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Golf Rules at a Glance

Quick Introduction to the Rules of Golf

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Serious people run the Official Rules of Golf - our Rules at a Glance is a quicker introduction

Very serious people are in charge of the Official Rules of Golf. But on this page, we try to simplify the rules, to stress the keypoints for a quicker introduction to the important concepts.

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
These Golf Rules at a Glance are designed to give beginners to the game a quicker look at key elements of the rules. The official Rules of Golf take up around 100 pages of a booklet published by the USGA and R&A. So these Golf Rules at a Glance are a sort of introduction to, or a gateway to, the full Rules of Golf.

Here we summarize, in plain English designed to be easy to understand, to be simpler, the rules of our game. Because we're making the rules easier here, this summary should never be used to settle disputes or disagreements; always consult the full rules for that. And for further explanation of the rules, we also offer these features:

Golf Rules FAQ
Ask questions in the Rules Forum

The Golf Rules at a Glance are maintained on About.com by John Hutchinson, who runs the RulesHistory.com Web site.

Now, on to your quick guide to the rules:

Rule 1: The Game

  • The holes on the course must be played in order (1 through 9, or 1 through 18) unless the committee says otherwise.

  • You must always play by the Rules. You are not allowed to change or ignore them.
Rule 2: Match Play
  • In match play, each hole is a separate contest. If you win the first hole, you are "one-up"; if you lose it, you are "one-down"; if you halve it, you are "all-square."

  • You have won the match when you are more holes up than there are left to play. For example, if you are three-up and there are only two holes left to play, you have won “three and two”.

  • Anyone you are playing against is your "opponent."
Rule 3: Stroke Play
  • In stroke play, the competitor with the lowest total score for the round (or rounds) is the winner.

  • You must play your ball into the hole before starting the next hole.

  • Anyone you are playing with is a “fellow-competitor”.

  • It is not possible to play match play and stroke play at the same time.
Rule 4/Rule 5: Clubs and the Ball
  • You may carry no more than fourteen clubs.

  • You may not change balls during the play of a hole unless a Rule allows it. However, if you damage your ball or it goes out of shape, you may change the ball after first consulting your opponent or fellow competitor.
Rule 6: Player’s Responsibilities
  • Read the notices given to you by the tournament officials.

  • Always use your correct handicap.

  • Know your tee-time or starting time, and be there ready to play at that time.

  • Make sure you can identify your own ball (put a mark on the ball in case someone else is using an identical ball).

  • In stroke play, make sure your score for each hole is correct and sign your card before returning it.

  • Don’t unduly delay play – keep up with the group in front. Keep playing unless there is danger from lightning, you become ill, or an official tells you to stop.
Rule 7: Practice
  • You may not hit a practice shot while playing a hole, or from any hazard. Normally, practice is not allowed on the course before a stroke event, but is allowed before a match. However, a committee may alter this rule so always check the conditions of competition.
Rule 8: Advice on How to Play
  • During a round, you may not ask anyone except your caddie or partner for advice on how to play. However, you may ask anyone about the Rules or the position of hazards or the flagstick.

  • You may not give advice to your opponent or fellow-competitor.

  • Don’t position any marker to indicate your line of play.
Rule 9: Advising Opponent on Strokes Taken
  • In match play, you must tell your opponent the number of strokes, including penalties, you have taken if you are asked.
Rule 10: The Order of Play
  • The player who has the lowest score on a hole has the right to play his/her ball first on the next hole. This is called the "honour."

  • While playing a hole, the player whose ball is farthest from the hole plays first.

  • In match play, if you play out of turn, your opponent may make you replay your shot. This is not so in stroke play.
Continued on Next Page
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