Category Archives: rules

2013 rules review

You don’t have to know all the rules, but there are a few that come up so often that should know them. After all, golf is your game, and you should know how it’s played.

If you’re playing by yourself, and absolutely nothing ever goes wrong (you hit every fairway, every green, and putt out), you still need to know these rules:

Equipment (rule 4-4a). You may play with a maximum of fourteen clubs.

Stroke (Rule 14-1). The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and and may not be pushed, scraped, or spooned.

Artificial aids (Rule 14-3). An artificial aid that assists you in making a stroke may not be used.

The tee shot (Rule 11). Defines the area in which you can tee up your ball.

Play the ball as it lies (Rule 13). Prohibits moving the ball, or anything in your line of play or swing; prohibits removing, bending, or breaking any growing thing except in fairly taking your stance or swing.

The putting green (Rule 16, 17). You may mark, lift, and clean your ball. A putted ball may not strike the flagstick.

Holing out (Rule 3-2). You must hole out the ball or you are disqualified.

Impediments (Rule 23) and movable obstructions (Rule 24-1). You may move a loose impediment or movable obstruction without penalty. If the ball moves while moving a loose impediment, there is a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced; if moving a movable obstruction, the ball must be replaced, but there is no penalty.

Abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1). You may lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief without penalty.


When other players are along, and when things do start to go wrong, a host of other rules come into play. I won’t go into them, because that book has already been written. However, you should know what to do in these cases:

– the ball goes out of bounds or you think it might not be found,
– the ball goes into a water hazard,
– the ball goes into a bunker,
– the ball is unplayable were it lies,
– the ball is embedded,
– your ball was at rest, but you (not while making a stroke at it) or someone or something else moved it,
– your ball was in motion but it was deflected or stopped by somebody or their equipment,
– another ball interferes with playing your own,
– you play the wrong ball or someone else plays yours,
– your stroke is interfered with by an immovable obstruction (this includes cart paths),
– you have found a ball, but cannot identify it as yours as it lays.

You need to know how to properly lift and drop a ball, identify the nearest point of relief, and how to mark off a club length. In every case, if you get relief without penalty, you may drop one club-length from the nearest point of relief; if being penalized, two club-lengths.

Last summer I posted a series of detailed descriptions of all this stuff. Search the blog on the “rules” label to find the posts, or better yet, get a rule book and read it.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

My Comment to the USGA on Anchored Putting

The USGA is inviting comments on its proposed Rule 14-1b, which would ban the anchored putting stroke. The comment period ends on February 28th. My comment, which I sent off yesterday, is printed below.


February 12, 2013

United States Golf Association
PO Box 708, 77 Liberty Corner Rd.
Far Hills, NJ 07931-0708

This note is my comment on proposed rule 14-1b which bans the anchored putting stroke. I am opposed to the ban.

Golf is a game played primarily by millions of recreational players worldwide. They come in all ages, and all physical capabilities and conditions. The combination of the long putter and the anchored putting stroke has enabled many people to play the game enjoyably who would otherwise play in discomfort or not at all. This combination has also made a difficult game a bit easier to play; not a cakewalk, by any means, but a more approachable game in which beginners can achieve a satisfying level of success in a relatively short time.

It is recreational golfers that the rules of golf must accommodate. They are the game, not the handful of gifted players who compete at the highest levels. For those millions, the anchored stroke is not a corruption of the game’s principles or its intent. It is a way for them to have as much fun as they can.

We’re not asking for a different set of rules, but the preservation of the current ones. There is no point in changing the rules to make the game harder. Whether anchored putting contributes to golf’s growth is debatable, that banning the anchored stroke might well diminish it is not. I can easily foresee golfers with a marginal commitment to the game or physical handicaps quitting over this.

It seems the main argument brought up by the R&A and the USGA that the anchored stroke is a violation of the traditions of the game, that “a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely.” (Golfweek, December 7-14, 2012). That’s a tradition of the game because it’s a law of physics. If you want to hit a ball sitting on the ground a long way, you have to rear back and whack it. I suppose if someone wanted to have a belly driver with a 60” shaft (yes, I know the rule on shaft lengths) and swing it with an anchored stroke, they might be able to hit the ball 100 yards. We swing freely because that’s the only way to hit the ball and get anything resembling distance.

