Golf Rules Corner

Caddies need to know golf rules and as the junior player gets older and transitions to no-caddy tournaments they need to make sure they know the rules too.  It is stressful out there if you don’t !

Here are some commonly encountered golf rules in the junior golf world :

golf rulesAbnormal Ground Conditions:

Includes GUR (ground under repair, usually marked in blue), water puddles and burrowing animal excavation tracks.  Also piles of grass to be removed by greenskeepers.

If you accidentally move your ball when searching in abnormal ground conditions, put it back without penalty.  If your ball is lying in one of these situations, or you have to take your stance within one, you have free relief (from nearest point where you can take an unhindered stance, drop within 1 club length).

Suspension of play / thunderstorm:

Waiting out some torrential rain, golf rules

Waiting out some torrential rain.


If there is thunder and lightening in the vicinity play will be suspended, usually by a few blasts of a horn.  You must come in.  Remember to mark your ball, pick it up, and return to the spot when play resumes.  You can also complete a hole already started.  If players stop without a valid reason (rain is not a valid reason per se) they could be disqualified.



Do not break anything off or band anything out the way:

You have to accept the lie as you find it.  You are not permitted to break or bend or move anything growing or fixed before making a stroke.  2 penalty strokes would be awarded here –

Bending the tree out of the way is a no no. golf rules

Bending the tree out of the way is a no no.








Moveable obstructions:

moveable obstructions, golf rules


Yellow, red and blue (but not white = 2 penalty strokes) stakes and other artificial objects can be removed without penalty.  If the ball moves, put it back without penalty.  If the ball is lying on the obstruction it can still be removed, ball is then dropped at original position.



Divots, tractor ruts, bald patches:

Bad lie bad luck, golf rules

Bad lie bad luck


If the ball has a bad lie that is not specifically dealt with then there is nothing to be done about it it has to be played as it lies.

If you declare it unplayable = 1 penalty stroke.  See below.




Unplayable Ball:

Unplayable ball. golf rules

Unplayable ball.


If a ball has an extremely bad line it is often advisable to declare it unplayable.  Then you can do 3 things, all = 1 penalty stroke.

  • Drop within 2 club lengths
  • Drop on backward extension of line from hole to ball.
  • Drop on site of last stroke (tee up again)



Grounding club in bunker:

Do not touch or rake the sand.

Disturbing sand in bunker. golf rules

Disturbing sand in bunker.

Do not take a practice swing during which sand is touched.

Do not ground club.

Don’t touch sand on backswing.

All these = 2 penalty strokes.


Water hazard:

You can play the ball as it lies with no penalty or

Water hazard play. golf rules

Water hazard play.

You can drop outside the water hazard = 1 penalty stroke.

Yellow water hazard:

  • Drop on backward extension of line from hole to entry point of hazard.
  • Drop on site of last stroke (tee up on teeing ground).

Red lateral water hazard = 1 penalty stroke:

  • Same as yellow +
  • Drop within 2 club lengths of entry point.
  • Drop within 2 club lengths of point opposite entry point (over lateral water hazard) at same distance from hole.

Unplayable lie in water hazard:

unplayble lie in water, golf rules


In a water hazard you CANNOT declare ball unplayable, you must proceed in accordance with water hazard rules.




Ball in footprint in bunker:

Footprints in the bunker. golf rules

Footprints in the bunker.

If ball has a bad lie in the bunker there is not much that can be done, it must be played as it lies.  If you declare it unplayable = 1 penalty stroke –

  • drop in bunker within 2 club lengths
  • drop in bunker on backward extension
  • drop on site of last stroke (tee up)

A good bit of advice is to enter the bunker behind the ball so if the ball rolls back the possibility of hitting it into a footprint is mitigated.

Ball wedged on flagstick:

ball wedged on flagstick, golf rules


If the ball becomes wedged between flagstick and rim of the hole, it is not considered beneath the lip.  You are allowed to carefully move or take out the flagstick so it falls into the hole. Note this would be a penalty against you if the ball was hit from on the green !




Ball hits outside agency:

Animals on the course. golf rules

Animals on the course.


If the ball hits a pole, a tree, spectator, animal etc – you do not incur a penalty and you play the ball as it lies.






Embedded Balls:

Most golfers believe that an embedded ball is automatically entitled to a free drop, no matter where the ball lies. This is not entirely correct. Rule 25-2 states, “A ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground in any closely mown area through the green may be lifted, cleaned and dropped, without penalty, as near as possible to the spot where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green. ‘Closely mown area’ means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less.”

So, relief from an embedded ball in the rough is not automatic. To get relief from a ball embedded somewhere other than the fairway, a Local Rule must be enacted. The wording the USGA recommends is “Through the green, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.” An exception is that “A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.”

One of the features of the Local Rule is that a ball embedded in sand that is not in a closely mown area may not be moved without penalty. This might be in the case of a waste area, for example, or in a sandy area in the rough. Most golfers would probably try to take free relief, but this is not allowed.

Jesse Barge of the PGA wrote an interesting article “One Shot Many Rules” in the March 2015 edition of the PGA Magazine following Jonas Blixt’s embedded ball during the 2014 PGA Championship.  A few points are summarized below :

  • Jonas Blixt’s 2nd shot plugged in the steep, grass covered face of a bunker.
  • The grass covered ground bordering a bunker is not considered part of the bunker – so the ball was in the area defined as ‘through the green’.
  • In all PGA tournaments the local Rule in Appendix 1 allows a player to take relief for an embedded ball anywhere through the green.
  • Was the ball embedded ? (ball in thick Bermuda grass).  There is a procedure to follow : Player must announce intention to lift the ball and mark position, it cannot be cleaned.  The ball was not touching soil due to thick grass but ball was below level of the ground.  Ball determined to be embedded at which point he could clean the ball and drop as near as possible to where it lay and not closer to the pin.
  • Due to slope the ball rolled into the bunker.  Rules required the ball to be re-dropped.  It also ran into bunker.  Now the Rules require the ball to be placed as near as possible to the spot it first struck when re-dropped.
  • Blixt then asked if he could rake the bunker (in case it ran into the bunker when placed and he would be required to play from that spot).
  • He was not allowed to rake the bunker as the footsteps were created when they were looking for the ball (violation of Rule 1-2).
  • When he placed the ball at the spot it touched the course on the re-drop the ball would not rest on that spot and he tried a 2nd time in accordance with the Rules.
  • Moving a small distance every time he tried several attempts to place the ball until he found the nearest spot where the ball could be placed at rest which was not nearer to the ball and not in a hazard.
  • From this much less severe slope he was able to chip close and make a birdie.

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