Golf has a long and venerable history, and a great body of rules has grown up around the game. As a golfer, you can understand why. What do you do when your ball goes in the water, when you hit out of bounds or when you play another player’s ball by mistake? Today there are scores of rules, a set of etiquette regulations and a lengthy discussion of decisions that have been made through the years. Also, each course can set its own rules about such things as the dress code. The United States Golf Association, the USGA, publishes revisions to the official rules of golf regularly. Fortunately, as an amateur player you do not have to memorize these rules. But you do need to be aware of the most common situations, especially if you are playing in a tournament or competing for money.
Take the Right Equipment
A hard and fast rule of golf is the 14 club rule. Players with more than 14 clubs in their bag incur a penalty of 2 strokes for each hole up to 4 strokes. For most golfers, this translates into a driver, a couple of woods, 2 or 3 hybrids, irons and wedges, and a putter. Of course, you need tees, enough balls to last through the round, ball markers and equipment for the weather like an umbrella.
Adhere to the Order of Play
The winner of the previous hole tees off first on the next hole. Tee off in the area within 2 club lengths of the tee markers. As play progresses, the ball farthest from the hole is hit first. Be aware of the position of every ball in your foursome so you do not inadvertently walk or drive in front of a player. Keep up the pace of play. A hole should be played in approximately 12 minutes.
Play It As It Lies
This is a very basic rule of golf. Do not touch the ball unless you are permitted to do so by the rules, and play the course as you find it. That means that you cannot improve your lie by moving the ball or tamping down the ground where you will be hitting. However, you may move a loose impediment like a stone or a leaf that is not fixed or growing. Make sure to hit your ball and not someone else’s, or you will incur a 2 stroke penalty and then you will play the correct ball. Many players put an identifying mark on their balls before play to differentiate them from other balls in the foursome.
Grounding the Ball
If your ball lands in a bunker, or sand trap, do not allow the club to touch the sand before swinging the club. You may use your feet to assess the depth and softness of the sand. The same is true of a water hazard. If you choose to hit out of the water, do not ground your club by touching the water before the downswing.
Hitting Out of Bounds
If your ball goes out of bounds, the area on the perimeter of the course marked by a white line or stake, you take a stroke and distance penalty. That is, for a tee shot, you count the tee shot, add a stroke, and tee off again as your third stroke. If you are not sure if the ball went out of bounds, hit a provisional ball from the tee. However, the entire ball must be beyond the marker for the ball to be considered out of bounds. Balls half in and half out are considered in bounds.
The Unplayable Lie
Sometimes you have the option of moving the ball out of a situation and dropping it elsewhere. If your ball lands in an unplayable lie, where it is impossible to swing the club, you may drop the ball within 2 club lengths of the unplayable lie, no closer to the hole. Or, you can drop the ball as far back from the lie as you wish, as long as the original lie is between you and the hole.
Landing in a Water Hazard
Many holes have a drop area around a water hazard. If not, drop the ball as far back from the water as you wish, keeping the point where the ball entered the water between you and the hole. You incur a 1 stroke penalty. For a lateral water hazard marked by a red stake, drop the ball on the side of the water no closer to the hole, and take a 1 stroke penalty. To drop a ball, mark the spot where it landed, stand up straight, hold the ball at shoulder height and at arm’s length, and drop it straight down.