Putting, however, is not a distance stroke. It’s a finesse stroke. There is no need for it to be a free-swinging stroke. The anchored stroke is not part of golf’s tradition only because no one thought of it until recent times. But then, metal and graphite shafts aren’t traditional, either, as are not metal-headed drivers and moderns golf balls. The sand wedge and the Schenectady putter were nontraditional when they were introduced, but golf survived quite well following their acceptance. Anyone been stymied lately? It appears that golf’s rule-makers are being selective today as to which traditions they feel are necessary so the game can “sustain itself” and which are not.

There is an “unfair advantage” argument that you hear. If you think anchoring gives other golfers have an advantage, than you can start anchoring, too. PGA members who anchor have not taken over the top rankings in putting statistics, nor are they even close. No advantage that I can see there. If one of my playing pals switches to an anchored stroke and lowers his handicap by four strokes, I’ll be nothing but happy for him, because he’s having . . . more fun.

There is also the “nerves” argument, that the anchored stroke takes the nerves out of the game. Well, it doesn’t, and even if it settles them down a bit, recreational golfers don’t play golf to test our nerves. We’re not in competition. We’re out there to have fun.

So. To summarize. Golf belongs to the millions of recreational players, not the handful of professionals. We play golf to have fun. Anchored putting lets many of us not only have fun, but play the game, period. Let us keep this part of golf that does no harm to anyone or to the sport, but does many of us a world of good. Anchored putting so far hasn’t been the killing blow to recreational golf and it won’t be if it is allowed to continue. Rule 14-1b is a solution to an imaginary problem. Let’s keep the rules just like they are now.

Thank you for your attention.


Gotta Know the Rules!

Tiger Woods got socked with a two-stroke penalty for taking an illegal drop in the Abu Dhabi tournament last weekend. If he had been reading the rules review in this blog last summer, Woods would have known that you can take a drop from an embedded lie through the green only if the ball is in a closely-mown area (Rule 25-2), which his was not.

What’s worse, his playing partner, Martin Kaymer, didn’t know the rule, either.

So as not to be as inexcusably ignorant as the best players in the world, why not do a rules review of your own?

You can start with the first post concerning the teeing ground. Or click on Rules in the label listing and away you go.


Golf Rules in Plain English

Yesterday morning I was trying to find a subject for today’s post and coming up empty. Normally I write these about a week ahead of time, but by December 9, I had nothing for December 10. So I decided to take a trip to the library and browse the golf section to see if I could get inspired. Bingo.

As I was browsing through our golf collection, I saw a small book titled, The Rules of Golf in Plain English. That sounds good to me. This is a new book, written by Jeffrey S. Kuhn, an attorney and volunteer USGA rules official, and Bryan A. Garner, also an attorney and one who gives seminars to lawyers on how to write in, you guessed it, plain English.

Now this is something I have always imagined myself, doing, but I’m not that good of a technical writer, and the project really needs someone who has an expert’s grasp of the rules. Not me, either.

This book is so great. First of all, they changed the passive “the player” to the active “you.” It’s not “the player” who can and can’t do these things, it’s “you!” And they let that be said.

Let’s take a complicated rule, playing the wrong ball. Here’s how the USGA says it:

15-3b. The competitor must correct his mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules. If he fails to correct his mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his mistake before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified.

Here’s how Kuhn and Garner say it:
15-3(c) You must correct the mistake by playing your ball. If you don’t correct your mistake before you make a stroke from the next tee–or, in the case of the last hole of the round, don’t declare your intention to correct your mistake before leaving the putting green–you’re disqualified.

Subtle differences, yes, but the second one is more direct and makes it simpler to understand exactly what YOU have to do.

At the start of every rule, the defined terms it refers to are explicitly listed instead of being highlighted in the text. Rule headings are re-worded. Rules themselves are broken up and reorganized so you don’t have to wade through what you don’t need to read to find what you do.

The general penalty for violation of a rule is two strokes, or loss of a hole, but there is an appendix which lists the one-stroke penalties. That is very convenient.

Keep in mind that this is not an official rule book. It has no legal status on the golf course. You should have an official copy of the rules in your bag and refer to it when there are questions. You should also carry a copy of The Rules of Golf in Plain English with you to be sure you understand what the rules actually want you to do.


Know the Rules: Local Rules

Though the golf course management may not contravene any Rule of golf on its own, if a local condition interferes with the proper playing of the game, it may modify a rule with the approval of the USGA.

