The object of the game of golf is quite simple: use your clubs to hit a ball into a hole in as few strokes as possible. It doesn’t get much easier than that, right? Well, it gets a bit more complicated than that. For professionals, this means having rules officials roaming the course, ready to answer players’ questions about the rules of the game and their options for playing their ball. One of the most famous rule incidents took place at the 2013 Masters when a fan called into the tournament stating Tiger Woods broke a relatively obscure rule about dropping his ball in the wrong spot. This eventually led to some people calling for Tiger to withdraw from the tournament and also questioned whether people at home should have any effect on what’s taking place live on TV. Fortunately here we’re not talking about the rare rules of the golf game. This is a primer on the rules of the game that every golfer should know.
• Golfers are allowed to have 14 clubs in their bags.
• Before starting a round, mark your ball so it can be clearly identified as your ball.
• Play the holes of the course in order.
• Play your own ball. If you cannot see your mark on the ball and you’re uncertain whether a ball is yours, you may mark the spot and lift the ball to determine if it is yours. If the ball is yours, place it back in the same spot and play it.
• Keep pace with other golfers on the course. If other groups are playing faster than you, let them play through.
• Practice shots are not allowed during your round.
• Play your tee shot from in between the tee markers.
• Allow the person who is furthest from the hole to play his or her shot first.
• Play your ball as it lies. When you reach the putting green, you may mark your ball, lift, clean and replace the ball in the same spot before putting.
• Don’t press down the ground behind your ball prior to hitting a shot. This could be a way of improving your lie.
• If you hit a wayward shot, limit yourself to five minutes or less in your search for your ball. This allows you to remain courteous for the other golfers on the course. If you can’t find your ball, take a one-stroke penalty and play from where you previously hit your last shot.
• If you’re in a sand trap or water hazard, do not move loose impediments or touch the ground with your hand or your club prior to your downswing.
Most importantly, judge through your playing partners and group as to how serious your round will be. While playing in a tournament or playing with colleagues or business partners, you may be required – and rightfully so – to follow the specific rules of the game. If you’re playing with your buddies or your dad, you’ll likely follow the basic rules of the game, but if the course isn’t crowded and timing allows it, it may be ok to allow a mulligan on occasion. That leads to the biggest rule of all. Have fun! Golf can be very serious at times, but we all need to remember it’s a game too. Even if it’s the worst round in the world, you’re spending time outdoors, away from the office and playing a sport you love.