The game of golf comes with a handbook of rules that can be intimidating for a beginning golfer. When you’re ready to compete in a tournament, you will need to know most of them. But if you’re just out on the course learning how to enjoy the game and improve your skills, here are some basics to know about. Other golfers will expect you to conduct yourself with awareness of these principles!

Basic golf rules: 5 things you should know

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  1. Play the ball as it lies
  2. Penalty Area Situations
  3. Pace of Play
  4. Putting Protocol
  5. Call All Your Strokes

1. Play the ball as it lies (except at points of relief or penalty areas)

Your score is the number of times you hit the ball plus any penalties you incur. 

From time to time, you will hit your ball into trouble — sometimes you can take 'relief' from the trouble, and other times you may need to drop your ball in a new spot at the cost of a penalty stroke. 

First, the relief situations (on a cart path, on a sprinkler head, in a gopher hole, plugged in mud); the 'point of relief' is the closest spot you can safely hit the ball from, but not closer to the pin. Put a tee in this spot and drop your ball from knee height within a club length of this spot. “Relief” means just that, no extra penalty.

Now, what if you hit into an area marked with a red or yellow line, white stakes or into a situation that is just plain unplayable? (see below)

2. Penalty Area Situations

So you hit into an area marked with a red or yellow line — these are penalty areas. 

You have a few options, the most well-known of which is to drop your ball from knee height within 2 club lengths of the penalty line where you believe your ball crossed, no closer to the hole (more options are in the rule book). 

White stakes? That is 'out of bounds.’ If you are sure or pretty sure you went there, you will need to hit another ball from the same spot and add 2 strokes to your score. 

Just plain unplayable? One option is to drop your ball from knee height within a 2-club length radius, not closer to the hole.

In a friendly round, knowing these basics will keep you in good stead, and knowing more of your options will come with time.

3. Pace of Play

The golden rule of golf is to keep up with the group in front of you! Enjoy yourself, don't rush — but don't take too much time. 

If you get into trouble (we all do), it is ok to pick up your ball, record your 'most likely score' for the hole, and carry on. 

Typically, the person furthest from the hole hits first. But to be efficient, you can agree to play 'ready golf' and go out of turn. You may need to work as a team to keep up, so be on the alert for slow play issues you can tweak.

4. Putting Protocol

Ready golf works here too. If you are the person putting, you have the option to keep putting until your ball is in the hole. You can opt to mark your ball and await your next turn, but you don't have to.

5. Call All Your Strokes

Dubbed off the tee? Go play it where it lies; technically, if you re-hit, you will have to add 2 strokes. Friendly mulligan allowed? OK, but just one per round, please.

Once you start recording and tracking your handicap, you will need to post legitimate scores with all your strokes and penalties counted.

Want to learn more about the rules of golf?

The more you know about rules options, the more confident you will be and the more your game will improve.

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