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Identify your golf ball

Nine key Rules of Golf you just can’t stop getting wrong

Right these wrongs on the golf course and you’ll be well on the way to always playing by the rules

 

There are 25 Rules of Golf. The Rule book contains more than 200 pages. If you get as far as the Official Guide, it’s closer to 600.

There are hundreds of sections and subsections. That’s a lot to try and take in.

And while there will always be people who try and bend them, the vast majority of us are absolutely committed to playing with honesty and integrity. It’s what sets our sport apart.

And yet, whether it’s by accident or through ignorance, there are still times we all fall foul – because we either don’t know or misinterpret what the Rules of Golf say.

I’ve picked out nine examples that I see all too often out on the course and tell you how to fix them to make sure you don’t get an unwitting penalty in your next competition…

The 9 Rules of Golf you keep getting wrong

unplayable ball

Taking liberties with unplayable ball relief

If you’re taking lateral relief for an unplayable ball, your two club lengths start at the spot of your ball. You can’t just pick it up, take it away from the bush, the trees – whatever it is – and then start measuring when you’re clear.

Back on the line relief from a penalty area

Splash. Your ball is in the water. But you can’t drop wherever you feel like if you decide to take back on the line relief.

You’ve got to keep the estimated point where the ball last crossed the penalty area between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped. Don’t just wander to wherever looks nice and put one down.

Deciding rules by agreement in stroke play

You’re encouraged to help each other apply the rules, but you can’t simply decide them among yourselves. If you do, whatever you work out is not binding on any player, a referee, or the competition committee.

If you’ve got a rules issue, don’t take the unanimous opinion of your playing partners as gospel. Raise it with the competition organisers before you return your scorecard.

Provisional balls

Saying ‘I’m going to reload’, or ‘I’m going to play another’, are not you announcing to the group you’re going to put a provisional ball into play. They are, in fact, you playing again under penalty of stroke and distance.

If you want to play a provisional, just include the not so magic word ‘provisional’. It is true there are other variations you can get away with – ‘I’m going to play another just in case’ is acceptable. But why take the risk, especially when it is so easy to get it right?

Nearest, not nicest, point of complete relief

When you take relief from any abnormal course condition, a wrong green, no play zone, even a dangerous animal condition, and some Local Rules, you needed to find the nearest point of complete relief.

That is the estimated point where the ball would lie that is: nearest to the ball’s original spot, in the required area of the course, not nearer the hole, and where you’ve got complete relief from the condition.

There’s a fair few stipulations there but note none of those say that where you drop means you have to get a good lie. If your nearest point of complete relief from a path is in a bush, then the bush is where you drop. Thems the breaks. So think carefully before you start picking your ball up.

rules of golf

Temporary water

Don’t stamp about. Don’t do a dance trying to find a bit of H2O. Temporary water isn’t just wet ground. It isn’t even if water is momentarily visible as you step onto the ground.

It needs to be seen before, or after, you take your stance “without pressing down excessively” with your feet.

Identifying your ball? Mark it first…

You’re in good company if you’ve done this one. I’ve had to stop plus handicappers making this mistake in some big competitions. If a ball might be yours, and you need to identify it, you’ve got to mark it first before lifting it. If you just pick it up, or rotate it, without doing that you’re going to get a penalty stroke.

Sweeping away sand and soil on the course

This catches people out because you’re allowed to do it on the green. But if your ball is, for example, in the general area (which includes the fringe) and you start shifting sand or loose soil that’s not on the putting surface, you’re going to be slapped with a two shot sanction if what you do improves the conditions affecting your stroke.

teeing area rules

Don’t pinch an inch in the teeing area

If any part of your ball is in the teeing area, it’s in. But, and especially if that teeing area is large, we can creep ahead and unintentionally found ourselves outside it altogether.

This is a big problem in stroke play because if you don’t correct the mistake before teeing off on the next hole, or handing in your card if the round’s over, the penalty is disqualification.

Even if you do realise your error and fix it, you’re still adding two strokes to your score. The bottom line is to stay within the confines of the teeing area or you’ll be sorry.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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