USGA Rules of Golf

At the Tee  

  1. Be ready
    • Be at the first tee 10 minutes before your tee time
  2. Identify your ball
    • Before you start your round, all players should identify the ball type he/she is playing with.   You should also mark your ball with a marker.    
    • There is a two-stroke penalty for hitting the wrong ball.
  3. Teeing ground
    • Your ball must be teed up in the teeing ground.   The ball is outside of the teeing ground if the entire ball is outside.
    • Your stance can be outside of the teeing ground.
    • The teeing ground extends from the tee markers to 2 club-lengths behind (not in front)
    • There is a 2 stroke penalty for hitting from outside this area
    • Common Myth: If the ball accidentally falls off the tee, there is no penalty.   You can tee up the ball again!  
  4. Air shot
    • Every stroke counts, even if you miss the ball.   If you intended it as a swing – it counts.  
    • After an air shot on the tee, the ball is in play and can no longer be touched. 
  5. Provisional ball
    • If you suspect that you will not be able to find your ball or if it has landed out of bounds, you should play a provisional ball.  
    • Announce that you are playing a provisional – tee it up, play it, until you reach the approximate position where you believe original ball lies.
    • You must play your provisional ball BEFORE you or your partner moves forward to search for the original ball.   Otherwise, this shot becomes the ball in play and the original ball is deemed lost.   
    • If you do not explicitly announce the second ball as provisional it automatically becomes the new ball with a 1 stroke penalty.
    • If you find your original ball, you must play it.  


In the Fairway

  1. Play your ball as it lies
    • You can NOT break anything or bend anything out of the way.   There is a 2 stroke penalty for doing this.  
  2. Loose impediments
    • Leaves, twigs, stones, grass cuttings or other natural objects can be removed without penalty (sand and loose soil can only be removed on the green) as long as you do NOT move your ball.
    • If the ball moves, you must put it back in the original position and there is a 1 stroke penalty.
  3. Movable obstructions
    • Bottles, cans, signs, stakes (yellow, red, blue) CAN be moved without penalty.   
    • If your ball moves as a result, put it back in the original position without penalty
    • Removing out of bounds posts (white stakes) is never permitted.   There is a 2 stroke penalty for doing this.
  4. Immovable obstructions
    • You get free relief from immovable obstructions (roads, paths with an artificial surface or other fixed, artificial objects) if it interferes with your balls lie, your stance, or your swing.    There is NO relief if they only interfere with the line of play.
    • To take relief, find the nearest point where you can take stance or swing without interference and drop within 1 club-length (no nearer the hole)
  5. Abnormal ground conditions
    • You get free relieve from abnormal ground conditions (ground under repair, casual water) if your ball is lying in or you would have to take a stance in)
    • To take relief, find the nearest point where your ball or stance is no longer in the area and drop within 1 club-length (no nearer the hole)
  6. Unplayable Lie
    • You can declare an unplayable lie at any time on the course, EXCEPT when your ball is in a water hazard.    You have 3 options with an unplayable lie, under a 1 stroke penalty:
      1. Re-hit or re-tee from where the original ball was last played (stroke and distance)
      2. Drop a ball within 2 club-lengths of where the ball lies, but no nearer the hole
      3. Drop a ball behind the point of where the ball lies, as far back as desired on the line from where the ball lies and the flag
  7. Lost Ball
    • You have 5 minutes to look for a lost ball.  If you can't find your ball, you play your provisional, with a 1 stroke penalty
    • You can play your provisional ball until you reach the point where the original ball is likely to be.   If you make a stroke with the provisional ball from a place NEARER to the hole from where your original ball is likely to be, the original ball is out of play and the provisional becomes the ball in play.  
    • If you can't find your ball and you did not play a provisional, you must go back to the spot where you last hit your ball and replay the ball, with a 1 stroke penalty (you are sitting 3 after you take your shot (stroke and distance)
  8. Out of bounds
    • Out of bounds are marked with white stakes (or white lines).  Your ball is out of bounds if the ENTIRE ball is out of bounds.
    • You must drop a ball at the spot where you took your last shot with a 1 stroke penalty (stroke and distance)
  9. Water Hazard
    • Water hazards are marked with Yellow stakes or yellow lines.     
    • You can not ground your club in a water hazard.    There is a 2 stroke penalty if you do.
    • You have 3 options:
      1. Play the ball as it lies, with no penalty, but you can not ground  your club.   This option is NOT available if your ball is in a marked environmental area
      2. Re-hit or re-tee from where the original ball was last played (stroke and distance)
      3. Drop a ball behind the point of where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, as far back as desired on the line from where the ball lies and the flag
      4. There may be a drop zone - if so, you can drop a ball in the drop zone, under a 1 stroke penalty
  10. Lateral Hazard
    • Lateral hazards (water, marsh, trees, bushes, sensitive areas) are marked with Red stakes or red lines.     
    • You can not ground your club in a lateral hazard.    There is a 2 stroke penalty if you do.  
    • You have 5 options:
      1. Play the ball as it lies, with no penalty, but you can not ground  your club.   This option is NOT available if your ball is in a marked environmental area
      2. Re-hit or re-tee from where the original ball was last played (stroke and distance)
      3. Drop a ball behind the point of where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, as far back as desired on the line from where the ball lies and the flag
      4. Drop within 2 club lengths no closer to the hole
      5. Drop within 2 club lengths of the point opposite to the entry point, on the opposite side of the hazard. 
      6. There may be a drop zone - if so, you can drop a ball in the drop zone, under a 1 stroke penalty


In the Bunker 

  1. Do not touch or test the sand, do not ground club 2 stroke penalty
  2. Loose impediments: can NOT be moved 2 stroke penalty.  Note: Local rules may allow stones to be removed
  3. Movable obstructions such as rakes can be removed
  4. Ball in footprint:  play as it lies OR declare unplayable, drop in bunker 1 stroke penalty
  5. Abnormal ground conditions in bunker.
    • Drop in bunker nearest point within 1 club-length, no penalty
    • Take drop outside bunker, on backwards extension of line from the hole to the ball with a 1 stroke penalty

On the Green

  1. Once on green, you can mark ball (pick up and clean it)
  2. If ball or marker is moved accidently while marking, picking up or replacing - no penalty
  3. Loose impediments can be removed
  4. Ball marks can be repaired
  5. You are NOT allowed to improve the line of putt by touching or treading on the line;  spike marks may NOT be repaired 2 stroke penalty
  6. If you are putting on the green and your ball hits either the flagstick (in the hole or on the ground) or the person tending it 2 stroke penalty (ball then played from where it lies)
  7. Be mindful of other player’s putting line, eye line, your shadow etc.