The Rules of Golf can be frustratingly complex and tricky to interpret, which means there are some situations where golfers can come unstuck and get a ruling wrong, even with the best intentions at heart. Here, we highlight five Rules of Golf that most players have got wrong at some point in time. They're quite common scenarios and so it's important to gain a firm grasp of how the Rules of Golf need to be applied. Hopefully, after immersing yourself in the content below, you'll feel much more confident in knowing what to do should you or your playing partners find yourselves in any of these situations.
VIDEO: Watch Joel and Jezz demonstrate the five rules golfers often break!
1. Not marking the position of the ball before lifting to identify it
You no longer have to have someone observe you lifting the ball but you do still have to mark its position before doing so. If you fail to do so, it's a one-stroke penalty under Rule 7.3 so always remember to mark your ball with a tee-peg or similar before lifting to check if it's yours.
2. Taking the nicest rather than nearest point of complete relief
This stems from golfers not really understanding what they are getting free relief from (e.g., an immovable obstruction such as a cart path) and thinking they’re entitled to a perfect lie and line. But they are only getting relief from that specific immovable obstruction so if the nearest point is thick rough, a bush or behind a tree, that is where you have to drop if you elect to take free relief. The other options available to you are to take one of the three unplayable ball options under penalty or to play it as it lies.
3. Moving Out Of Bounds posts to play a shot
Golfers perhaps get a little confused because a white Out of Bounds (OOB) stake is usually easily movable and you can move red and yellow penalty area stakes to play a shot if they are easily movable. But OOB stakes are different as they are classed as boundary objects and you are not allowed to move them to make your next stroke easier even if they could easily be moved. The penalty for doing so and then playing is the general penalty under Rule 8.1a. However, if you move it but then replace it exactly where it was before playing, you can still avoid the penalty (Rule 8.1c).
4. Not clearly indicating provisional ball
It's not essential to use that precise wording, but you must clearly indicate that a second ball is a provisional being played under Rule 18.3 – “I’m playing another or reloading” is not enough. If you don't make it clear you're hitting a provisional ball, the second ball becomes the ball in play even if you find the original ball in a perfect spot.
5. Improving conditions affecting stroke
Players can be guilty of this in a number of ways, whether treading or tapping things down a little behind the ball to make it easier to get a club on the ball or bending or breaking small branches that interfere with the backswing. Rule 8.1a tells you what you can’t do and Rule 8.1b what you can. The penalty for a breach is quite severe – the general penalty – but rightly so as you’ve made things easier for your next stroke than they should have been.
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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
- Joel TadmanTechnical Editor
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