10 Golden Rules of Golf

The original Rules of Golf, issued by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744, numbered just 13.

Today’s Rules of Golf has 34 Rules with over 200 sections and subsections, totaling more than 20,000 words. It is no wonder that many golfers never bother to read the Rules book and those that do often disagree over their interpretation.

In 1982, as a result of collaboration between the USGA and GOLF Magazine, George Peper was tasked to write a simplified summary of those Rules that affect most golfers, most often. More recently LINKS magazine took up the cause and partnered with the USGA to promote the original version with a few minor amendments.

If all golfers were to learn these 10 Golden Rules

George Peper estimates that they would be able to resolve 90% of the Rules situations that golfers routinely encounter in the course of an 18-hole round. I present them here to remind readers of some of the most basic principles of the game we love;

The 10 Golden Rules of Golf

  1. Play the ball as it lies.
  2. Don’t move, bend, or break anything growing or fixed, except in fairly taking your stance or swing. Don’t press anything down.
  3. You may lift natural objects not fixed or growing, except in a water hazard or bunker. No penalty.
  4. Movable man-made objects may be moved. For immovable objects, you may take relief by dropping away from them within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole, except in a water hazard or if the object defines out of bounds. In a bunker, you must drop in the bunker. No penalty.
  5. You may take relief from casual water, ground under repair, burrowing animal holes or casts, anywhere except in a water hazard. On the putting green, place at the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole; otherwise drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole. In a bunker, you must drop in the bunker. No penalty.
  6. In a water hazard or bunker, don’t touch the water or ground with your hand or club before the stroke.
  7. If you hit your ball into a water hazard and cannot find or play it, either drop behind the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin or at the place where you played the shot. On the tee, you may tee the ball. One penalty stroke. If you hit into a lateral hazard, you may also drop within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin, or, within two club-lengths of a point equidistant from the hole on the opposite margin. One penalty stroke.
  8. When you hit your ball out of bounds or cannot find it after 5 minutes of searching, add a penalty stroke, go back and drop a ball at the place where you played the shot. On the tee, you may tee the ball. If you think you have hit your ball out of bounds or lost it outside a water hazard, play a provisional ball before searching for the first one.
  9. When you have an unplayable lie, you may drop a ball at the place where you played the previous shot, adding a penalty stroke. On the tee, you may tee the ball. Alternatively, drop within two club-lengths, no nearer the hole, or any distance behind the unplayable spot, keeping it between you and the hole. If the ball is in a bunker, you must drop in the bunker, under either of the alternative options. If you can’t play your ball that is in a water hazard, see Golden Rule #7.
  10. You may repair ball marks and old hole plugs on the putting green that are on the line of your putt, but not spike marks.

If I were asked to include one more Golden Rule principle to this list it would be, never touch a ball in play without marking it first.

While there are occasions when you do not have to mark a ball in play (e.g. when you have deemed your ball unplayable and are taking relief under penalty of one stroke) it is wise to do so and you will not have to remember when you have to mark it and when you do not.

21 Responses to 10 Golden Rules of Golf

  1. Dusty Owens October 9, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    I applaud and am secretly jealous of your knowledge. However, 20,000 words is ridiculous for a rule book and 2) many courses are too poorly marked to apply a proper interpretation.
    My vote is for a simpler game and rule book. It’s really a poor representation of our sport when players who have played for years can’t interpret the rules properly.
    Pretty sure I’ll keep playing though LOL

    • bob tuttle October 9, 2017 at 11:21 am #

      Amen to that.

  2. Dr. Karl Fischer October 9, 2017 at 8:51 am #

    The ‘Frustration Quotient’ is far too high in this ‘Great Game’. The result is that we are losing more golfers each year from attrition than we are gaining from curiosity. We would be well served by have a 3X5 card with 5 Primary Rules on one side and 5 Secondary Rules on the other. 20,000 rule book words is tantamount to the IRS Regulations in America! We printed these 5+5 on the back of our score cards in very simple English.That helped keep things playing through! Ready Golf is essential to golf’s future as is sound instruction that makes sense to each student! Poor and confusing instruction is sadly and damagingly epidemic!

  3. bob tuttle October 9, 2017 at 11:22 am #

    absolutely!! thank you but the length will never change until we change the leadership.

  4. Kris October 9, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

    I have a question about rule #3. If the green has a pile of grass clippings (dead, cut grass) in my line, can I sweep the dead grass clippings away with my putter?

