golf rules for beginners

What Rules of Golf Should a Beginner Know?

As a beginner, golf rules can be very confusing. There are hundreds of golf rules and interpreting them when reading these rules from the official rule book can also be quite the challenge.

So in this guide we’ve broken the rules of golf down into simple explanations for beginners. We want you to learn the most important rules that are “need to know” rules first, and then you can learn the rest of the rules of golf later on as you progress.

Let’s get started.

Rule #1: 14 Golf Clubs Maximum

We’ve written a detailed guide on how many golf clubs you’re allowed to have in your golf bag during a round of golf. The short answer is 14 golf clubs. This is the limit set and if you have more than 14 clubs in your bag then you’ll be penalized two-strokes per hole played with more than the legal limit, according to rule 4-4.

Make sure to double check before you start your round of play by doing a quick count of the clubs in your bag. You may find that you accidently left extra wedges or fairway woods in the bag that you had been trying out during your practices this week.

Rule #2: Tee Off Behind the Tee Markers

As you step onto the tee box and begin to play hole #1, you’ll notice different colored tee markers. Before your round, you’ll need to decide which set of tees you’re going to play from.

Each set of tees will be the same color so if you choose to play from the white tees, then every hole, play from the white tee box markers. Don’t mix and match, playing some holes from the whites and others from the black, blue, or red tee box markers.

When teeing up your golf ball on the tee box, it is a rule of golf that you must place the tee behind the tee markers. Imagine a line drawn between the two tee markers. Stay behind this line and stay between the two tee markers.

Don’t attempt to line your tee up outside of these markers either. They are generally spread apart pretty wide giving you plenty of room to choose where to tee up from between them while staying behind the line.

If you place the the ball in front of this line (even just 1 inch), you are considered to have an edge, getting closer to the hole and this is a rules violation. It will cost you one penalty stroke.

Rule #3: No Practice Shots Are Allowed Once You Begin Your Round

Once you begin a round of golf, every shot you hit counts. There are no practice shots or redo’s.

If you attempt practice shots (even after you finished a hole) this is technically a rules violation and you’ll incur a one stroke penalty.

It will be common to see your playing partner miss a putt and then practice that putt again by hitting it a second time after the hole is finished. This is a rules violation, despite most golfers not following it.

Only in match play are you allowed to practice after the hole is finished.

Practice swings, are okay before a shot as long as you don’t accidentally hit the golf ball. Once you’ve made 1 or 2 practice swings, then step up to the golf ball and hit the shot for real so that the ball moves forward down the golf course.

If you accidentally hit the ball during a practice swing, it counts and you must play the next shot from where it lies.

Rule #4: Play The Ball As It Lies

Speaking of playing the ball as it lies, this is also a basic golf rule beginners should learn. When you hit a golf shot, the golf ball can end up in some pretty interesting situations.

For example, the ball might stop rolling once it’s behind a tree or inside of a bush. Unfortunately, you can’t move the golf ball without penalty. You must either play it as it lies or take a penalty stroke to move it out of the bush or away from the tree.

The exceptions are when the ball ends up next to a man-made object like a sprinkler head or if the ball stops on the cart path. In these cases you can move the ball to the nearest point of relief without penalty rather than playing it where it lies.

If you see ground marked under repair, these zones also allow you to move your ball out of them to the nearest point of relief without penalty.

Overall, it will be very tempting to want to move your golf ball when it finds trouble, but you must remember to play it as it lies and not cheat, unless the rules allow you to move the ball to a new location.

Rule #5: Lost Ball Rule

If you can’t find your golf ball and are considering it a “lost ball” then you must go back and re-hit again from the same spot you last hit from. You must count the original stroke that caused the lost ball, plus add a one stroke penalty, so if it was your first tee shot, you’d now be hitting shot 3 when you go back to the tee box to re-hit again.

It’s unfortunate that it adds two strokes to your score, but these are the rules. Try your best to keep an eye on where you ball goes to avoid the frustration of losing it and incurring a penalty.

To help speed up play, the rules allow for 5 minutes to search for your golf ball before you must make a decision to replay the shot. The 5 minute clock begins when you get up to where you think your ball is and realize that you can’t find it.

Rule #6: Hitting the Wrong Golf Ball

Always double check that you are playing your golf ball before hitting. If you accidentally or intentionally play the wrong golf ball (one you found randomly or your playing partner’s ball) then this is a penalty.

The result is two strokes penalty and the correction must be made before the start of the next hole. Once you start to play the next hole and still haven’t made the correction for playing the wrong ball, then player is disqualified.

Rule #7: Water Hazards

If your golf ball ends up in a water hazard, such as a pond or stream running down a golf hole, you have a few different options.

The first option would be to play the ball as it lies with no penalty. If the ball is barely submerged or sticking out of the water, you may choose to take a swing at it if you think you can successfully hit it towards the green.

If you realize you don’t have a chance of hitting your next golf shot or if the ball is gone in the middle of the pond, then you’ll have to declare a penalty and take relief.

How you take relief will depend on which type of water hazard you find your ball within. Look around for red stakes or yellow stakes to determine the type of hazard and thus which options you have for relief.

