16 Golf Rules You Need to Know

Golf is a confusing game and is full of rules that even the pros don’t know! It is essential that you know how to handle many of the different situations that occur out on the course by understanding some of the most common rules of the game. By learning the rules, you will know how to handle yourself more confidently on the course and will be able to position yourself to score lower and avoid possible penalties or restrictions.

So without further ado, I give you my 16 Golf Rules you Need to Know to play better golf!

1. Water Hazards

So you hit your ball into some water. It’s okay, don’t freak out! According to rule Rule 26-1 in the Rules of Golf, you have several options you can choose from:

  1. You can re-hit your ball as close to the original spot as possible
  2. When there are yellow stakes around the hazard, you can drop your ball behind the water, keeping the same line that the ball crossed the margin of the hazard. (You can go as far back as you want)
  3. If there are red stakes around the hazard, you can drop your ball two club lengths from the spot where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard. (Use a driver for more range)

Things to remember:

  • Because the water is a hazard, you will be assessed a one-stroke penalty before using any of the options above
  • You have to visually see the golf ball go into the hazard or be very sure to use any of the above options
  • Make sure you tell your playing group what kind of golf ball you are using to replace the one lost (number and manufacturer)

2. Flagstick

Always make sure the flagstick is out when you are putting on the green. According to rule 17-2 in the Rules of golf, it is a two-stroke penalty if your ball strikes the flagstick with a putt from the green.

  • If your golf ball is just off the green and you choose to putt, you can elect to keep the flagstick in free of penalty.
  • You can have someone in your group attend the flagstick if the hole is difficult to see during long putts.  The attendant will then remove the flagstick after contact with the golf ball is made. (All you have to say is “can you please tend the flagstick”)

**Update- As of 2019, hitting the flagstick when on the putting surface will no longer be a penalty. Good news for us!

3. Provisional Ball

Whenever you are in doubt that your golf ball may be lost or out of bounds, hit a provisional just in case. A provisional ball is like a “just in case” shot if you cannot find your first ball and helps keep the pace of play for the group. If you want to know which golf balls you should use for swing, take a look at my article here!

Different scenarios when using a provisional ball according to the Rules of Golf 27-2:

  1. After hitting a provisional golf ball and you find your first shot, you must play the original shot
  2. If your golf ball is lost or is located out of bounds, your provisional ball becomes “in play,” and you must take a one-stroke penalty

Remember, you have to tell your playing group, “I’m going to play a provisional,” and then tell them what ball you are playing. If you fail to say this to the group, your next shot will be in play, and you will take a stroke penalty.

4. Hitting the Wrong Golf Ball

Under rule 15-1 in the Rules of Golf, you must finish out the hole with the golf ball that you tee’d off with. If you play the wrong golf ball, you are assessed a two-stroke penalty and then must go back to play your original shot. Any strokes used hitting the wrong golf ball will not be counted. However, if you cannot find your original shot, you will have to re-hit from the point you last hit and add another penalty stroke for a lost ball.

There is a common misconception that you are allowed to change your ball once you get onto the putting surface. Remember only to use ONE ball for the duration of the hole. (You can declare playing a new ball on the next hole)

5. Too Many Clubs

The USGA states that you may have 14 golf clubs in your bag, including your putter. If it is found that you are over this amount, you will receive a two-stroke penalty for each hole going forward (Maximum of 4 strokes).

To avoid this penalty, be sure to count your clubs and make any adjustments to your bag before your round.

To find out which clubs you need in your bag, check out my article here

6. Double Hit

Rule 10-1 of the Rules of Golf states that you will receive a penalty of one stroke if you “double hit” a golf shot. However, as of January 1st, 2019 the double hit rule will no longer be a stroke penalty. It was deemed unfair to penalize a player for a random, unpredictable act. Good News for Us!

7. Out of Bounds

Always look for white stakes along hole boundaries. The white stake represents either private or unplayable land, and you are NOT allowed to hit your ball back into play. Unfortunately, you must go back to the point where the last shot was hit and take a stroke penalty. If you assume that your ball may be out of bounds, remember to hit a provisional, so you don’t have to come all the way back!

8. Unplayable Lie

Sometimes your golf ball ends up under a tree or in a place where it is impossible to take a swing. When this occurs, under rule 28, you can take an unplayable lie for one penalty stroke.

