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.

40 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.

      • John Thomas December 2, 2018 at 11:13 pm #

        Just glancing through comments etc, a golf club managing committee may if it wishes to impose a Local Rule for a number of rule variations. See the Links Club, Gold Coast Australia re kangaroo prints or disturbances in bunkers.
        The late great Peter Thompson was a proponent to remove all rakes from in and around bunkers, leave them rough and play the ball ‘as is’……saves time and adds to the challenge LOL.

  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!

    • jim April 10, 2018 at 11:38 pm #

      Currently from shoulder height … being changed next year or the year after.. And that is YOUR shoulder height. The proposed change will allow the drop to occur from such a low level as to be nearly placing the ball.

      • Dale Hart June 11, 2018 at 8:30 am #

        The drop will be from the players knee.

  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!

    • ken April 22, 2018 at 9:05 pm #

      The USGA has modified this rule.
      One more option is available. If a ball is deemed out of bounds or “lost”. Under penalty of TWO strokes a play may decide to drop a ball near the point where it is likely to have traveled out of bounds or was last seen( lost).
      This will be an option for a local rule. So, check first before proceeding.
      One item. This will NOT apply to professional or so called elite level competitions.

  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.

    • fred June 11, 2018 at 5:05 pm #

      Our Home Owners Group rules are “there are no rules”!!

  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

    • ken April 22, 2018 at 9:11 pm #

      The entire rules thing comes out of the notion of a “club handicap” or the USGA Index.
      That one must keep as accurate score as possible for the purposes of maintaining a standing among peers.
      Decades ago when most gold was played at private clubs with a large dose of “hoidy toidy-ness) one’s “club handicap” was a life or death struggle.
      Unless one is likely to compete in a USGA sanctioned competition or a club event where a USGA Index is a requirement for entry, this highly detailed attention to the rules of golf is unnecessary. When playing recreational golf, we follow the basic rules. The more detailed and complicated rules. we just try to play as fairly as possible. We’re having fun. Not designing a sky scraper.

  15. W Thomas April 10, 2018 at 8:53 pm #

    Tied for first as the most unfair/ridiculous rule —- not being able to repair spike marks — tied with not being able for a free drop from divots in the fairway. Both are man made-careless-and unthoughtful of fellow players. You should not be punished for someone else’s bad manners.

  16. jim April 10, 2018 at 11:35 pm #

    I can not tell you how many strokes I might have been saved with these ten rules in my pocket. I have lost several little tournaments based solely on the unplayable rules that have more flexibility than I knew. They are being copied and put in my bag tonight!

  17. B Reeve April 11, 2018 at 11:16 pm #

    Quite the chap, i wish you were miniature and I could put you. In my pocket, when playing Golf ,you are the greatest , many thanks Barry.????

    • B Reeve April 11, 2018 at 11:18 pm #


  18. JR April 12, 2018 at 4:38 am #

    When your ball stops in an area of ground under repair, can you play the ball from that lie, or you obligated to move it from that area without penalty?

    • Barry Rhodes April 15, 2018 at 11:17 am #

      The Rules of golf state that you “may” take relief from ground under repair (or any other abnormal ground condition), Rule 25-1b, so the player has the choice of whether to play their ball as it lies, or take relief without penalty. However, many Committees want to protect areas of ground under repair and introduce a temporary Local Rule stating thatt players must take relief. This provides a g good example of why players should always check the Local Rules before commencing a round of golf.

  19. Edward Duffie, Jr., M.D. April 20, 2018 at 2:47 pm #

    Richard Tufts advice over 60 years ago would suffice today were it not for the prima donnas who insist on perfect lies and no imperfections in any part of the course on which they may be playing. If we wish to simplify the rules and make the game uniform for all players, return to the two principles he espoused, viz., 1) play the ball as it lies and 2) play the course as you find it. His advice – “Tee the ball on the tee and don’t touch it again until you remove it from the hole.” If you find any circumstance whatever that prevents you from playing according to the two “principles” above you may return to where you last played a stroke and try again, adding one penalty stroke to your score, of course. Having been a Rules Official for over 25 years now, I am aware this is totally impractical advice but how I long to return to the “good ol’ game.”

  20. john May 16, 2018 at 5:31 pm #

    i played a shot with a wedge in very thick grass not far from the green and had to hit it quite hard, i hit it and it sounded like a double hit, but i did not feel it at all through the shaft and grip, it might have been the sound of the sole of the club bouncing. my opponent was standing about 3 meters away and did not say anything to me and we just carried on. so what is the ruling if he had pulled me up on the possible double hit later in the round.

  21. albatrossx3 June 10, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

    What amazes me is that people who make their living playing this game, do not know the rules. I have read the whole book and many of the decisions, it is not hard. And yes to cover many important things, like the golf ball or club it requires a lot of rules, and these 10 do not even cover match play and its separate issues. But knowing these simple basic rules will allow you to play, and one more that is important, if you dont know how to proceed, and do not have a rules official you can play two balls and ask when you are finished.

  22. frank gasparro July 22, 2018 at 8:34 am #

    we have electric utility towers on concrete pads (3 ft tall) between fairways – two situations I’m wondering about: 1) ball comes to rest on concrete pads and 2) ball is next to concrete pad in rough- thanks

  23. Paul T July 29, 2018 at 11:13 pm #

    If a green side sprinkler head is between you and your ball and you are putting, do you get free relief?

  24. Thomas H Gross August 8, 2018 at 7:20 am #

    If one is taking relief from ground under repair that exists in the rough and the nearest point of relief happens to be in the fairway, can the ball be played from there? I have been told by members that I cannot improve my lie by taking relief in the fairway…that I must take relief in the rough.

Leave a Reply

Get the FREE GolfersRx Newsletter!

Subscribe Now

Join our FREE members-only newsletter and get exclusive tips, video drills, and deal alerts delivered directly to your inbox!

We respect your privacy and will never share your email address