Basic Rules of Golf

Introduction to the Basic Rules of Golf

The rules of golf may seem challenging to a beginner golfer. I didn’t always understand the rules when I first started.

But with a bit of patience, any and every player can learn the rules by heart. I won’t be covering the actual, in-depth golf match rules though.

For a more in-depth read on those, purchase a booklet with the USGA or R&A rules of golf.

Hand Putting Golf Ball on Tee in Golf Course

Why Are Golf Rules Important?

Golf is a unique sport. It is a sport that’s built on honesty. Golfers are very dedicated to playing by the book. That’s a rare sight in most other sports.

To a beginner, the rules of golf may come off as overly complicated. I wasn’t always keen on certain rules either.

But nowadays, I know that I can only benefit from abiding by the rules, even if it doesn’t still seem that way.

By knowing the rules well and respecting them, I always know where I stand. I can compare my skills, abilities, and accomplishments to that of others.

If I didn’t follow the rules, I wouldn’t be able to accurately compare myself to other players who actually do follow the rules.

The other significant benefit is that I always know what my rights are on the course. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be caught off-guard by a penalty. I know what my options are at all times.

Golf Rules Sign on Green Grass

At the end of the day, no sport is without its rules. Learning and abiding by the laws of golf is part of being a golfer.

After I learned the rules, I felt the benefits right away, and I was glad I took the time to do it.

Pros and Cons of Golf Rules

As said above, there are a lot of benefits to learning and abiding by the rules of golf.

For example, I can always compare my results to any other golfers in the world. And other golfers will know that I achieved my results playing by the rules.

The drawbacks, if any, are that the rules are never perfect. That’s true in any sport.

But the USGA and R&A continually work to improve them, so that golf will always be fair and fun.

Most Important Rules for Beginners to Know

I’ve noticed that beginners most often overlook these rules:

High Overhead Angle View of Golfer Hitting Golf Ball

Maintaining My Swing Path

I mustn’t bend, break or hack anything growing to improve my lie, stance or swing path.

Out of Bounds or a Lost Ball

I can look for my ball for a maximum of only five minutes. After that, I must go back to where I initially played my shot and replay.

I incur a stroke and distance penalty by doing so.

Equipment Rules

One area we mustn’t overlook is the equipment. The rules on equipment, specifically on golf clubs and golf balls, exist to ensure that, at the end of the day, skill and practice are what counts on the course.


Golfers can carry a maximum of only 14 clubs with them. That can be any combination of clubs the golfer prefers.

I personally like to possess a driver, a 3 wood, a 5 wood, a 4 pitching wedge, a 56 sand wedge, a 60 lob wedge and a putter.

But what combination of clubs a golfer carries is entirely up to him or her.

To clarify, there is no minimum number of clubs a golfer has to carry.


I must finish a hole with whichever ball I started it with. I can change which ball I’m using between holes, but not during a hole.

That is unless I lose a ball during a hole. In that case, I can use any other ball I have instead.

Tee Box Rules

The tee box, more widely known as the teeing ground, is the area where the play on each hole of a golf course begins.

Driving a ball from the tee is what golfers call “teeing off”.

Hand Placing a Tee With Golf Ball

Where I Can Tee the Ball

I can tee the ball up anywhere between and/or behind the tee markers.

Tee markers usually come in the form of colored cones or stones.

I can position the ball dead even between the tee markers or up to two club lengths behind them. Specifically, the length of your driver.

I mustn’t ever play the ball in front of the tee markers. It may be easier to visualize this area as a rectangle.

The parallel lines are the length of the player’s driver, twice over. The lines in front of and behind the player are the distance between the tee markers.

What Happens if the Ball Falls Off the Tee or if I Miss the Ball?

If my ball fell off the tee before I swung at it, that doesn’t count as a shot. I can put it back on the tee and continue my play.

However, if I swing at the ball and miss it, but the ball falls off the tee from the wind my swing generated, that does count.

It counts as my first shot, and I have to play it from that position. I can’t put it back on the tee.

Golf Ball Fell Off Tee

Similarly, if I miss the ball entirely with my swing, that also counts as one shot.

Order of Play on the Tee

If it’s the first hole/tee in a game, the player who has “honors” tees off first.

Whenever I play, my group usually draws straws to pick, but a coin toss can work too. On every hole/tee that follows, the player with the best score on the previous hole tees off first.

The second tees off second, the third after that, and so on. After everybody has teed off, whichever ball is farthest from the hole is the one that’s played first.

If we’re playing “ready golf”, then it’s a little different. In that case, each player plays when ready.

Rules During a Game

The bedrock of any game of golf are the rules by which every player must abide.

The player and caddy mustn’t ever try to alter the position or the movement of a ball.

The player must always follow the rules of golf to the letter. I can’t waive a penalty or overlook a rule, purposely or accidentally.

Rules on the Course

A golf course is made up of several “holes”. Each “hole” is, in turn, made up of several parts.

It’s important to know what each piece is and how the play is different for each.

Overhead View of Florida Golf Course

Teeing Ground

The teeing ground is where the play on each hole of a golf course begins.

Most golf courses have more than one tee box for players to choose from.


The fairway of a golf course is roughly 30 to 50 yards across and stretches from the tee box to the green.

The grass here is cut evenly and short.

That means it is easier to hit the ball from the fairway than it is from other parts of the golf course.

The fairway is thus the more advantageous area for a player’s ball to land in after the tee.

Can You Use a Tee on the Fairway?

Players are permitted to use a tee so as not to exceed six inches on the fairway.


The rough is the area between the fairway and the out-of-bounds markers. The grass here is usually cut higher and is a coarser strain than on the fairways.

True to its name, the rough is a rough place to hit from, compared to the fairway.

Thus, it is the less advantageous area for a player’s ball to land in after the tee.

Golf Ball Is Half Buried in Deep Green Grass in the Rough


The green, also known as the putting green, is the area where the grass is mowed most closely and where the hole is. It is the area where players putt.

When I’m on the green, I can brush away leaves and other impediments, but I can’t touch the line of my putt.

My stance here is important. I can’t make a stroke if my feet are touching the line of the putt, in front of or behind the ball.

I also can’t straddle the line of the putt, or as us polite golfers call it, “stand astride” — the line of the putt.

My Final Thoughts

There are few sports where the players value honesty as much as in golf. It’s normal for me to tell my partner(s) when I’ve accidentally broken a rule.

That’s how much respect golfers have for the sport of golf.

But it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture.

I’m not a pro golfer; I’m out to have fun. And the rules of golf are only there to keep things fun and fair for my partners and me.

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