  • You can take your golf ball back to the point where the original shot was taken
  • Taking a one-stroke penalty, you can drop the golf ball two club lengths from the unplayable lie, no closer to the hole.
  • You can drop the ball as far behind the unplayable ball as you like,  keeping a line from the hole to the point where the ball is dropped.

9. Casual Water

After heavy rainfall, water may accumulate out on the course. Don’t worry; we don’t have to hit out of this! Under Rule 25, if your stance or golf ball is affected by casual water in the fairway or rough, you can drop your ball one club length from the nearest point of relief no closer to the hole. (There is no penalty stroke)

If your golf ball is in the sand,  you are allowed to move your golf ball anywhere in the sand where it is dry or take a stroke penalty and play your shot behind the bunker. Lastly, if there is standing water on the putting surface, you only move your ball to the nearest point of relief no closer to the hole.

10. Ball on Cart Path

Every now and again, your golf ball will end up resting on the cart path. When this happens, you can receive free relief.

  1. Determine which side of the cart path the ball is closest too
  2. Find the nearest point of relief on that side where you can have a proper golf stance, and the path isn’t disturbing the swing
  3. Lay down a club, no closer to the hole and put a tee down, so you know the area to drop in
  4. Drop your golf ball, so it lands within the area you marked
  5. If the ball moves closer to the hole or bounces back on the path, re-drop.
  6. If it happens again, place your golf ball within the club length and pick up the tee so you can hit your shot

11. Golf Ball Hits Another Golf Ball

This situation is typical around the putting surface and is vital to know when playing with other golfers

  • If a ball is hit on the putting surface at rest from a golf ball in motion that is not on the putting surface, there is no penalty, and the ball that was at rest must be moved back to its original position.
  • If a golf ball hits the golf ball at rest in motion and both are on the putting surface, the player whose ball is in motion will receive a two-stroke penalty, and the ball at rest must be returned to its original position.

12. Signing the Scorecard

Now I know most of us aren’t playing official, competitive golf. However, this rule is very important if you are playing in tournaments or outings.  Remember to sign your Scorecard! Signing your scorecard makes it “official” and can then be counted and scored. If you fail to sign, you will be disqualified from the event.

Signing for an incorrect score also comes with consequences:

  • If you sign a scorecard and it is determined that you scored higher than what was marked on a hole, your round will be disqualified.
  • If you sign a scorecard and it is determined that you scored lower on a hole than what was marked, the higher score will be counted towards the total.
  • Signing a scorecard that is correct but was not accurately added, the correct score will be assessed without penalty.

13. Picking up a Golf Ball without a Marker

Always make sure that you lay down a ball marker behind the golf ball BEFORE you pick up your golf ball. If you do not, it is a one-stroke penalty under rule 20-1 of the Rules of Golf, and you must place your golf ball back to its original position. If the ball marker is accidentally moved when lifting your ball, there is no penalty. Just replace the ball marker or golf ball.

14. Teeing up Outside the Tee Box Marker (Wrong Tee)

Before teeing off the tee box, make sure your golf ball is within the parameters of the box. Under rule 11-4, if a player tee’s up either too far behind the box (more than two club lengths) or past the tee markers, they will receive a two-stroke penalty and have to re-hit. Any strokes made will not count towards your score until you re-hit from the tee box correctly. If the player who incorrectly hit their tee shot finishes the whole without going back to re-tee, they are disqualified from play.

15. Playing from Hazards

Hazards are usually defined with either red or yellow stakes out on the course. If your golf ball goes into this area, you do have the option to play it.  However, you are not allowed to ground your club, or you will be given a two-stroke penalty. Bunkers (sand traps) are technically hazards which is why you are not allowed to ground your club during practice swings or at address.

You don’t have to play from inside of a hazard. You can always go back and hit where you last hit, taking a stroke penalty.

16. Lost Ball

The USGA gives you 5 minutes to look for your golf ball. If your golf ball still hasn’t been found after the 5 minutes, it is deemed as “lost,” and you have to return to the original spot where you first hit the shot taking a one-stroke penalty.

Remember to tell you group which ball you are playing!


Now I know some of this may be slightly confusing. There are so many different situations that can occur on the course so I know these concepts can be difficult to grasp. However, by reviewing these rules and then experiencing them while play,  you will start to understand how the rules work and more importantly, how you can work with the rules! If you are just starting out in the game of golf, check out my beginning golfer’s starter guide here!

Knowing the rules will elevate your game and improve your clarity on how to handle potential setbacks and turn them into opportunities out on the course!

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