Learning the Rules

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to learn the Rules of Golf?

For starters, it’s like hitting a moving target. Since the Decisions on the Rules of Golf (interpretations of the Rules) are changed every two years and the Rules of Golf themselves are reviewed and amended every four years, you’re stuck relearning them all of the time. And by the way, once you think you know the Rules, you need to know that just about every one of them has an exception! Now do you see why a lot of people don’t know the Rules?

Whether you know the Rules or not, there are a few basic principles that will get you most of the way around a golf course and keep you from breaching a Rule.  Granted, nearly every Rule has an exception so use these as guidelines.

  • Play the Course as You Find It – That means that if your ball comes to rest in a strange place, you’ll need to adapt to the obstacles presented. For instance, if there are low overhanging braches, you don’t get out a chainsaw. Rather, you could hit a low shot underneath them to your target or punch out to position yourself for the next shot. You are not allowed to alter the course to suit your needs.
  • Play the Ball as it Lies from Tee to the Hole – That means that you begin play from the teeing ground and keep hitting your own ball without touching it until your ball is holed unless a specific Rule allows you to lift it. If you end up with a nasty lie in the rough, so be it. If you have mud on your ball, keep playing it until you reach the green or are allowed to lift it under some other Rule before you clean it.
  • You Always Have Stroke and Distance as an Option – No matter where on the course your ball in play lies, you always have the option of going back to where you made your last stroke from under penalty of one stroke.
  • Once a Ball is in Motion, Leave it Alone Until it Stops – Some Rules such as Rules 1-2, 22, 23 and 24, prohibit you from altering the path of a ball once put into motion. Simply speaking, once a ball is in motion, don’t lift or move anything in its way and alternately, don’t put anything in its way to stop it. One notable exception would be the authority to lift or move equipment of the players or the flagstick when attended, removed or held up once a ball is in motion.
  • You Never Get Out of a Hazard for Free – If you decide to take relief under a Rule from a hazard, whether it is a water hazard or a bunker, you’ll need to take a penalty stroke to get out. Rules 24, 25, 26 and 28 can get you out of some hazards but it will cost you a penalty stroke.
  • There is NO Rule of Thumb on Penalty Strokes – Many people ask me what the rule of thumb is associating penalty strokes and where you drop. Is it one stroke gets you two club-lengths or one club-length when there is no penalty? Wrong! Some times when dropping with free relief it may as near as possible to a spot or with one club-length of a reference point. Under penalty of one stroke, it may be within two club-lengths, on a line as far back you’d like to go or even all the way back to where you last played. For this one, you’ll need to open the Rule Book.

If you follow these few principles, you’ll avoid most of the mistakes people make in breaching the Rules. 

Remember, use the index or the table of contents to find the correct Rule that applies to the situation and follow the Rules of Golf to help yourself to enjoy the game of golf.

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