8 Rules Golfers Break Without Realising

We take a look at 8 rules golfers break without realising

8 Rules Golfers Break Without Realising
(Image credit: GM YouTube)

8 Rules Golfers Break Without Realising

The eight scenarios highlighted here are all things you might do during the course of 18 holes that you don't think are a problem, but which would actually mean you were breaking the Rules. Our '8 rules golfers break without realising' video will show what you can and can't do in these scenarios to ensure you don't end up having to add penalty shots to your score!

8 Rules Golfers Break Without Realising

1. Picking ball up 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 make sure you mark the ball’s position first. Many people didn’t do this before the 2019 Rules changes and still don’t do it now. If you don't first mark the ball's position when lifting to identify it, you will be subject to a penalty.

Rule 7.3. One-stroke penalty.

On another identification theme, here's an article on why we think it's wise to mark your golf ball. It's not obligatory under the Rules, but marking your golf ball in a unique way so you can easily identify it as yours is good practice.  

2. Wiping away sand on fringe

Sand and loose soil are only classed as loose impediments on the green.

This means that if you’re on the fringe wanting to putt and, for example, there is sand from a greenside bunker on your line, you may wipe away the sand or loose soil from the putting green only but can't touch any that is lying on the fringe.

This is one of those rules even top golfers golfers break without realising - Rory McIlroy got penalised for brushing sand on his line from the fringe a few years ago in Abu Dhabi.

The only time you would be allowed to brush away sand on your line on the fringe is if it arrived there after your ball had come to rest, perhaps as a result of another player's bunker shot spraying sand all over your line before you get to play.

Rule 8.1a. Improving conditions affecting stroke (line of play), general penalty

Related: What Is The General Penalty - Golf Rules Explained

man brushing away sand

(Image credit: Golf Monthly)

3. Slope facility on rangefinders

The best golf laser rangefinders these days often come with slope but be careful because any slope feature must be turned off in a competitive round. This from Rule 4.3a:

Distance and Directional Information.

Allowed Getting information on distance or direction (such as from a distance-measuring device or compass).

Not allowed Measuring elevation changes, or interpreting distance or directional information (such as using a device to get a recommended line of play or club selection based on the location of the player’s ball).

Rule 4.3a. First breach, general penalty; second breach DQ

man taking drop from path

When dropping you must make sure you take complete relief
(Image credit: Golf Monthly)

4. Nearest point of complete relief

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

But in golf you don’t get free relief from trees, bushes, dreadful lies etc, so if that is where your nearest point of complete relief is, that is where you must drop if you decide to take free relief. (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 Rules golfers break without realising, with many dropping at the 'nicest point of relief' rather than 'nearest'.

Rule 16.1, for example. Penalty for playing from wrong place after incorrect drop, general penalty

Related: Golf Rules: Lost Ball

5. Asking what club someone else has just hit before playing

Although you can ask about distances (considered public information), you can’t ask other players what club they've just used before you play your shot, or touch or move their equipment to ascertain what club they hit (although interestingly if you don’t touch or move anything that would not be considered advice). See Rule 10.2a for more.

There’s lots more on exactly what does and doesn’t constitute advice in Interpretations on the Definitions - here are just a couple of examples…

Considered advice * While a player is setting up to hit his or her shot over a large penalty area filled with water, another player in the group comments, "You know the wind is in your face and it's 250 yards to carry that water?"

Not considered advice * During play of the 6th hole, a player asks another player what club he or she used on the 4th hole that is a par-3 of similar length.

* A player makes a second stroke that lands on the putting green. Another player does likewise. The first player then asks the second player what club was used for the second stroke.

Rules 10.2a. General penalty

Related: 7 Simple Golf Rules Mistakes

6. Putting out or tapping in in matchplay out of turn

You can’t do this as you can in strokeplay because it is always the turn of the player or team lying farther from the hole. If a putt hasn’t been conceded in matchplay, and your opponents now lie further away, you are not allowed to tap in.

If you do, you may well be asked to replay the stroke, especially if you went ahead and holed it. You may feel aggrieved, but you shouldn’t do as the order, and the changes in the psychological dynamics that come with it, are important elements of matchplay – it’s harder to make a three-footer to save a half or win a hole when you know you absolutely have to!

Rule 6.4a

ball next to pin

Remember not to tap in during matchplay when your opponent lies further from the hole

(Image credit: Golf Monthly)

7. Playing from a wrong green

You can’t do this – you must take free relief at the nearest point not nearer the hole where the wrong green doesn’t interfere with the lie of your ball, your stance or area of intended swing.

This would most commonly be misinterpreted on links courses where two greens like close together with only very short fringe grass lying between them. Putting would be a natural choice, but you are not allowed to play from a wrong green however close together they are.

This doesn’t apply to double greens where you can play to the correct flag from what might naturally seem to be the 'wrong' part of your green.

Rule 13.1f. General penalty

8. Playing a second ball without announcing it’s a provisional

You don’t have to use the word provisional, though it’s probably easiest if you say that you are hitting a provisional ball. But you do have to make it clear that you’re hitting another ball provisionally in case you don’t find the first one or find it OOB.

If you say nothing before hitting it or just say, “I’m hitting another or reloading,” that’s not good enough and that second ball will automatically become the ball in play even if you find the first one in the middle of the fairway. Many people still don’t do this, even in competitions.

Rule 18.3b

Related: Golf Rules Explained - Provisional Ball

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response