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Rules of Golf
The Top 10 Ten Rules You Need to Know to Get Started

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The Dead Sea Scrolls? War and Peace? No. It's just the rules of golf! Although the powers that be say they are constantly improving and tweaking the rules, I swear that rules book keeps getting thicker and thicker. When I was a kid it was more of little flimsy thing. Now I just can't believe how thick it is and it makes me feel for those starting out in the game. It must be overwhelming and seem like such a complicated game to learn. It's not really. It's just that in golf there are so many things that can happen and we are our own judges and rules keepers. There are no referees like in other sports and there isn't a controlled environment like a basketball court or a swimming pool. There is a lot of real estate and a ton of nature on a golf course.

Starting young in the game is perhaps more beneficial when it comes to the rules than when it comes to the swing. Anything we learn when we are young sticks with us and the same is true for the rules of golf. If you went through a good junior program like I did or competed often, you were forced to learn the rules. With that being said, there are still so many rules in the book that you probably don't know them all. Learning as an adult is different because people have so much other stuff on their mind, that they don't take the time or make the effort to master the rules. The result is that they end up playing some form of golf, but not true golf!

Learn These Top 10 Common Golf Rules to Keep Your Game Legit

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To make things easy for you, I picked what I see to be the most common rules that come into play during just about every round of golf. If you can familiarize yourself with these ten rules you will be able to get the ball around the course and keep it "legal".

Here are the 10 most common rules in a nutshell:

  • Out of Bounds - Although there are some rules in the game that if broken penalize you with a 2 stroke penalty, most still believe Out of Bounds is the most penalizing rule in golf. Out of bounds is defined by white stakes in most cases, however a road, fence, rail or wall may also define the border. When you hit your ball out of bounds you are penalized with "stroke and distance" meaning you lose your distance because you have to re-hit from where you originally hit from and you have to add a penalty stroke to your score.
  • Water Hazard - A lot of people get a water hazard and a lateral water hazard confused. The easiest way to remember the difference is that a water hazard is typically something you have to hit over and is defined by yellow stakes or a yellow line, whereas a lateral hazard typically runs along the side of the hole or laterally and is defined by red stakes or a red line. According to the USGA Rules Book a water hazard is "any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course. All ground and water within the margin of a water hazard are part of the water hazard". When your ball lands in a water hazard you have three options: 1) You can re-hit from where you originally hit. 2) You can play the ball where it lies if you are able, but note you can never ground your club in a hazard. 3) You can take the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard and keeping that point between yourself and the flag and go as far back as you'd like. With all 3 options you have to add one penalty stroke to your score.
  • Lateral Hazard - As I stated before a lateral hazard is typically one that runs along the side of the hole and is defined by red stakes or a red line. The USGA Rules Book defines a lateral hazard as "a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-lb. All ground and water within the margin of a lateral water hazard are part of the lateral water hazard." When your ball lands in a lateral water hazard you have 5 options. The first 3 are the same as listed above under Water Hazard. The two additional options are: 1) You can drop the ball two club lengths from where it crossed the margin of the hazard going no closer to the hole. 2) If possible, you can actually go on the other side of the hazard again keeping the point where your ball crossed into the hazard between you and the flag and go as far back as you'd like. Again, with all 5 options you must add one penalty stroke to your score.
  • Play the Ball as it Lies - This is such a simple rule, but as you can imagine, one that is so over abused. Unfortunately if you are going to play this great game you have to roll with the punches and deal with whatever bad breaks you get. You must play the ball as it lies and may not improve your lie unless there is a local rule in effect due to poor course conditions. The penalty for improving your lie is 2 strokes.
  • Don't Ground Your Club in a Bunker or Other Hazards - This may be the most common rule that I see people break during golf lessons. I'm constantly amazed at how many students are unaware that they cannot set their club down in the sand at address. This holds true for other hazards as well such as water and lateral hazards. You must hover the club in the air as opposed to grounding it. Once in the swing however, as you come down to hit the ball you may hit the ground. The penalty for grounding your club in a hazard is 2 penalty strokes.
  • Don't Hit the Flagstick When You Putt - When you are putting from the green you must either remove the flag or ask someone to tend it for you. If you put while the flag is in and your ball goes in and hits the flag, you will incur a 2 stroke penalty and you must play your ball as it lies.
  • Only Carry 14 Clubs in Your Bag - The maximum number of clubs any golfer is allowed to carry is 14. The penalty for carrying more is 2 strokes per hole for which you are in violation of the rule with a maximum penalty of 4 strokes.
  • Ball Moving After Address - Of the ten rules I have listed here, this is probably the least common. Although, if you play often, you will probably have it happen to you more than once. You must be extra careful on how you ground your club behind the ball in a number of situations. Places where I have often seen a ball move after it is addressed are on the putting green on a windy day, on pine needles, in the rough, on a hillside and even on a fairway especially with a spongy lie. If after addressing your ball and grounding your club, the ball moves, you must replace it and you will incur a penalty of one stroke.
  • Unplayable Lie - Often times you will find yourself in a situation where you have absolutely no shot. Maybe you are completely blocked out or just have no room for a swing. Either way the best choice sometimes it to take a penalty stroke and move your ball into a situation where you can take your medicine yet control the damage. Trying to be a hero out of a sticky situation can backfire and add to more strokes on your card. If you find yourself with an unplayable lie outside of a water hazard, you may take a one stroke penalty and move the ball. In this case you have 3 choices: 1) You can go back and place the ball as close as possible to where you originally played the shot. 2) You can drop a ball within two club lengths from where it lies, but you must not go closer to the hole. 3) You can keep the point where the ball lies between you and the hole and go back as far as you'd like.
  • Teeing Up Behind the Markers - This is a common, yet unintentional rules infraction. Always make sure to tee your ball up even with or behind the tee markers. You can go back as far as two club lengths from the front of the tee markers. If you tee up outside of or in front of the markers you will get a two stroke penalty and then have to re-hit your shot.

Always Carry a Rules Book

Knowing these top ten rules is a really good start to getting comfortable with the ins and outs of playing an accurate game. Once you've got these down it's a good idea to periodically scroll through the rules book and learn a few more. Regardless, you should always carry a rules book in your bag for those times where questions on procedure pop up.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
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