Golf Rules Made Simple

By Hannah Wickford

Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer once said, “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” The rules of golf may seem complicated, with an intricate set of etiquette that compounds the problem. In reality, friendly games of golf follow three strict rules: do not mess with the ball, do not mess with other players and take care of the course. Stick with the basics when starting out, ask a lot of questions and you soon will look like a pro on the course.


A golf course generally consists of 18 holes, each with a teeing ground, fairway and green. Players use golf clubs to hit the ball from the teeing ground, down the fairway, onto the green and into the hole in the least amount of strokes possible. Golfers play in groups of two to four people. Some courses allow single players on the course, more often during non-peak hours.

Order of Play

Before play begins, determine the order in which players will tee off. For example, this can be done by a coin toss, draw or in order of handicap, from lowest to highest. Once all players have teed off, the player who remains farthest from the hole takes the next turn. This protocol is followed until the hole is completed. The player with the fewest number of strokes on a hole tees off first on the next hole. This is called having "honors."

Teeing Off

Each hole’s teeing ground consists of several sets of markers, generally designed for — in order from closest to farthest from the hole — women/juniors, men and professionals. When teeing off, place the ball between the appropriate markers or up to two club lengths behind them. The teeing ground is the only place on the course where the use of a tee is allowed, but it is not mandatory.

Fairway Play

Once players have teed off, play continues one stroke at a time per player down the fairway. A player may not move his ball, except when taking a shot with his club, or cause the ball to move in any manner, such as knocking it with his foot. If the group is playing slowly and the group behind experiences excessive waiting times, the first group may allow the faster group to "play through," or move ahead of them in the order, at the next tee.

If a ball comes to rest in a location from which it is impossible to hit, such as when it lands underneath a bush, the player may declare the ball unplayable. After taking a one-penalty, the player drops the ball behind the location of the unplayable ball within two club lengths and proceeds with play.


Etiquette requires golf bags not be placed on the putting green and that golfers do not run or jog on the green so that the green does not become damaged. If one player’s ball is between the hole and another player’s ball, that player may pick up his ball and replace it with a marker so that his ball does not interfere with the other player’s putting line. On long putts, it is common courtesy, although not mandatory, for one player to hold the flag stick to allow the person who is putting to better visualize where the hole is.


Each hole is assigned a "par" number, representing the number of strokes it should take to complete that hole. A hole completed in 1-over par is called a bogey, 2-over par is a double-bogey and so on. A hole completed in 1-under par is called a birdie, 2-under par is an eagle, and 3-under par is an albatross. Scores can be calculated either by total strokes or relation to par.

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