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!