Each issue I will cover the basic priciples of the rules of golf and how to use them. All information is curtesy of the R&A
The Game of Golf
Golf is played in a round of 18 (or fewer) holes on a course by striking a ball with a club.
Each hole starts with a stroke from the teeing area and ends when the ball is holed on the putting green (or when the Rules otherwise say the hole is completed).
For each stroke, the player:
- Plays the course as he or she finds it, and
- Plays the ball as it lies.
But there are exceptions where the Rules allow the player to alter conditions on the course and require or allow the player to play the ball from a different place than where it lies.
Standards of Player Conduct
Conduct Expected of All Players
All players are expected to play in the spirit of the game by:
- Acting with integrity – for example, by following the Rules, applying all penalties, and being honest in all aspects of play.
- Showing consideration to others – for example, by playing at a prompt pace, looking out for the safety of others, and not distracting the play of another player.
- Taking good care of the course– for example, by replacing divots, smoothing bunkers, repairing ball-marks, and not causing unnecessary damage to the course.
There is no penalty under the Rules for failing to act in this way, except that the Committee may disqualify a player for acting contrary to the spirit of the game if it finds that the player has committed serious misconduct.
Penalties other than disqualification may be imposed for player misconduct only if those penalties are adopted as part of a Code of Conduct under Rule 1.2b.
Code of Conduct
The Committee may set its own standards of player conduct in a Code of Conduct adopted as a Local Rule.
- The Code may include penalties for breach of its standards, such as a one-stroke penalty or the general penalty.
- The Committee may also disqualify a player for serious misconduct in failing to meet the Code’s standards.
See Committee Procedures, Section 5H (explaining the standards of player conduct that may be adopted).
Playing by the Rules
Meaning of “Rules”; Terms of the Competition
The “Rules” means:
- Rules 1-24 and the Definitions in these Rules of Golf, and
- Any “Local Rules” the Committee adopts for the competition or the course.
Players are also responsible for complying with all “Terms of the Competition” adopted by the Committee (such as entry requirements, the form and dates of play, the number of rounds and the number and order of holes in a round).
Applying the Rules
(1) Player Responsibility for Applying the Rules. Players are responsible for applying the Rules to themselves:
- Players are expected to recognize when they have breached a Rule and to be honest in applying their own penalties.
- If a player knows that he or she has breached a Rule that involves a penalty and deliberately fails to apply the penalty, the player is disqualified.
- If two or more players deliberately agree to ignore any Rule or penalty they know applies and any of those players have started the round, they are disqualified (even if they have not yet acted on the agreement).
- When it is necessary to decide questions of fact, a player is responsible for considering not only his or her own knowledge of the facts but also all other information that is reasonably available.
- A player may ask for help with the Rules from a referee or the Committee, but if help is not available in a reasonable time the player must play on and raise the issue with a referee or the Committee when they become available (see Rule 20.1).
(2) Accepting Player’s “Reasonable Judgment” in Determining a Location When Applying the Rules.
- Many Rules require a player to determine a spot, point, line, area or other location under the Rules, such as:
- Estimating where a ball last crossed the edge of a penalty area,
- Estimating or measuring when dropping or placing a ball in taking relief, or
- Replacing a ball on its original spot (whether the spot is known or estimated).
- Such determinations about location need to be made promptly and with care but often cannot be precise.
- So long as the player does what can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted even if, after the stroke is made, the determination is shown to be wrong by video evidence or other information.
- If a player becomes aware of a wrong determination before the stroke is made, it must be corrected (see Rule 14.5).
(1) Actions Giving Rise to Penalties. A penalty applies when a breach of a Rule results from a player’s own actions or the actions of his or her caddie (see Rule 10.3c).
A penalty also applies when:
- Another person takes an action that would breach the Rules if taken by the player or caddie and that person does so at the player’s request or while acting with the player’s authority, or
- The player sees another person about to take an action concerning the player’s ball or equipment that he or she knows would breach the Rules if taken by the player or caddie and does not take reasonable steps to object or stop it from happening.
(2) Levels of Penalties. Penalties are meant to cancel out any potential advantage to the player. There are three main penalty levels:
- One-Stroke Penalty. This penalty applies in both match play and stroke play under certain Rules where either (a) the potential advantage from a breach is minor or (b) a player takes penalty relief by playing a ball from a different place than where the original ball lies.
- General Penalty (Loss of Hole in Match Play, Two-Stroke Penalty in Stroke Play). This penalty applies for a breach of most Rules, where the potential advantage is more significant than where only one penalty stroke applies.
- Disqualification. In both match play and stroke play, a player may be disqualified from the competition for certain actions or Rule breaches involving serious misconduct (see Rule 1.2) or where the potential advantage is too significant for the player’s score to be considered valid.
(3) No Discretion to Vary Penalties. Penalties need to be applied only as provided in the Rules:
- Neither a player nor the Committee has authority to apply penalties in a different way, and
- A wrong application of a penalty or a failure to apply a penalty may stand only if it is too late to correct it (see Rules 20.1b(2)-(4), 20.2d and 20.2e).
(4) Applying Penalties to Multiple Breaches of the Rules. If a player breaches multiple Rules or the same Rule multiple times before an intervening event happens (such as making a stroke or becoming aware of the breach), the penalty that applies depends on what the player did:
- When Breaches Resulted from Unrelated Acts. The player gets a separate penalty for each breach.
- When Breaches Resulted from a Single Act or Related Acts. The player gets only one penalty; but if the act or acts breached multiple Rules involving different penalties, the higher-level penalty applies. For example:
- Multiple Procedural Breaches. If a player’s single act or related acts breach more than one of the procedural requirements for marking, lifting, cleaning, dropping, replacing or placing a ball where the penalty is one stroke, such as both lifting a ball without marking its spot and cleaning the lifted ball when not allowed, the player gets one penalty stroke in total.
- Playing Incorrectly Substituted Ball from a Wrong Place. In stroke play, if a player plays a substituted ball when not allowed in breach of Rule 6.3b and also plays that ball from a wrong place in breach of Rule 14.7a, the player gets two penalty strokes in total.
- Combined Procedural and Substitution/Wrong Place Breaches: In stroke play, if a player’s single act or related acts breach one or more procedural requirements where the penalty is one stroke and also breach one or both of the Rules against playing an incorrectly substituted ball and playing from a wrong place, the player gets two penalty strokes in total.