• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Rules of Golf – A Beginner’s Guide

Rules of Golf – A Beginner’s Guide

August 2020

At its core, golf is a simple game with a basic focus – get the ball in the hole with as few strokes as possible.

Yet, like many sports, the rules are somewhat more complicated. On top of this, golf has one of the oldest heritages of any sport and, as such, contains many little rules that most people overlook.

So to help you along, we have written this short beginners guide on the rules of golf.

Read on!

Rules of Golf

Order of Play Rules

  • On the tee, the player that tees off first is determined my a draw or lot.
  • The player who is furthest from the hole must play first.
  • The winner of the hole always tees off first on the next hole.
  • A player can be asked to redo his or here shot should they play out of turn.
  • In stroke play, the player with the lowest score tees off first and no penalty is given for shots being played out of turn.
  • Players playing a 4 ball can play in any order they choose.

Also see our guide on golf etiquette and golf dress codes.

Teeing Ground Rules

  • Players must tee off within two club lengths of the tee markers.
  • There will be a two shot penalty in stroke play should you tee off outside the tee area. You will then have to tee off from the proper location.

The rules of golf during stroke and match play

  • Balls should be marked for identification purposes. Any ball that cannot be identified is lost.
  • If a ball becomes damaged, it may be replaced with no penalty attached.
  • No player may carry more than 14 clubs at once in his or her golf bag.
  • Practise swings are allowed, however, practise shots are not allowed.
  • If you are between holes you may practise your short game when waiting.
  • Never ask for advice from anyone except your caddy or partner.
  • Practise swings are not allowed in hazards such as bunkers.
  • No devices such as range finders or enhancing equipment may be used.

Check out our guides on important golf terms and golf handicaps.

The Rules of Ball Play

  • Always leave your ball where it lies and play from there unless otherwise permitted.
  • Never move or attempt to change the course in any way. This includes bending branches, pushing down grass, improving your lie etc.
  • If you play the wrong ball by mistake then you will incur a two stroke penalty in stroke play and lose the ole instantly in match play. You must then play the correct ball again.
  • If your ball is in a bunker or water hazard, you are not allowed to touch your club to the ground before your shot. This includes practise swings.
  • If your club strikes the ball multiple times in one swing then that will be counted as an extra shot. Never push or scrap the ball.
  • Do not build your stance

Golfing Rules on the Green

  • Unless otherwise stated, never touch the green in the line of yours or another players ball.
  • If there are ball holes or ‘plugs’ in your green line then you may fix these. However, you cannot fix marks left from players spikes.
  • If you play a ball from the green and hit the flagstick, you will lose the hole in match play. In stroke play you will receive a two stroke penalty.
  • You cannot test a line by rolling another ball along it.
  • Balls may be cleaned on the green. Always replace ball exactly where you picked it up from.
  • Unless you opponent gives you a gimme, you must putt all balls.

Loose Impediments

  • Any natural object that is not fixed or adhered to the ground is termed a loose impediment. Stones, leaves, mud etc. Loose impediments may be moved unless they lie in a hazard.
  • If moving a loose impediment within one club length of your ball, a penalty will be given if your ball moves. No penalty is given if your ball is on a putting green however.

The Dropping, Moving, Lifting and Placing of Balls

  • If you move your ball by accident, or if your ball moves by itself after you have addressed it, then you will incur a penalty stroke and have to replace the ball to its original position.
  • Always mark your ball before you lift it so that you can replace it on the same spot.
  • If another player moves your ball then you may replace it without penalty.
  • If a dropped ball makes contact with any player or caddie then the ball must be re-dropped.
  • When dropping your ball you need to have your arm at shoulder height and arms length away.
  • When dropping a ball into a hazard, the ball must say in the hazard and cannot roll out.
  • Dropped balls may not come to rest closer to the pin than the original ball.
  • If a dropped ball rolls into a hazard or comes to rest in a plugged position or some form of interference, then the player has the right to re-drop the ball.
  • You may lift your ball to assist another player.
  • If another players ball is interfering with your own shot, then you may ask to have the ball lifted.

The Rules of Deflection and Stopped Balls

  • If a ball in motion is stopped or deflected by yourself, your caddie or your partner, then you will lose the hole in match play and incur a two stroke penalty in stroke play. In stroke play, the ball should be played where it has come to rest.
  • If your ball hits your opponent you can either replay it play it as it lies.
  • If your ball is stopped or deflected by anyone else, you can replay it without penalty, or take it from where it lies. If putting, the stoke must be replayed.
  • If your ball is stopped or deflected by another players all (in the air or on the ground), then you must play your ball from where it lies. If this occurs on the green then a two stroke penalty is given in stroke play.


  • Anything object man made may be termed an obstruction. However, obstructions located in the out-of-bounds areas are not classed as obstructions, nor are out-of-bounds markers such as posts.
  • Movable obstructions may be moved before your stroke. If your ball moves because of this then no penalty is given.
  • If your ball is lost because of an immovable obstruction (not including water hazards) then you may replace your ball at the nearest point.
  • If immovable obstruction interfere with your stroke you may drop your ball within a club length, but without moving your ball closer to the hole.

Water Hazards

  • If in a water hazard you have the option to either play the ball as it lies or take a drop shot at any distance behind the water hazard. You can also really the shot if you prefer. A stroke penalty is given.
  • If you land in a lateral water hazard then you must drop the ball two club lengths off the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard or the point on the opposite margin of the hazard at the same distance from the hole. A stroke penalty is given.

Abnormal Course Conditions

  • If your ball lies on ground with non-permanent water or an area of repair then you may drop your ball within a club length no nearer the hole without penalty.
  • If your ball lies on ground where an animal has burrowed a hole then you may drop your ball within a club length no nearer the hole without penalty.
  • If your ball is lost because of adverse ground conditions, then you may take a relief shot no near the hole and without penalty.

Thats it! We hope you have enjoyed our short guide on the rules of golf. If you have any further questions then please just get in contact.

This article is part of our Beginners Guide to Golf.

About the author 

Paul Bradshaw

Paul hit his first golf shot at the age of 5, and from that point on was immediately hooked. He went on to become one of the leading amateurs in South Africa, securing a full golf scholarship with the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Turning professional in 2004, Paul played extensively on the Sunshine Tour and co-sanctioned European Tour events. Paul is our lead editor at Golf Assessor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Up the ante on your golf banter...

Join The Mulligan

A weekly newsletter of controversial golf opinions, strong debates and funny golf memes