Local rules are shown on the back of the scorecard and should be read before you start your round. You might find things like identifying particular objects which can be treated as immovable obstructions. Special areas where the operators do not want foot traffic or balls to be hit out of might be designated as an area from where a free drop may be taken.

Some courses have power lines running low across a hole and say what to do if your ball hits one (generally, play another from the same spot without penalty).

Special drop zones might have been set up on certain holes for certain hazards. Special drops might be awarded for the protection of young trees.

If there is habitual temporary wetness, a special procedure can be established.

The meaning and location of stakes marking water hazards and out of bounds may also be described in the local rules section. Note especially if there is an out-of-bounds area within the perimeter of the course. If a hole borders the practice range, expect the range to be marked as out of bounds.

Read the local rules on the back of the scorecard. They are there to help you play better and take care of the course for the golfers who come after you.

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Know the Rules: Abnormal Ground Conditions, Embedded Ball

I keep saying that the one thing about golf that is most different from other sports is that we play in Nature, not on a prepared surface. So, you’re never going to get a perfect lie or a fair bounce all the time. But sometimes it’s just too much. Your ball lands in what looks like a construction project, or is comes down hard and sticks where it hits. What to do>

Rule 25 covers these events, and believe me, it is a complicated rule with a huge section in the Decisions book.

Basically, and abnormal ground condition is an area marked as ground under repair or covered by casual water. Ground under repair is generally is marked off with a white boundary line. Casual water is a temporary collection of water. Snow and natural ice are loose impediments or casual water, at the player’s discretion. Dew and frost are not casual water.

Exposed drainage lines in the ground are generally ground under repair. Be sure to ask at the pro shop.

Interference by an abnormal ground condition occurs when a ball lies in or touches the condition or when the condition interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing. If the player’s ball lies on the putting green, interference also occurs if an abnormal ground condition on the putting green intervenes on his line of putt.

If the ball lies through the green (not in a hazard, on the putting ground, or the teeing ground), the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green.

If the ball lies in a bunker, the ball may be lifted and dropped without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief, but in the bunker. The player may choose to drop the ball out of the bunker, under a penalty of one stroke, but must drop the ball on a line connecting the point where the ball lay and the pin.

If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it (not drop it), without penalty, at the nearest point of relief that is not in a hazard or, if complete relief is impossible, at the nearest position to where it lay that affords maximum available relief from the condition, but not nearer the hole and not in a hazard. The nearest point of relief or maximum available relief may be off the putting green.

A player may not take relief afforded for an abnormal ground condition when the ball is in a water hazard.

A ball embedded in a closely-mown area through the green may be lifted, cleaned, and replaced as near as possible to the spot where the ball originally lay. “Closely-mown” means fairway height or lower.

A ball embedded in a bunker must be played as it lies. Since a ball on the putting green may be lifted, cleaned, and replaced anyway, there is no special rule for en embedded ball here. Just be sure to do a thorough job of repairing the ball mark.

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Know the Rules: Bunkers

Hazards are special places with rules of their own, designed to make sure they remain hazards even in unusual circumstances. These are the things you can and cannot do in a bunker. The rule reference is in parentheses.

– First and foremost, you may not touch the ground with your hand or the club (13-4).
– You may not touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard. (13-4).
– You may not test the condition of the hazard (13-4).

Provided nothing is done that constitutes testing the condition of the hazard or improves the lie of the ball, there is no penalty if the player (a) touches the ground or loose impediments in any hazard or water in a water hazard:
– as a result of or to prevent falling,
– in removing an obstruction,
-in measuring or in marking the position of, retrieving, lifting, placing or replacing a ball under any Rule
or (b) places his clubs in a hazard. (Exception to Rule 13-4)

If you declare an unplayable lie in a bunker, your drop must also be in the bunker unless the option you choose is stroke and distance. (28)

You may remove movable obstructions (a rake, for example) without penalty. If the ball moves when you do this, you must replace the ball, without penalty. (24-1)

If your ball is covered in the sand, you may touch the sand to the extent that you can identify the ball. Once you make the identification, you must recreate the lie as nearly as you can by replacing the sand. You may leave a small part of the ball visible (12-1a). The same procedure applies to a ball covered by loose impediments (12-1b).

You may rake a bunker at any time provided that it is done to care for the course in general and is not done to affect the play of a shot from the bunker. (13-4) Best to wait until after you hit, then rake the bunker.

