All The New Golf Rules That You Must Know About

Last updated: February 18, 2021

Even professional golfers with years of experience can often get mixed up in minute intricacies related to golf rules.

Moreover, the rules are dynamic and keep on changing every few years. So keeping up with the latest rule changes is a cumbersome task, especially for amateur golfers. On the other hand, some rules are too complex to be easily comprehended by a beginner. 

If all this sounds familiar to you, then you should definitely continue reading. Our goal is to help our readers better understand the game we love and enjoy it as we do. Here are some of the most confusing and most commonly mistaken Golf rules. 

Playing from outside the teeing area

This is one of those rules that golfers seem to get wrong forever, regardless of their experience. As there are no referees in the game, the enforcement of regulations is done by the opponents, and this rule grants them significant power. 

The golfer must start from the teeing area; everyone knows this bit. But, confusion arises when the type of play is in question, whether it’s match play or stroke play. 

In match play, there is no penalty; however, the opponent can ask you to cancel the shot and play again from the teeing area.

Standing water

Due to harsh weather conditions, water gets accumulated on the golf course, which makes it tough to play a stroke. Most players will ask for relief in such situations.

However, relief is only granted if the ball is in the green. If the ball is not on the green, you are not entitled to any relief. 

Repairing damage

Many times a player can damage the turf where the ball was marked while playing a stroke. You are allowed to repair this ball mark, but only if the damage is on the green.

This damage includes ball marks, shoe damage, animal damage, or indentations. In contrast, if the ball mark is on the fringe instead of the green, you cannot repair it.

Playing from a different green

It happens too many times, you take a shot, and the ball lands in a green. But to your dismay, it’s the wrong green. (any other green than for the hole you’re playing)

In such cases, many golfers play the ball as it is in this situation. However, that is against the rules, and you’re not allowed to do this. 

The remedy for you, in this case, is free relief according to Rule 13. Under this rule, you’ll have to drop the original or another ball in the relief area. 

This relief area must satisfy the criteria. It must be in the same area as the reference point and must not be nearer the hole than the reference point.

Giving and receiving advice

It is a well-established rule in golf that players cannot give or receive advice about playing on a particular golf course. However, the term “advice” is vague and encompasses many different aspects, confusing golfers in the process. 

In general, advice doesn’t cover the physical details about the course, such as distance, location of hazards, flagsticks, etc. So players are allowed to share these details with one another.

In contrast, suggestions regarding what equipment to use or what stroke to play are forbidden. You’ll get a penalty of two strokes for doing so.

Moving loose impediments or touching sand in the bunker

Players are usually allowed to move all kinds of loose impediments in a bunker, including twigs, trash, leaves, and others, and can even touch the sand with their hand or club.

However, there are some restrictions to this rule; the most important one is that you cannot touch the sand with any object if you’re deliberately trying to gain more information to have a better stroke. 

Besides, you cannot touch the sand while taking a practice swing, making a backswing of a stroke, or grounding the club right behind or in front of the ball. 

Red stakes and Yellow stakes

Stakes represent different territories in golf and are of three types, red, yellow, and white. Everyone knows white stakes are out of bounds. But several golfers, including the legendary ones like Tiger Woods, can get mixed up with the other two. 

Yellow and red stakes are assigned to water hazards, with a subtle difference. Yellow ones are for standard hazards like ponds, small lakes, and sometimes even a drainage ditch. While the red stakes are for lateral water hazards, meaning those hazards whose shape and position make it impossible to drop the ball

There are several relief options for hitting the ball into a water hazard and all of them cost a penalty of one stroke. If you drop into a standard hazard, you can either: 

  1. take the next shot by dropping the ball closest to the point where you hit the last shot.
  2. Find the spot where your ball last crossed the hazard and drop the ball anywhere between that spot and the pin.
  3. Go to the designated drop zone. If your course doesn’t have an area for this, you’ll have to choose option 1 or 2

In case your ball goes into a lateral water hazard, there’s only one relief option. You’ll have to find the spot where the ball crossed the hazard and must drop the ball between two club-lengths.

Unplayable lies

The unplayable lie is one of the most misunderstood rules in golf. Players often hit their ball in areas where they can see it but are unable to hit it due to a wide variety of reasons. 

The player can declare this ball as unplayable, and this situation is called an unplayable lie. An unplayable lie can occur anywhere, including the bunker, except a water hazard. 

Here the player will add a one-stroke penalty and has three options:

  1. Return to the spot where he took the last shot and replay it.
  2. Drop the ball two club-lengths from the unplayable spot (where the ball landed), not near to the hole than before, and replay it.
  3. Drop the ball anywhere between the pin and the unplayable spot and replay it. 

Lost ball and out of bounds

Golf balls tend to go out of bounds or get lost more frequently than we’d like. In such cases, golfers are usually confused about what to do and take the wrong action.

A ball is considered lost when a player and his caddie can’t find it in a “reasonable amount of time”. 

A ball is considered out of bounds if all of it lies beyond the boundary edge of the course. If any part of the ball is inside the boundary edge or above the boundary edge, then it’s considered in bounds.

Regardless, in both cases, the player has to take stroke and distance relief by adding a penalty stroke and playing the ball from where the last stroke was played. 

