Rules of Golf

A penalty stroke can ruin a good round or lose a match. Penalties are, at times, the result of a lack of knowledge about the Rules of Golf. Understanding the Rules of Golf is important for both the competitive and recreational player, and the LGA is a resource for all questions related to rules, tournament administration, tournament formats, course markings, local rules to adopt at your club, and more. Please contact us with any rules questions, and see below for commonly asked questions:


Q: Are range finders or other distance measuring devices legal?

A: If the committee wishes to act in accordance with the Note under Rule 14-3, they may make a local rule allowing players to use distance measuring devices. The following Local Rule is recommended: "(Specify as appropriate, e.g., In this competition, or For all play at this course, etc.), a player may obtain distance information by use of a distance-measuring device. If, during a stipulated round, a player uses a distance-measuring device to gauge or measure other condtitions that might affect his play (e.g., elevation changes, wind speed, etc.), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3." In the absence of this local rule, distance-measuring devices are prohibited. 


Q: May I have the flagstick attended if my ball lies off the putting green?

A: Yes. Before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, you may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the hole.


Q: Why are some water hazards defined with yellow stakes and others with red stakes?

A: Under the Rules of Golf, water hazards are defined by yellow stakes and lines, and lateral water hazards are defined by red stakes and lines. Committees mark certain water hazards as lateral water hazards (using red stakes and lines) due to the layout and position of the hazard relative to the course and the hole on which it is serving as an obstacle.


Q: Do the relief options differ depending on the type of water hazard?

A: Yes. Options “a” and “b” are acceptable options regardless of what type of water hazard it is. Option “c” is only available when taking relief from a lateral water hazard (red stakes and lines). Below are the options for relief from a water or lateral water hazard under Rule 26-1:
OPTION a: Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.
OPTION b: Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.
OPTION c: Another option available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.


Q: Am I entitled to free relief from exposed tree roots?

A: No. Exposed tree roots are not abnormal. The committee may not adopt a local rule allowing relief from them.


Q: Do I get free relief from a sprinkler head on the fringe of the putting green if it’s situated directly between my ball and the hole?

A: The answer depends on whether or not the committee has adopted the “Immovable Obstructions Close to the Putting Green” local rule. In the absence of this local rule, you are not entitled to relief if an immovable obstruction (in this case, the sprinkler) interferes on your line of play. If the local rule has been adopted, you are entitled to relief—assuming the sprinkler is within two club lengths of the putting green and the ball is within two club lengths of the sprinkler.
In general, this local rule should only be adopted at courses where the conditions around the putting greens are such that these obstructions interfere with the proper playing of the game.


Q: Can I share golf balls and/or clubs with my opponent or fellow competitor?

A: You may share golf balls and other forms of equipment such as towels, gloves, tees, etc. However, you may not share clubs with your opponent or fellow competitor.


Q: After searching for my tee shot for three minutes, can I go back to the tee to play a provisional ball?

A: No. After having gone forward to search for your ball, you may not return to (in this example) the tee to play a “provisional ball.” If you put another ball into play at the spot from which your previous stroke was made, you are deemed to have proceeded under stroke and distance. That ball becomes your ball in play and the original is lost.


Q: What is the penalty if I play out of turn in stroke play?

A: As long as competitors aren’t playing out of turn to give one of them an advantage, there is no penalty for playing out of turn in stroke. In some cases, it is actually recommended and can greatly speed up play (e.g., “ready golf,” tapping in on the putting green, etc.).


Q: Should rakes be left inside or outside of the bunker?

A: The USGA recommends that rakes be left outside bunkers in areas where they are least likely to affect the movement of the ball; however, it is ultimately a matter for the committee to decide.