Rules Golfers Break Most Often

You don’t mean to step all over golf’s hallowed rule book, but then you probably didn’t mean to run that Stop sign either. We’ll address rules that golfers breach with alarming regularity.



I’ll be the first to admit that understanding the USGA Rules of Golf is no gimme. But at the risk of sounding like your sixth-grade homeroom teacher, we’ll also remind you that golfers are expected to know and abide by them. Failing to do so increases your chances of being DQ’d at the next member-guest tournament. And if you plan to record your score for an official handicap, any rules breaches will undermine the integrity of your handicap. Here are some not-so-simple rules that average golfers break all the time.

Let’s begin!

Rule Breach No. 1

You hit a provisional when your ball most likely landed in a water hazard.

The Rule: 27-2: If a ball may be lost outside a water hazard (including a lateral water hazard) or may be out-of-bounds, to save time a player may play another ball provisionally.

The Translation: You cannot play a provisional ball solely because you believe the original ball might be lost in a water hazard. If you do, the second ball is not a provisional. It is in play, and you incur a stroke penalty. Under the water hazard rule, you can hit from the original spot. But once you do, that ball is in play, and you cannot elect to drop near the hazard. In other words, you can’t re-tee and then decide what works best for you. And if you find your original ball outside of the hazard line, pick it up.

The Penalty: Two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in a match.

Rule Breach No. 2

  You ask for or give advice.

The Rule: 8-1: During a stipulated round, a player must not: (a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than [her] partner; and (b) ask for advice from anyone other than [her] partner or either of their caddies.

The Translation: Golfers love to share: “How far am I?” “It looks like a 6 iron, but I’d hit a 5 iron with this wind.” “Does this putt break right over the ridge?” Sound familiar? We thought so. But offering or asking for any advice that could affect the way a player executes a shot (a.k.a. “Dear Abby golf”) is against the rules unless it comes from a caddie or partner. Keep your swing tips to yourself, and if you want the line on that 15-footer, pay close attention to the break of someone else’s putt. (Note: The USGA has ruled that sharing general knowledge information is acceptable. For example, asking “Is the flagstick in the front or back of the green?” is okay because the pin’s location is public knowledge.)

The Penalty: Assess yourself two strokes for each offense and loss of hole in a match.

Rule Breach No. 3

  You improve your lie.

The Rule: 13-1: The ball must be played as it lies.

The Translation: Nudging the ball out of a sand-filled divot, teeing it up on a blade of grass in the rough or moving your ball away from a fence or other immovable obstruction (even if you could nick your new 7 wood) is a strict no-no.

The Penalty: Two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in a match.


Rule Breach No. 4

Your foursome agrees to ignore a rule.

The Rule: 1-3: Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any rule or to waive any penalty incurred.

The Translation: Your group cannot agree to take a mulligan without penalty and count your score for handicaps. That means no agreement to take breakfast balls, gimme putts or do-overs, even if your league allows it.

The Penalty: Disqualification of competitors concerned in stroke play and disqualification of both sides in a match.

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