As a beginner golfer, are the endless amount of rules beginning to confuse you?
While golf is an amazing sport, one thing that makes it difficult for beginners is understanding the obnoxious amount of rules that come with it. In fact, even golfers who have been playing for decades still don’t know all the rules. And if they do, they certainly don’t always adhere to them.
So if you’re just getting started in this wonderful game, don’t beat yourself up. The goal is to know the most important rules and as you become more advanced, keep learning along the way.
In this post, I’ll share with you why understanding the rules of golf is so important and the main rules of golf for beginners.
If you’re a beginner golfer, it’s sort of accepted that you won’t know all the rules at first. And that’s more than okay, everyone has to start somewhere.
But if you want to start playing nicer courses, enter into tournaments and start playing more competitively, it’s best to know the rules.
Here’s why understanding the rules of golf matter:
- Creates a better experience for everyone in the group. It’s really frustrating when you’re playing or competing against people who don’t adhere to the rules. It can lead to some hostility between players and sometimes create a much less enjoyable experience when there’s a questionable use of the rules.
- Helps speed up play. One of the reasons that a lot of people are going to TopGolf instead of the golf course is the amount of time it takes to play 18 holes. If you’re struggling to learn the rules as you go, it can make your round even longer. Learn the rules to speed up pace of play and not hold up the group behind you.
- Integrity. One thing that separates golf from every other sport is the high amount of integrity involved. Unless you’re on the PGA Tour with cameras and fans watching your every move, it’s easy to try and improve your lie or stretch the rules. If you’re caught by fellow players, it’s obviously awkward (and comes with a penalty) not to mention, the Golf Gods aren’t a fan either. Keep the game pure by sticking with the rules.
Hopefully, this quick overview will make you realize the importance of understanding the rules of golf for beginners. Now, here are the most common rules that you need to know if you want to start taking your game to the next level.
This one is so simple yet so many amateurs mess it up. The USGA limit is 14 clubs per bag as you start the beginning of your round. If you have more than 14 clubs in your bag, you can be penalized or even disqualified if you’re in a tournament.
According to rule 4-4, you will be penalized for every hole you play with more than 14 clubs. This shouldn’t be an issue for most players as your equipment doesn’t change week in and week out like the pros.
Make sure you’re double check before you leave the driving range or before you hit your first tee shot. If you’d like, you can have less than 14 clubs but it’s not something that we recommend. Golf is hard enough with 14 clubs, don’t make it harder by not using all the weapons available.
This is one of those little rules that can make golf seem tedious but it’s important to know. Make sure that you always tee your ball behind the tee markers. If you’re in front of them at all, you will receive a one-shot penalty.
But don’t feel like you’re confined to the area directly in between the tee markers. The rules of golf allow you go to two full club lengths back with your longest club (i.e. driver). This should give you roughly 90 inches behind the tee markers.
When you’re teeing up, make sure you find an even lie for your feet. Also, try to find an area that isn’t littered with divots or dead grass.
Lastly, you can stand outside the tee box as long as your ball is teed up between the markers. This isn’t for beginner golfers as much as it is for advanced players but it’s always good to know.
Like they said in Happy Gilmore, “You have to play it where it lies” … for the most part. You’re allotted a drop if it’s on the cart path, near a man-made object or it’s a marked area like “ground under repair.” For the majority of the time, you will always play the ball as it lies.
If you can’t identify the ball, you are allowed to rotate the ball to confirm it’s yours. Once identified, you must rotate it back in the same position as you found it.
Keep reading to learn what to do if your ball ends up out of bounds, in the water, on the cart path or if you lose a golf ball during the round.
First off, out of bounds is identified by white stakes. Out of bounds, commonly referred to as “OB” is when your ball ends up outside the course of play.
For the most part, this usually on the outskirts of the course like a road, ditch or fence. Rarely, is out of bounds within the confines of the course but it can happen if there is a driving range or unique situation.
Hitting out of bounds is a two-shot penalty and you have to replay the previous shot. Yes, when you hit a ball out of bounds, you must go back to where the previous shot was played.
For example, if it was tee shot hit OB, you can re-tee and instead of hitting two, you will hit your third shot. If the ball wasn’t teed up, you must try to recreate the previous shot you hit with an additional penalty stroke.