    • Barry Rhodes October 19, 2017 at 10:14 am #

      Good question Kris. Yes, grass cuttings are loose impediments and may be removed by any means, providing nothing is pressed down while doing so, Decision 23-1/1..

  5. tony powell October 9, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    number 3: you can’t touch anything much less move natural objects in any hazard, not just water or bunker. Any area marked as a hazard is untouchable by hand or club unless you are making ‘a swing’.

  6. Chris Newton October 10, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    The Rules of Golf are so complicated that in an average club competition many rules will be broken through ignorance, to the extent that if you do play to the rules you’re very likely at a disadvantage. That can’t be good for the sport. Matthew Southgate was recently penalised 4 shots when he didn’t do the right thing when a leaf blew into his ball on the putting green. How many club golfers would have called that penalty on themselves? A massive simplification of the rules, especially for club golfers, is long overdue.

  7. Michael Nation October 10, 2017 at 9:23 am #

    Can you move a ball in a bunker that lies in a deer’s hoof print.

    • Barry Rhodes October 19, 2017 at 10:13 am #

      No, There is no relief from footprints of any animal (or bird), whether in a bunker or anywhere else on the course.

  8. Joe Carrick October 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

    I’m still trying to find where in the Rules is says from what height a drop must be made. Does that exist in the Rule Book?

    • Barry Rhodes October 19, 2017 at 10:12 am #

      Hi Joe, Rule 20-2a: “A ball to be dropped under the Rules must be dropped by the player himself. He must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it. So, a 5′ 0″ golfer has a small advantage over a 6′ 6” golfer!

  9. John J. Reed October 10, 2017 at 9:54 pm #


    I found these 10 (plus-one) Rules to be lucid and concise. They DO cover (and provide answers for) those main, frequently ‘pondered’ situations which occur from time to time during one’s golfing life!

    Well done to Golfers Rx and Barry Rhodes for this initiative!

  10. Lewis T. October 26, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    This is an excellent article; I will copy and print (much like someone mentioned…) on a 5 x 5 card for my golf bag.

    I do have a question on #4…there is a wooden fence/rail that runs along the cart path, about 3 feet high. The ball came to rest against the fence…do I take a drop with no penalty or drop and one stroke penalty?

    • Barry Rhodes October 27, 2017 at 7:37 am #

      Thanks Lewis.

      Providing the wooden fence is not a course boundary fence, it is an immovable obstruction and you may take relief from it, without penalty, if it interferes with your lie, stance or area of intended swing. You determine the nearest point of relief that avoids interference and drop within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. This may mean dropping on the cart path, which is another immovable obstruction from which you may also choose to take relief in the same way, Rule 24-2. If the wooden fence is a course boundary then no relief is available; the ball must be played as it lies, or deemed unplayable for a penalty of one stroke, Definition of Out of Bounds and Rule 28.

  11. Donald Day November 9, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    I have a question re: no5. Burrowing animal scrapings. If the scraping is behind a tree and that tree interferes with your normal swing, do you still get relief?

    • Keith @ GolfersRX November 12, 2017 at 5:49 am #

      The player must determine the nearest point of relief from the animal scrapes, without any reference to the tree, which could therefore be somewhere within that tree. The player must then drop a ball anywhere within an estimated one club-length of this reference point, not nearer the hole. On some occasions this will mean that the tree is no longer interfering with the area of swing, which is the player’s good fortune.

  12. Steve S November 30, 2017 at 7:49 am #

    If we are talking pace of play, the rule about going back to where the original strike is foolish. I would like to see all white stakes changed to red to help eliminate this issue. A couple of local courses have done this.

    • Allen Vessels January 3, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

      I like your thinking, Steve. On. A coupke if golf trips I take every year to Championship level resorts, the marshalls are on an average golfer’s butt about every four holes. Retreating to the tee box simply wouldn’t get it!

  13. Ell December 26, 2017 at 4:26 am #

    I play golf for the enjoyment and the friendship with my retired workers, not following a bunch of ridiculous rules written a hundred years ago to make the game onerous and time consuming.

  14. clay December 27, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    question ? ball starts to roll back on green from an elevated position on a bank on back side of green after reaching green (just a couple inches on) the ball stops against a leaf cluster that has blown onto green. after marking ball and removing leaf debre ball will not stay in place due to grade of green with out rolling 3 feet closer to hole when put on green. where can ball be marked to eliminate forward roll toward the pin. is there a rule that covers this situation. clay

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