The penalty for breach of these rules is two strokes.

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Know the Rules: General Considerations

There are some rules that govern the game in general and which are scattered throughout the rule book. Let’s call them rules every golfer should know.

Rule 1-2. A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play or (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole. Penalty: two strokes

Rule 1-3. Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred. Penalty: DQ.

Rule 3-2. If in stroke play a competitor fails to hole out at any hole and does not correct his mistake before he makes a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, before he leaves the putting green, he is disqualified.

Rule 6-6d. The competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified. If he returns a score for any hole higher than actually taken, the score as returned stands. Note: The Committee is responsible for the addition of scores and application of the handicap recorded on the score card.

This is a commonly misunderstood rule. The player is responsible for turning in the correct scores on each hole. The player is NOT responsible for the total score. If all your hole scores are correct and you turn in an 86 but the scores really add up to 87, there is no penalty.

Advice: Advice, which is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke, may not be given to a competitor.
Information on the Rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice. Except on the putting green, the line of play may be indicated by anyone, but no marker may be placed.

Stroke: A “stroke’’ is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke.

Cleaning the ball: A ball may be lifted and cleaned on the putting green. Elsewhere, a ball may be cleaned when lifted, except when it has been lifted:
a. To determine if it is unfit for play (Rule 5-3);
b. For identification (Rule 12-2), in which case it may be cleaned only to the extent necessary for identification; or
c. Because it is assisting or interfering with play (Rule 22).

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Know the Rules: The Putting Green

There are certain things you can and cannot do on the putting green. Rule 16, The Putting Green, covers only a few of them. Some of these things have been covered before in this weekly series, but here is the putting green collection of rules all in one place. Hopefully, most of it is familiar to you already.

You may lift your ball after marking it and clean it if you wish to (16-1b).

If the ball, after it has been replaced, moves accidentally in picking up the marker, the ball must be replaced and there is no penalty (20-3a). A ball on the green may not be touched if it is not marked – one-stroke penalty (18-2a).

You may repair old hole plugs, ball marks, and damage to the green caused by the impact of the ball, but no other damage that might assist subsequent play (such as a damaged lip on the hole) (16-1c).

If you play a stroke when your ball is on the putting green and your ball hits another ball that is on the putting green, you incur a two-stroke penalty. The ball you hit must be replaced, and you play your ball from where it came to rest. (19-5a) If your ball was not on the putting green and it hit a ball that was, proceed as before, but there is no penalty.

If there is causal water on the green between your ball and the hole, you can lift your ball and place it on the nearest spot that provides you relief, but not nearer to the hole. That spot might not be on the putting green, but may not be in a hazard. (25-1)

If you hit your ball onto the wrong putting green (one that is not part of the hole you’re playing), you may not play the ball from there. You must take relief. Lift the ball and drop it one club-length from the nearest point of relief, which point may not be in a hazard or on the putting green. (25-3)

You may not use a “putting ball” when you reach the green. You must putt and hole out with the ball you teed off with, or put into play because the original ball became lost, out of bounds, unfit for play, or substituted according to the rules. (15-1)

You may not stand astride the line of your putt when making a stroke. Two-stroke penalty if you do. This rule effectively bans croquet-style putting. You may stand astride a line connecting the ball and the hole if this is not the line of your putt. If you take a stance astride the line of your putt to avoid interfering with another player’s line, there is no penalty. (16-1e)

The flagstick, or the person attending the flagstick, may not be hit by the ball by a stroke made on the putting green. Two-stroke penalty. (17-3)

Sand that has spilled onto the surface of the putting green is a loose impediment (Definitions) and may be removed without penalty. (24-1)

A ball is holed out when it comes to rest within the circumference of the hole and all of it lies below the level of the lip of the hole. (Definitions)

If a ball comes to rest between the flagstick and the lip of the hole and is not holed out according to definition, the player may move or remove the flagstick. If the ball falls in the hole, the ball is considered to have been holed with his last stroke. Otherwise, the player must replace the ball on the lip of the hole and play without penalty. (17-4)

You may not touch the line of your putt (two-stroke penalty) except to remove loose impediments, repairing the green, measuring, replacing the ball, or pressing down a ball-marker. You may rest your putter on the green in front of your ball while addressing it as long as you do not press anything down. (16-1a)

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