The Rules of Golf are universal but unlike many other sports, are applied by the players themselves. Therefore, every golfer should carry a Rules of Golf book, which is free and available from most golf clubs or state associations. The Rules outlined here are very simple but will assist initially.
Playing the ball as it lies
The Rules generally do not permit you to improve the position of the ball. You may not bend or break anything growing or fixed except in taking a fair swing. You are not allowed to press anything down but you can remove loose natural impediments such as stones, twigs or fallen leaves without penalty, except in a hazard. In a bunker or a water hazard, you are not permitted to ground your club before you hit the ball.
Lost ball and “provisional” ball
If you think your ball may be lost or out of bounds, you can save time by hitting a second ball from the same spot. This ball is called a “provisional ball” and you must tell your partners of your intention to play a “provisional” before doing so. You are allowed a maximum of five minutes to look for a lost ball. If you find your ball and it is in bounds, you must pick up the provisional and continue to play with the original ball. If your first ball is lost or out of bounds you must continue to play with the provisional ball counting all your strokes, plus one penalty stroke.
Sometimes a ball may land in a position where it is very difficult or impossible to hit. If you decide you cannot hit your ball you may declare the ball unplayable, except in a hazard. You may then pick it up and drop it at one of the positions below adding one penalty stroke to your score.
1. at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or
2. at a point any distance back from the spot where the ball lay in line with the hole; or
3. within two club-lengths of where the ball lay but not nearer the hole.
If you declare the ball unplayable in a bunker and you decide to drop under options 2 or 3, you must drop the ball in the bunker.
If you hit your ball into a water hazard, you may play the ball as it lies without grounding your club or:
1. play another ball at the spot from which the original ball was last played, taking a one stroke penalty; or
2. drop a ball behind the water hazard keeping the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line with the hole and the spot where you drop the ball. There is again a one stroke penalty; or
3. If the hazard is marked with red stakes, you may also drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than where it last crossed the margin of the hazard, or at a point on the opposite side of the margin.
Taking a drop
There are some instances under the Rules of Golf where you can pick up the ball and relocate it - sometimes with a penalty and sometimes without a penalty. To drop the ball, you must stand upright, hold the ball at shoulder height and arms length and drop it. If you drop it and it accidentally touches yourself, your partner or equipment before it strikes the ground, or it rolls closer to the hole, you must drop the ball again, without penalty.
On the green
You can repair ball marks and old ball plugs on the green if these affect your putting line. However you may not repair spike marks. You may remove leaves and other loose impediments on the line of your putt and you may also mark the position of your ball to pick it up and clean it.
Most golf courses have Local Rules which are specific to their club. You will find these either on the back of the score card or prominently displayed at the clubhouse.
For more information on the Rules of Golf click here.