If you’ve hit a shot that you think might be OB, don’t wait until you get up there to figure out. Instead, always hit a provisional golf ball.
A provisional is a backup in case your original ball goes out of play. This will help you not have to walk or ride back if the ball is indeed lost. If you aren’t sure if an area is out of bounds, make sure to double check the scoreboard as it usually indicates.
To hit a provisional, make sure you clearly announce to fellow players that you are hitting a provisional and identify the new golf ball. If things go bad on that shot, you can hit another provisional as well.
The biggest thing is to make sure to identify your shot as a provisional. Otherwise, it will count as your shot even if you find the original golf ball.
Hitting in the water is never fun but it happens even to the best golfers. Whether it’s Jordan Speith making a 7 on hole 12 at August or Sergio making a 13 on hole 15 at Augusta. It happens!
That being said, it’s important to know how to take your drop when your ball ends up in the water. You have several different options:
If your ball isn’t fully submerged, you always have the choice to play it from the water. There is no penalty but it usually is a risky shot that isn’t easy to pull off. Not to mention you might ruin a club or golf outfit.
But if you want to play it from the water, have at it.
If your ball ends up wet, make sure you identify the hazard stake color as there is red and yellow. Red stakes mean that it is a lateral hazard.
A lateral water hazard is always marked with red stakes or red lines and usually runs parallel to the hole. With this water hazard, you can take a drop from the point where the ball last crossed the hazard. There is a one-shot penalty and you can’t drop closer to the hole, unless your ball carries over the water and rolls back in.
In that instance, you can take a drop from across the hazard.
The other type of water hazard is marked with a yellow line or yellow stakes. If your ball ends up in a yellow water hazard, you can drop any distance back from the original line it entered the water. This means you can drop it back a few clubs or go 20, 30 or further yards back to find a distance you like.
Like the red stakes (lateral hazards), there is a one-shot penalty. Depending on the course, there might be a designated drop box where you have to hit your shot as well. Make sure to double check before taking your drop.
Lastly, you can always treat it like an out of bounds ball and replay it from the original shot if you want.
As much as you don’t want it to happen, sometimes you end up losing those expensive golf balls. If this happens, you have to play the ball like one that is hit out of bounds.
There is a one-shot penalty and you have to go back and play the previous shot over again. If you think the ball is lost from the tee, make sure you hit a provisional to save time and frustration of having to go back.
As a beginner, I’m sure you’re starting to find out that your golf ball can end up in some weird situations. If your ball ends up in an area that is unplayable but you can find it, you are allowed to take a drop known as an “unplayable lie.” This is a one-shot penalty and you have several drop situations.
For example, if your ball ends up in a bunch of shrubs or cacti, you can pick it up and take a drop. Unlike hitting out of bounds, you don’t have to go back to the previous shot unless you want too.
When you take an unplayable lie, here are the different drop options.
- Two club lengths: The first option with unplayable lies is to take a drop within two clubs that is no closer to the hole. You can go in any direction as long as you don’t end up closer to the hole.
- Line of sight: The second option is to go find the line between where your ball ended up and where the flag is on the hole. You can then go back as far as you would like and take a drop. This could be 20 feet or 80 yards, as long as it’s no closer to the hole.
- Replay previous shot: If the first two options don’t work out, you can always go back and replay the previous shot. This is usually a last resort option as you’re sacrificing a shot and distance.
When your ball ends up on a cart path or the cart path is interfering with your swing, you get free relief. Yes, you read that right, no penalty! Make sure you tell your playing partners and then do the following.
Once you find your ball on the path, start by finding the nearest point of relief. Once you do, put a tee in the ground for that spot. Then, take a club that you intend to use (or go with driver for the longest club) and you get to drop within one club length of the spot. Make sure you don’t drop closer to the hole!
Don’t forget that you have to drop at the nearest point of relief, even if that it in a bad lie or in a shrub. That being said, you can always opt to hit off the path if you think it’s a better lie.
Whiffing the golf ball as a beginner is part of golf. If you do whiff and completely miss a ball that you intended to hit, you do receive a one-stroke penalty.
But if your ball falls off the tee or you accidentally hit during a practice swing, there is no penalty.
