4 Rules You Never Knew You Were Breaking

If you’re like me, most of the time you spend playing golf is just for the love of the game. I’ll go out on a Sunday afternoon with my dad or my brother and we’ll just play eighteen. I don’t make them re-tee their drive if their ball slips out of bounds, we’re very loose with our interpretation of ground under repair, and we generally let the small stuff slid by without too much of a fuss (except when my brother kicks the ball out from underneath a tree). This not only helps us keep our pace of play up, but it also helps us enjoy the game and each other more because we don’t have to worry about playing the game “the right way” in terms of the rules.

All of this goes out the window once you’re in a tournament though, where one small slip up on some of the rules I said above could result in penalties or even disqualification; something nobody wants to see! So what are some of the small nuances in the game of golf that some of us “Sunday golfers” pass over regularly?

Before we start though, I should warn you that this is by no means everything you should know. Golf has 34 rules in total currently plus dozens of sub rules and special exceptions for each one. This means there are hundreds of different situations you have to memorize… (or you could do what I do and carry the USGA pocket rule book  with you out on the course which I highly recommend if you want to play competitive golf).

Nobody wants to reference a rule book on every hole though, and so we’re here today to give you a quick, decisive ruling on some of the more specific rules you could experience while playing tournament golf.

Carrying Extra Weight:

How many of you know how many clubs are in your bag right now? Do you play with the same set of clubs every round? Maybe you’ve never thought of it? Either way, there’s a good chance you don’t give too much thought to the number of clubs in your bag during each round. But having too many clubs could cost you a surprisingly large amount of strokes.

During the course of one round you are allowed to carry 14 different clubs in your bag. You can’t swap out for any new ones at the turn, and so the fourteen (or less, there’s no minimum) clubs you start with on the first tee are all you get for that day. If you carry too many you’re prone to a penalty of two strokes per hole up to a maximum of four penalty strokes. You might have thought you played well, but if you add in the equivalent of an extra hole like Woody Austin had to do at the PGA Championship you’re bound to place a little lower in the pecking order.

Calling Your Ball (and remembering it):

This is a rule that might be more common to many of you but is still widely broken by golfers. Before you tee off on the first hole or anytime you have to bring a new ball into play, (i.e. you lost a ball) you have to “call your ball”. Basically, you have to identify which golf ball you’re playing by calling out its name. Something like “I’m playing a Titleist Pro V1 with three red dots on the side” is easy enough to say, but if you forget to call your ball you can face scrutiny from the other people you’re playing with as well as other things. If you don’t call your ball and end up playing the wrong ball you face a two stroke penalty on top of everything else that hole!

Hovering Your Club Head in a Hazard:

Another rule that is frequently broken by casual golfers has to do with your behavior while your ball is in a hazard. In any form of hazard you are not allowed to ground your club before you start the process of hitting the ball. This means you can’t push around sand in a sand trap, you can’t mat down grass around your ball, and you can’t try to snuggle your club head up next to the ball.

While it’s an easy rule to forget, especially if you’re in a hazard that’s not too hard to play out of, if you accidentally ground your club in a hazard you’ll be assessed a two stroke penalty. While this seems pretty cut and dry, playing out of hazards and especially the sand has quite a few more rules that are helpful to know. For some of the more specific rules about getting out of the sand check out this article at barryrhodes.com.

Losing Strokes with Loose Impediments:

Loose impediments by definition are anything on a golf course that can be moved without significant effort. They can be stones, twigs, pine cones, or other small items that are not growing. The reason this is important to you though, is that in certain situations you can incur a penalty for moving loose impediments. In general, as long as you’re not near a hazard you can move a loose impediment without penalty, granted your ball doesn’t move. If either the object or your ball is inside the hazard you are not allowed to move an impediment and you must play the ball “as it lies”.

Where people get in trouble though is not so much when you can and can’t move the ball, but instead what happens when you do move the ball. If you’re clearing away loose impediments and the ball moves you must take a one stroke penalty and then replace the ball in its original position. On the green however, if you move the ball while removing an impediment you can return the ball to its original spot without having to take a penalty stroke.

Now there are hundreds of other examples we could go over which cover every possible situation out on the course, but nobody (except websites like barryrhodes.com the USGA Website) wants to spend all day memorizing the different rules of golf. On the other hand though, having a solid knowledge of the rules can ensure that you and your playing partners are playing the game the way it was intended to be played. While a majority of the rules we talked about today aren’t a big deal if you’re playing a relaxing round of golf, during a tournament, knowing the rules could be the difference between a first place or a second place trophy. So before your next tournament golfers, read up on your rules and wow your playing partners with your new found knowledge.



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