USGA Golf Rules in Brief
A summary of some principal Rules of Golf. In case of doubt, refer to the complete Rules published by the United States Golf Association and R & A Rules Limited. The numbers in parentheses indicate the applicable Rules numbers.
- Don't move, talk or stand close a player making a stroke.
- Don't step on another player's line of putt.
- Always play without delay and keep up with the group in front.
- Don't play until the group in front is out of the way.
- Shout a warning if your ball may hit someone.
- Invite faster groups to play through.
- Repair divot holes and ball-marks. Smooth footprints in bunkers.
- Don't drop clubs on the putting green or lean on your putter.
- Replace the flagstick carefully in an upright position.
- In the case of a serious breach of etiquette, the Committee has the authority to disqualify a player.
- Leave the course in the condition in which you would like to find it.
- When entering and exiting bunkers, always do so on the low side away from the green.
© 2008 by the United States Golf Association and R&A Rules Limited
MATCH AND STROKE PLAY
- Put an identification mark on your ball. If you can't identify it as yours, it's lost. If your ball becomes unfit for play, you may replace it, without penalty, on the hole where it becomes unfit or between holes.
- Count your clubs. You are allowed a maximum of 14 clubs (4-4).
- Don't use an artificial device or unusual equipment or use equipment in an unusual manner for gauging or measuring distance or conditions, or to give artificial aid in gripping (14-3).
- Don't ask for advise from anyone except your partner or your caddie. Don't give advice to anyone except your partner (8-1).
- During a hole you may practice swing but not make a practice stroke. Between holes you may practice chip and putt on or near the putting green of the hole last played or the tee of the next hole, but not from a hazard (7-2).
- Play without delay (6-7).
ORDER OF PLAY
- On the first tee the honor is determined by the order of the draw or, in the absence of a draw, by lot (10).
- In match play, the ball farther from the hole is played first. The winner of a hole tees first on the next hole. If a player plays out of turn anywhere on the course, his opponent may require him to cancel the stroke and replay it in the correct order (10-1).
- In stroke play, the ball farthest from the hole is played first. The competitor with the lowest score on a hole tees off first on the next hole. There is generally no penalty for playing out of turn (10-2).
- In four-ball competitions, partners may play in the order they consider best (30-3b and 31-4).
- Don't touch the line of your putt unless a rule permits (16-1a). You may repair ball marks and old hole plugs on the line but not any other damage, such as spike marks (16-1c).
- You may lift, and if desired, clean your ball on the putting green. Always replace it on the exact spot (16-1b).
- Don't test the surface by scraping it or rolling a ball (16-1d).
- If your ball played from the putting green strikes the flagstick, in match play you lose the hole or in stroke play you incur a two-stroke penalty (17-3).
- Always hole out unless in match play your opponent concedes your putt (2-4, 3-2, 16-2).
BALL AT REST MOVED
- If your ball is moved by you, your partner or your caddie, except as permitted by the Rules, or if it moves after you have addressed it, add a penalty stroke and replace your ball. (18-2) If you fail to replace the ball, you lose the hole in match play or incur a total penalty of two strokes in stroke play.
- If your ball at rest is moved by someone else or another ball, replace it without penalty to you (18).
BALL ASSISTING OR INTERFERING WITH PLAY
- You may lift your ball or have another ball lifted if you think it might assist any other player (22-1).
- You may have any other ball lifted if it might interfere with your play (22-2).
- Loose impediments are by definition natural objects (such as stones and leaves) not fixed or growing, not solidly embedded and not adhering to the ball.
- You may move them unless the loose impediment and your ball lie in or touch the same hazard (23-1).
- If you have moved a loose impediment and this causes your ball to move, the ball must be replaced and you incur a penalty stroke (unless your ball was on the putting green) (18-2a) .
- Obstructions are by definition artificial (i.e., man-made) objects. Objects defining out of bounds such as fence posts or stakes and immovable artificial objects out of bounds are not obstructions.
- Movable obstructions (e.g., a rake) positioned anywhere may be moved without penalty. If your ball moves, replace it without penalty (24-1).
