Golf Australia
Play & Learn

Rules for beginners

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. The Player's Edition of the Rules of Golf 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 (unless in the teeing area) but you can remove loose natural impediments such as stones, twigs or fallen leaves without penalty. In a bunker, you are not permitted to ground your club in certain areas (right before/after where the ball is at rest, in the backswing, in making a practice swing).

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 three 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.

Unplayable ball

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 penalty area. You may then pick it up and drop it at one of the positions below adding one penalty stroke to your score.

1. return to where the original ball was last played and proceed under the applicable options for that area; or

2. drop a ball within a club-length of a point on a line, no nearer the hole, 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 for one stroke penalty;

OR you could choose to drop back outside the bunker for a two stroke penalty similar to 2.

Penalty Areas

If you hit your ball into a penalty area, you may play the ball as it lies or:

1. play another ball at the spot from which the original ball was last played, using the applicable options for that area, taking a one stroke penalty; or
2. drop a ball within one club-length of a point, no nearer the hole, behind the penalty area keeping the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the penalty area in line with the hole and the spot where you drop the ball. There is again a one stroke penalty; or
3. If the penalty area is marked with red stakes, you may also drop a ball outside the penalty area within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than where it last crossed the margin of the penalty area.

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 drop the ball from knee height. Knee height is the height of your knee when in a standing position, however you don't have to be standing when you drop the ball. If you drop it and it accidentally touches yourself, your partner or equipment before it strikes the ground, or it rolls outside the relief area, you must drop the ball again, without penalty.

On the green

You can repair ball marks and old ball plugs, and any damage caused to the green by a person or outside influence, this does not include damage in the normal course of maintenance practices or natural wear and tear. You may remove leaves and other loose impediments on the line of your play and you may also mark the position of your ball to pick it up and clean it.

Local Rules

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.

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