In most cases you’ll be in a lateral hazard and can take relief by dropping the ball laterally next to the water on dry ground, but no closer to the hole.

In other cases you may be required to drop the ball in required drop zones or drop it on the line of path that the ball crossed into the water, which could require you to go back farther on the hole, losing distance for the next shot.

In addition, these water hazards carry a one stroke penalty to add to your score. So if you hit into the water on shot #2, you won’t be hitting shot #3 now. After a 1-stroke penalty, it will actually be shot #4.

Rule #8: Out of Bounds

Any time you hit a ball out of bounds, you must re-hit from the same spot again and add two penalty strokes. If you’re hitting from the tee box, go back to the tee box and try again. If you hit from anywhere else on the course, go back to that same spot as close as possible to try and recreate the same shot again.

If you think that you’ve hit the ball out of bounds but you’re not 100% certain, you can play a provisional ball to help save time.

This means teeing it up again before your group leaves the tee box and hitting a second shot just in case the first shot is found to be out of bounds.

If you determine your first ball is still in play, you can go pick up your provisional ball and continue on playing the original ball #1 without any penalty.

Rule #9: Unplayable Lie

If you find your ball is sitting in an unplayable situation, you may take relief and drop the ball within two club lengths or nearest point of relief. But it will cost you a penalty stroke.

This situation, unlike hitting out of bounds, allows you to play nearby where the ball ended up rather than having to go back and re-hit the shot, losing both distance and penalty strokes.

If the ball buried itself into the ground because the ground is super wet and damp, sometimes you may get free relief with no penalty depending on course conditions and rules of the golf course. In these super wet condition states, the golf course club house may tell you to keep golf carts on the cart path and that most areas where water risings above your shoes can be considered penalty free relief.

Rule #10: Bunker Rules

When you end up in a sand bunker, you must play the golf ball as it lies. This means if the ball is buried into the curb of the bunker, leaving an almost impossible shot, then tough luck. Take a penalty drop or make an attempt to get it out.

The only exception with playing the ball as it lies in a sand bunker is if the bunker is under repair or construction and is marked as such by the maintenance crew.

When hitting out of a sand bunker, your golf club may not touch the sand during your setup and takeaway. Unlike non-bunker shots where the golf club may rest on the ground, sand bunkers do not allow ground contact with the golf club other than during the downswing when you actually strike the ball out of the bunker.

This no ground rule carries a one shot penalty if your club grounds prior to the golf swing.

Additionally, you may find rocks in the bunker that are near or touching your golf ball. In most cases you can remove the loose impediments (rocks, twigs, cigarette butts) so that they don’t interfere with your golf shot or damage your golf club.

Rule #11: Putting Green Rules

When your ball is finally on the putting green, remember to mark your ball using a ball marker and then pick up your ball off the green.

The reason for marking a golf ball is to remove it from interfering with other players who need to make their putt and roll their ball into the hole. Sometimes your golf ball may end up in the direct path between the hole and another players ball.

A ball marker is flat, so it allows for other golf balls to roll over the top of it unlike leaving the golf ball there and the two balls colliding together.

You also want to make sure to remove the pin (flag) from the hole and set it somewhere far away where no putts will hit it. If putts make contact with the flag pin laying on the ground, it is a penalty.

New golf rule adjustments allow for the flag pin to remain in the hole so you can choose whether to putt with the flat pin in or out and there is no penalty if the ball hits the pin while it’s left in the hole.

Rule #12: Use the Same Golf Ball Through the Entire Hole

It is a penalty to switch golf balls during a hole. You must play the same golf ball from start to finish of a hole. Only after finishing a hole can you change balls before the next hole begins.

This may come up in situations where you notice your golf ball gets damaged during a hole, or if you find your ball covered in mud. Or you may notice that the sharpie line on your ball is fading away.

Wait until the hole is finished to reapply sharpie marker, fixing the lines drawn on your ball.

Wait until the hole is finished to change balls if your ball becomes damaged.

Once you’ve marked your ball on a putting green, you may pick it up and clean the ball if it has mud stuck to it.

Rule #13: Do Not Give or Ask for Advice

Unless caddies are allowed, you may not receive or give advice during a golf round to other players in your group.

Only golf caddies are permitted to work with you on strategy and giving you advice, not other members of your group in competitive play.

Why Golf Rules Matter?

Keeping the Integrity of the Game

Having rules in any sport, including golf, can help the game operate smoothly and fairly. It brings integrity to the game.

Golf, unlike other sports, relies on the player to be honest about their play and referee themselves since there aren’t rules officials following your group of friends around the golf course to watch for rules violations.

Instead, it is up to the golfers to self-adhere to the rules of golf and help each other make the proper decisions when faced with a rules question about ball placement and penalties that affect scoring.

If you start playing golf competitively, then you’ll need to understand the rules of golf.

Speeds Up Play

In addition, rules can help speed up play. Golf already can take several hours to complete 18 holes and having clear cut rules can help keep players moving in a timely manner when they find themselves in troubled situations out on the golf course.

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