Ever miss a putt and want to hit it again once you’ve finished the hole? Unfortunately, you can’t practice shots between holes unless you’re in a match play event. Otherwise, there is a one-shot penalty.
Surprisingly, this even includes using your wedge to hit range balls back into the range.
As a beginner, it’s easy to want to ask other players what club they’re hitting or maybe some advice on a tough shot. If you’re playing with friends in a casual round, no worries. But if you’re trying to really take it seriously, keep score or play competitively, asking for advice is actually a one-shot penalty.
Even if you ask a player which club they used, this is a one-shot penalty. You can’t ask for advice on club selection or anything else other than a partner or caddie. If you do have rules questions, want to know the distance or where a hazard might be, you can ask.
This is a tough one for amateur players but you can’t ground your club in the sand. You need to hover your club above the sand, both fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers. If you do touch the sand before you hit the golf ball, there is a one-shot penalty.
If your golf ball is on the green, you are allowed to mark it with a circular object. Make sure you mark your ball directly behind it with a coin or marker. If asked to move your mark for another player, you are allowed to do so. Just make sure that you replace it before you putt out.
Also, now with the 2019 rules, you can repair spike marks and you can always repair divots on the green. Don’t forget, you can’t mark a ball that isn’t on the green (including the fringe). The only exception to this rule is if you’re playing “Lift, Clean, and Place” which is common during wet, winter golf.
Do you ever hit a cart path or hit a tree mid-round and want to replace your ball before the next shot? Unfortunately, you can’t.
Make sure that you start the hole and finish the hole with the same golf ball, even if there is a big knick or scrape on it.
If you’re entering the competitive arena of golf, you will exchange scorecards with one of your playing partners at the beginning of the round. During the round, you will keep their score at the top of the scorecard and yours at the bottom. This is very important!
Even though someone else is keeping your score, it’s vital to keep yours as well. Because golfers are human and make mistakes! You want to double check what the other person scored for you after the round.
After the round is over, make sure to thoroughly check the scorecard, hole by hole. I can’t stress this enough, don’t glance and confirm it until you’re 100% sure. Once you both agree on the card, two signatures are needed to make it official.
Don’t’ forget to sign the scorecard. Not signing it will make it invalid and get you disqualified!
If you screw up and give yourself a lower score than you made, your scorecard is not valid and you are disqualified. If your score is higher than you meant, your scorecard is valid but you must accept the higher score.
2019 brought some big rule changes to the game of golf. Here are some of the biggest ones to be aware of and start using to your advantage.
Flagstick Can Stay In
Perhaps the biggest rule change in 2019 was the ability to leave the flagstick in the hole while you’re putting. Previously, if you made a putt with the flag in, you would receive a penalty shot. But now, the flag can always stay in!
Personally, I like this rule and think it will help you in the long run. Most PGA players leave it in so why not you? Leaving the flagstick in will help more balls drop so use it to your advantage. Maybe that’s what you’ve been needing to be a better putter?
3 Minutes to Look for Ball
If you hit a ball in a tough spot, you now only have three minutes instead of five to search for it. Also, it’s common courtesy to help other players look for a ball so make sure to do so as they’re more likely to help you as well.
Ground Club in Hazards
Prior to January of 2019, you were never able to ground your clubs in hazards. Like the bunker, you had to hover the club without touching the ground. But this is a big rule change for the new year.
If you find yourself in a lateral hazard (now known as a penalty area) you can ground your club!
Another huge change to the rules of golf is how to drop your golf ball. Whether you hit one in the water, take an unplayable or need relief, you previously had to drop the ball from shoulder height.
Now you must take a drop from your knees. In fact, if you drop from your shoulders, you’re actually given a penalty shot! This is pretty crazy but it makes dropping easier as you should get a better lie dropping from a smaller distance.
Hopefully, this guide will help you avoid any rule debacle and not waste any shots for rule infractions. Remember, if you ever have a question about the rules, ask your fellow playing partners.
And if no one seems to know, you always have the option to invoke Rule 3-3. This rule allows you to play two golf balls into the hole. Once your round is complete, you can ask a rules official or club pro which score to use.
If you still want some more help, make sure to buy the rules of golf pocket guide for your bag. This is an easy reference that can help you during a rules situation. Next on your list, read about the different types of golf formats that you can play.