In this article and video, Jeremy Ellwood and Neil Tappin highlight the classic golf rules mistakes that every golfer makes or has made at some stage...

7 Golf Rules Mistakes Every Golfer Makes!

The rules of golf can seem complicated but as they need to cover a wide range of eventualities taking place on a vast landscape, their complexity is somewhat unavoidable. That’s why it is well worth knowing the most important elements. In this video, Neil Tappin and Jezz Ellwood take a look at the 7 golf rules mistakes every golfer makes!

1) Not clearly indicating second ball is a provisional ball

It’s probably easiest if you do simply say ‘I’m going to hit a provisional ball’. But you don’t have to specifically use the word ‘provisional’ under the Rules.

You can say you’re going to proceed under Rule 18.3, or make it clear that you’re hitting another ball provisionally in case you don’t find the first one or find it OOB. The Interpretations on the Rules say that, “I’m going to hit another ball just in case,” is good enough, for example.

If you say nothing before hitting it or just say, “I’m hitting another or reloading,” that’s not good enough. In that scenario, your second ball will automatically become the ball in play even if you find the first in the middle of the fairway.

Even experienced golfers frequently get things wrong on the provisional ball front in competitions.

2) Lifting ball to identify it without first marking its position

Yes, the Rules have been relaxed so you no longer have to have someone observe the lifting. But you do still have to mark the ball’s position first and you may only lift it if it is reasonably necessary to be able to identify it.

You must mark your ball’s position before lifting it to identify it (Photo: Tom Miles)

Many people didn’t first mark its position before the 2019 Rules changes and still don’t now. If you need to lift your ball to be able to identify it positively, always remember to mark its position first. You may only clean it to the extent necessary to identify it before replacing it in its original spot.

3) Taking relief from a sprinkler head on your line on the fringe

Contrary to what some golfers believe, this is not an automatic relief scenario. You are entitled to free relief if your ball lies on the sprinkler head (an immovable obstruction) or it would interfere with your stance or area of intended swing.

But if it is merely on your line as below and you really want to putt it, there is no automatic free relief.

No free relief from the sprinkler head here unless a Local Rule is in force (Photo: Tom Miles)

However, some courses will have a Local Rule (Model Local Rule F-5) in force. This will allow relief if your ball lies within two club-lengths of a sprinkler head on your line and that sprinkler head is also within two club-lengths of the putting green.

If no such Local Rule exists, there is no free relief. So you may have to reconsider your shot choice if you were hoping to putt.

4) Repairing a pitchmark on your line on the fringe

Your natural instinct might be to repair a pitchmark on your line on the fringe as you would on the putting green. But sadly, you are not allowed to do so even if your ball created it. This would be deemed to be improving the conditions affecting your stroke and a breach of Rule 8.1a.

You cannot repair a pitchmark on your line on the fringe (Photo: Tom Miles)

The only time you may repair a pitchmark on the fringe on your line is if it was created by another player’s ball after yours had come to rest. You would then be allowed to restore things to how they were when your ball came to rest.

You can, however, repair a pitchmark on the green at an time even if your ball lies off the green.

5) Exceeding the ball search time of three minutes

Admittedly, very few players actually time their searches, which begin when the player or caddie reach the area where the ball is believed to be. Many golfers do know that we now have only three minutes to search for a ball rather than five. But some are still guilty of searching for far too long.

Remember it’s only three minutes to search for your ball now (Photo: Tom Miles)

When the three minutes is up, the ball is lost and you must either proceed under stroke and distance or with your provisional ball. Hopefully, you will have played one if there was any doubt about finding the original!

The good news is that you are no longer penalised for moving your own ball accidentally when searching. So there is no reason not to search more thoroughly than was perhaps the case when you were worried about accidentally kicking your ball and incurring a penalty.

If you do move your ball when searching for it, you must replace it where it was lying and carry on without penalty. Estimate the spot if you can’t be sure.

6) Believing nearest point of complete relief entitles you to a good lie

When dropping from a path or other immovable obstruction, many people mistakenly believe they’re entitled to a perfect lie and line. This is perhaps because they don’t really understand what it is they’re taking relief from.

Your nearest point of complete relief won’t always be very appetising! (Photo: Tom Miles)

You don’t get free relief from trees, bushes, dreadful lies etc, so if that is where your nearest point of complete relief is (and there is only one nearest point), that is where you must drop. You may, of course, choose to play the ball as it lies if you think that is your best option.

This is definitely one of those golf rules mistakes every golfer makes (or has made at some stage). Many will drop at the ‘nicest point of relief’ rather than ‘nearest’. This will then result in them playing from a wrong place.

7) Not knowing when a ball is considered out of bounds

On the white line somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean your ball is in bounds. The boundary is the course-side edge of any line on the ground or any stakes being used to designate OOB.

So, with a wide OOB line, your ball could be lying on it. But if no part of the ball lies beyond the course-side edge of the line then it is OOB.

This diagram helps tidy up any confusion over OOB lines & posts (Reproduced with the kind permission of The R&A)

When a white line defines OOB, the boundary edge is the course-side edge of the line and the line itself is OOB (Rule 18.2a). A ball is OOB when all of it lies outside the boundary edge of the course. The diagram on page 112 of the Player’s Edition of the Rule book is very helpful here.