you moved it from. You need to mark the spot before you move the ball to ensure it returns to that exact location.

If the ball or marker moves while on the putting green, there will be no penalty. You must try to return the ball to the exact spot from where it moved from. If the elements move your ball, you must play from where it rolls to, unless you already moved your ball, then you must return it to where you moved it to.

Golf Hazards – What To Avoid

Water Vs. Lateral Hazards

As you are playing a course, you will see different signs and markings for types of hazards you can play through. You can attempt these hazards and try to get your ball through them or take a penalty for avoiding them. As a beginner, it is often better you avoid them unless you are confident you will make your shot and get the ball out of the hazard.


As a new player, playing from water is a challenge even the most experienced try to avoid. Unless your golf ball is at the exact edge, you will probably be unable to retrieve your ball from the water. You need to decide before you hit your ball whether you can play the hazard successfully.

Lateral Hazards

A lateral hazard is something you cannot touch, but it affects your’ shot. You should not move tree limbs or rocks that are in the path of your swing or the ball. There are some obstructions you can move because they do not belong on the golf green like a gardener forgetting their rack. The loose impediments and movable obstructions rules cover when, what, and how you can move things that are not supposed to be there.

Raking The Bunker

A bunker is the inside of a sand trap. If your ball is in the sand trap in the middle, or on an island in the middle, there are specific rules for raking it. You are not allowed to touch the sand in the bunker and will receive a penalty if you do.

You cannot touch the area in the bunker in front of or behind your ball as you prepare to take a swing. It is against the rules to test the conditions with your hand or your club.

You can dig your feet into the sand to ensure you have your balance to take a smooth swing. It is polite to rake the sand back to its undisturbed state for the next players. There is a debate on what to do with the rake when you are through with it, as any place you put it can be in the way of other golfers coming behind you. There are no specific rules for the rake, and if there is confusion, you should ask the golf course what policy it holds for rake placement.

Man hitting ball in fairway bunker

Beach Rules

If your ball rolls when you pick up a movable object, there is no penalty, but you must move your ball back to its original location. If you push aside an impediment such as a rock or a stick and your ball moves, you will receive a one-stroke penalty which requires you to return your ball to its original location. If the impediment causes your ball to move, such as a branch blowing in the wind, then you will not receive a penalty.

Lost Ball (Lost Ball Time)

If your ball gets lost, you and your caddie have a maximum of three minutes to find the ball. Before you go looking for a ball, you need to establish the start and end time of the search. The rules allow for a reasonable time to search for the ball, and if you do not find it, it becomes a lost ball.

If you lose your ball, you must take a penalty stroke by playing a ball from the original location of your last ball or the drop zone.

Out Of Bounds.

Like a lost ball, rules for balls that go out of bounds are in place to help your ball advance. If your ball comes to rest outside of the legal playing area, you can retry the shot from the original location. Because you are putting another ball into play, you will take a penalty shot.

Course Obstacles

As you play your way to the hole, there are many obstacles to get your ball over, across, and around. Each type of obstacle has rules for preceding.


Obstructions can include anything that interferes with the play of your ball. Interferences are anything abnormal on the course that may touch your ball or prevent you from taking a proper stance or swing. You can seek relief by dropping the ball in an area near the original ball as long as it is within the length of your club from the original location.

If you are unable to play the ball where it lands because it is in a bush or temporary water, you will have no relief. 

Unplayable Lie

You may take an unplayable lie anywhere on the course except in the penalty area. The stroke-and-distance rule defines unplayable as any instance that your ball gets lost, while the back-on-the-relief line rule defines unplayable as any instance that you cannot get your ball within a club’s distance onto the playable ground.

You can take lateral relief if there is a usable spot near the original ball placement that is at least within two club-lengths. The relief cannot be within two club-lengths closer to the hole.

Ball Moved While At Rest

Balls move all the time without a club hitting them or any player interaction. If your ball moves because of the elements around it, then there is no penalty. The same thing applies if you bump your ball while searching for it in the bushes, though you must return it to its original location.

Ball In Motion Deflected Or Stopped

Sometimes your ball will fly into objects or people after your stroke. There is no penalty for deflecting your ball because of outside influence. You must play the shot from where your ball falls. The only time this is different is when the ball is on the putting green in stroke play.

You cannot play the ball if it comes to rest on a person, animal, or outside moving influence. You will need to take a relief and drop the ball near the spot of original placement or near the area where your ball came to a stop near the outside influence.

Loose Impediments

Loose impediments are objects in the environment of the course. Impediments can be leaves and sticks not fixed to the ground. You may move the items if they are loose on the ground, but if they are immovable, it becomes part of the playing field and must remain. The only time a penalty does not apply is when your ball is on the course, and the impediment made your ball move.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to playing golf as a beginner, it may seem like there are a lot of rules. However these rules allow you to recognize the challenges of the sport that you are to face and how to navigate them. It will take time to get these rules completely understood, but more experienced players will help you grasp the details as you progress.

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