Rules of Golf: Practice On The Course

Generally, practice on the course is prohibited in competitions, but there are certain exceptions as GM's Jeremy Ellwood learns from The R&A's Shona McRae

practice on the course
(Image credit: Kenny Smith 07809 450119)

Generally, practice on the course is prohibited in competitions, but there are certain exceptions as GM's Jeremy Ellwood learns from The R&A's Shona McRae

Practice on the Course – Rule 7

Practice makes perfect, some say; practice makes permanent, others say; practice on the course before or during a round and you may end up with a penalty, the Rules of Golf say… but not always!

So it’s important you know what you can and can’t do pre- and mid-round to avoid falling foul of Rule 7, which addresses practice.

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In stroke play, the greatest penalty of all is disqualification for practising on the competition course before a competition round, or between rounds on any competition course you haven’t yet played in an event of two or more rounds over consecutive days.

Before a round, you aren’t allowed to test the surface of any putting green on the competition course by rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface either. The only exception is that you may practise putting or chipping on or near the 1st tee.

However, as mentioned, the above applies to stroke play only. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no penalty at all for committing any of the above-mentioned ‘offences’ before a match play competition – possibly the starkest contrast in the Rule book between stroke play and match play Rules!

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Interestingly, the Committee does have the remit to modify or reverse both these elements of Rule 7-1 via the conditions of a competition with reference to Rules 33-1 and 33-2c, especially useful when there is no practice ground available, or to permit more than one stroke play competition to be played on the same day or over several days.

In such scenarios, the Committee may permit practice on the competition course or part of the competition course on any day of a competition, but you should never practise on that basis before a competition without firm knowledge that this is the case.

That said, all recognised practice areas within the bounds of the course may be used by players for practice on any day of the competition.

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If that addresses what you can and can’t do before a round, or between them in a multi-round event, what about mid-round – surely you can’t practise at all then, other than practice swings?

Chipping or putting on or near the next tee is fine as long as you don't unduly delay play. Photo: Kenny Smith

Actually, you can, but only in very specific circumstances and places as highlighted in Rule 7-2. Those places are between the green of the hole just completed and the next tee, where you are allowed to practise putting or chipping on or near the green just played, on or near the next tee, or on or near any practice putting green, should you happen to pass one!

This applies to both stroke play and match play competitions, but a couple of words of warning: you can’t make a practice stroke from a hazard, so no second gos at that bunker shot you’ve just duffed; and you can’t practise at all if it would unduly delay play, so no second attempt at that 40-footer if the next group is standing in the fairway waiting to play in to the green.

You can have another go at that putt you've just missed as long as you're not unduly delaying play

Breaches of the above will cost you a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in matchplay.

If the breach occurs between the play of two holes, the penalty is applied to the next hole you’re about to play… which could mean a long and fruitless 500-yard walk if your next hole in match play is a par 5!


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