Embedded ball

The embedded ball rule applies to situations where the ball gets stuck or embedded in the ground. This usually happens on rainy days when the ground gets damp and muddy.

To be considered embedded, a ball must be partly below the ground level and has a pitch mark due to the player’s previous stroke. 

Players are entitled to a penalty-free relief but they’ll have to follow this procedure:

  1. You are allowed to pick up the ball and clean it. Do it if you like.
  2. Drop the ball within 1 club-length area, no closer to the hole, and take relief. 

Scramble vs. best ball

Golf is often played as a team sport and these two formats are the most popular ones. However, not everyone is familiar with the exact meaning of these two terms.

In the scramble format, both players from a team play tee shots and decide which of the two shots they liked better. One of the shots is chosen to progress the game, and the spot where the ball landed is selected.

The player whose shot was not chosen picks up the ball and plays from one club length from the chosen spot. The players repeat this process until the ball goes into the hole.

On the other hand, in the best ball format, both players will play with their own golf balls independently of each other for an entire round. At the end of the round, the lower scoring player’s score is taken as the team score.

For instance, if two players have scores of 7 and 8 in a round, 7 will be taken as the team score, and the higher score will be disregarded.

Flagstick

Flagsticks are an integral component of golf as they are used to indicate the hole’s location on the putting green. Players have the option of removing the flagship or leaving it as it is.

Earlier, there used to be a two-stroke penalty for hitting the flagstick, but it has since been modified. 

If the player decides to leave the flagstick in the hole, he must do it before making the stroke by simply leaving it there or having a removed flagstick reinstated.

However, he or she must not deliberately try to gain an advantage by moving the flagstick to another position than the hole’s center. If he does so, and the ball hits the flagstick, he’ll get a general penalty. There is no penalty for hitting the flagstick.

After playing the stroke with a flagstick, the player or his caddie must not move the flagstick to alter the moving ball’s final rest stop. If done, it will result in a general penalty. 

Furthermore, suppose a player decides to leave the flagstick in the hole. In that case, another player moves or removes the flagstick without alerting the first player before or during he takes a shot; the second player will get a general penalty. 

Marking ball on the green

Ball markers are used extensively on putting greens as it allows players that are further away to putt. A marker should be done in accordance with the rules, and if not done so, it can result in penalties. 

The correct way to mark a ball is to place a small coin right behind the ball. Although it is allowed, placing the marker in front or at the side of the ball is usually discouraged.

The player gets a one-stroke penalty if he doesn’t mark the ball spot and lifts the ball, marks the spot wrongly, or makes a stroke with the marker still in place. 

Moving other markers is allowed in some circumstances; for instance, if a player believes a marker is in his line of putt, he can request it to be removed.

In cases where marker is not moved, and the ball hits a marker, the player must play the deflected ball wherever it ends up.

Provisional ball

Provisional balls can be opted when a ball is lost or goes out of bounds. Usually, when a ball goes out of bounds, players get a stroke and distance penalty and replay it from the last spot.

Players can also opt for a provisional ball in such cases to save time, but the penalty still applies. The player must clearly indicate that he is using a provisional ball.

The player can retain the provisional ball status as long as it isn’t closer to the hole than the original ball’s estimated position.

If, after taking a stroke from a provisional ball, it becomes nearer to the hole than the lost ball, then the provisional ball becomes the ball in play.

The only circumstance where a player cannot take a provisional ball when it is nearly certain that the original ball is lost in the penalty area. 

Mulligan

Mulligan is essentially a do-over and allows the player to retake his initial shot. As you would expect, this is strictly not allowed as per the rules of the game and is not practiced in professional games.

However, in casual games, mulligans are quite prevalent as they help speed up the play by abandoning the tedious search for lost balls.

Stableford

Stableford is a scoring system popular mainly in the UK. It was introduced as a deterrent for golfers who give up after having one or two bad holes.

This system also speeds up the game as players can now move on to the next hole after failing to score a point from a particular hole. In this system, the player with the highest score wins, unlike the traditional system. 

Here, for each hole, points are awarded in comparison to number of strokes taken to attain a fixed score, par on most cases. The fixed score is also adjusted according to the player’s handicap.

If a player has taken two strokes or more than the fixed score, they cannot win points from that hole. In such cases, they can simply pick up the ball and move on to the next hole.

Drop ball

Drop balls are a frequent occurrence in golf as players regularly do it when taking relief. However, the procedure for doing so has been recently modified to make it simpler and avoid giving more relief to players than necessary.

Under the new rules, the player must drop the ball from knee height in the relief area, and the ball must come to rest in this area as well. If that doesn’t happen, players can re-drop the ball.

If it doesn’t stop in the relief area in the second attempt, the player must place it where it first touched the ground. 

Matchplay

Matchplay is a scoring format in golf and is used in a few professional tournaments, both for a single player or a team. Similar to stroke play, the players count the number of strokes to complete a hole.

The player or team who takes the fewest strokes to complete the hole wins the round and is awarded 1 point. After the end of the match, the player or team with the highest points is declared the winner.  

Foursomes

The foursome is a popular playing format in team competitions and also in casual play. Players compete with each other in teams of two, and each team plays with a single ball.

Both players of a team take alternative shots and also take turns to tee-off a whole. Generally, one player will take the tee shot on odd-numbered holes while the other will do so on even ones. 

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