- If an immovable obstruction (e.g., a sprinkler head) interferes with the lie of the ball, your stance or swing, you may, except when your ball is in a water hazard, drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief not nearer the hole. If the ball is in a bunker, it must be dropped in the bunker, or under penalty of one stroke, drop any dis- tance behind the bunker. If the ball is on the putting green, it must be placed at the nearest point of relief. There is no relief for intervention on your line of play unless your ball and the obstruction are on the green (24-2).
- If your ball, which has not been found, is in a movable or an im- movable obstruction (except when the entrance is in a water hazard) take the same relief based on the point where the ball entered the obstruction (24-3) .
LOST OR OUT OF BOUNDS
- If your ball may be lost outside a water hazard or out of bounds, you may play a provisional ball before you go forward to look for the original, provided you announce your intention to do so. If your original ball turns out to be in a water hazard or is found outside a water hazard, you must abandon the provisional ball (27-2).
- If your ball is lost outside a water hazard or is out of bounds, add one penalty stroke and play the provisional or, if you did not play a provisional, play a ball from where the previous stroke was made. (27-1)
If you believe your ball is unplayable outside a water hazard, you may, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball from where the previous stroke was made, or drop any distance behind the point where the ball lay (keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped), or drop within two club-lengths of where the ball lies not nearer the hole. If your ball is in a bunker you may proceed as above, except that, if you are dropping back on a line, or within two club-lengths you must drop in the bunker if taking relief. (28)
- Tee off within two club-lengths behind the front edges of the tee-markers.
- If you tee off outside this area, in match play there is no penalty but your opponent may require you to cancel and replay the stroke. In stroke play you incur a two-stroke penalty and must then play from within the proper area. (11-4)
PLAYING THE BALL
- Play the ball as it lies (13-1). Do not touch the ball unless a Rule permits (18-2).
- Play the course as you find it. Don't improve your lie, the area of your intended stance or swing or your line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole by moving, bending or breaking anything fixed or growing, except in fairly taking your stance or making your swing. Don't press anything down (13-2). Don't build a stance (13-3).
- If your ball is in a bunker or water hazard, don't touch the ground in either type of hazard or the water in the water hazard with your hand or club before the downswing (13-4).
- Strike at the ball with the club head. Don't push or scrape it (14-1). If your club strikes the ball more than once in a single stroke, count the stroke and add a penalty stroke (14-4).
- If you play a wrong ball, in match play you lose the hole; in stroke play you incur a two-stroke penalty and must then correct the mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules (15-3).
LIFTING, DROPPING AND PLACING
- Before lifting a ball that has to be replaced (e.g., when the ball is lifted on the putting green to clean it) its position must be marked (20-1).
- When dropping, stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm's length and drop it. A ball to be dropped in a hazard must be dropped, and stay, in the hazard (20-2a).
- If a dropped ball strikes any person or the equipment of any player, it must be re-dropped without penalty (20-2a).
- A dropped ball must be re-dropped if it rolls into a hazard, out of a hazard, onto a putting green, out of bounds or to a position where there is interference by the condition from which relief is taken (in case of immovable obstructions, abnormal ground conditions, embedded ball and wrong putting green) A re-drop is required.
- If the original lie of a ball to be placed has been altered, place it in the nearest most similar lie within one club length not nearer the hole. Exception in a bunker recreate the original lie and place it in that lie (20-3b).
ABNORMAL GROUND CONDITIONS
- If your ball is in a position where you have interference from an abnormal ground condition (casual water, ground under repair, a hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, reptile or bird) you may drop without penalty within one club-length of the nearest point of relief not nearer the hole. If the ball is in a bunker, it must be dropped in the bunker, or under penalty of one stroke, drop any distance behind the bunker. If you cannot take complete relief, in the bunker you may drop the ball at the nearest position in the bunker not nearer the hole that gives maximum available relief. If the ball is on the putting green, it must be placed at the nearest point of relief.
- If your ball, which has not been found, is in an abnormal ground condition (except in a water hazard), take the same relief based on the point where the ball entered the area (25-1c).
- If your ball is in a water hazard (yellow stakes and/or lines), you may play the ball as it lies or, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball from where the previous stroke was made, or drop any distance behind the water hazard keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped (16-1a,b).
- If your ball is in a lateral water hazard (red stakes and/or lines), you may proceed as above or, under penalty of one stroke, you may also drop within two club-lengths of, and not nearer the hole than the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, or a point on the opposite side of the hazard equal distance from the hole (26-1c).