10 Basic Golf Rules for Beginners

Golf is an age-old game filled with tradition. With tradition comes rules and golf is one of the sports with the most rules. In addition to golf’s expansive list of rules, some of these rules are also very complicated and many beginners take years before getting a good grasp of them.

With that said the rules of golf are very important, below we are going to take a closer look at why the rules are important and we are also going to look at some of the basic rules that all beginners should know. 

Why are the rules of golf important?

The rules of golf are written by the R&A and the USGA, these organizations dedicate massive amounts of resources annually to the implementation of the rules of golf and they also continue to fine-tune these rules to keep up with the times. 

The rules of golf govern all golf competitions globally at both the professional and amateur levels. Having one standard set of rules ensures that golfers can compete globally under the same rules, this limits confusion and it also ensures that a global standard is maintained. 

From a personal point of view, the rules of golf are important for a variety of reasons, in my opinion, the most important being that players in a four-ball can compete on a fair basis under the rules of golf. Golfers are known for bending the rules especially at a club level, but at the end of the day, the rulebook always settles the argument. 

If you are new to the game do yourself and the golfers that you are going to play with favor and learn the basic rules of golf right from the start of your golf career. 

The 10 Basic Rules of Golf: 

1. Golf Clubs

Types of Golf Clubs

One of the first rules that every golfer should know is that they are allowed to have a maximum of 14 clubs in their bag when playing a competitive round. If you were to start with more than 14 clubs a one-shot penalty will be added for every hole that you play with the extra club in your bag. 14 clubs are the maximum number but there is no minimum number, if you only need 10 clubs to get the job done then there is no problem with that under the rules of golf. 

Before a round, always check to see how many clubs you have in your bag, it is very easy for someone to accidentally put the club in the wrong bag without even noticing it. Regardless of whose club it is, if there are more than 14 clubs in your bag you will receive the penalty. 

2. Tee box rules

Golf Tee Box

The tee box signals the start of the hole and there are specific rules that apply to this playing area. On the tee box, you will always find various sets of markers. Before the round decide on which markers you are going to play from, these markers are normally color-coded. Once you have decided on the markers always make sure to tee your ball up behind the markers in relation to where the flag is. 

If you were to tee the ball up in front of the markers you will receive a two-stroke penalty, you also can’t tee it up anywhere behind the markers, your ball has to be teed up within two club-lengths of the markers. 

3. Identify your golf ball

Golf Ball

Before the start of a round make sure to identify your golf ball. An easy way to do this is to make a marking on your golf ball with a Sharpie. Markings can range from your initials to a line or dots. If you were to hit the wrong golf ball during a round you will be penalized. You might think that this rule doesn’t get breached often but you will be surprised at how easy it is to hit the wrong golf ball if you don’t pay attention to it. 

If you are unsure if a golf ball is yours or not the rules allow for you to mark the golf ball and to lift it to identify it. Once it has been identified the ball needs to be replaced in the same spot that it was before. 

4. Rules on the green

Golf Green

A couple of rules need to be adhered to when you step onto the green. Once your golf ball is at rest on the green you are allowed to mark it with a coin or a similar object. Once the marker is in place you are allowed to lift the golf ball and you are also allowed to clean it. 

In addition to marking your ball, you are also allowed to fix pitch marks (there’s a gadget for that) and other marks such as spike marks. These marks can be fixed with a tee, pitch repairer or you can simply tap it down with the bottom of your putter. 

Rules surrounding the flagstick were changed recently and a player now has the option to either keep the flagstick in place or to remove it from the hole when they are putting. 

Sometimes even the best players in the world make mistakes that lead to penalties under the rules of golf. Watch this video of Jon Rahm’s recent blooper moment at the BMW Championship. 

5. Play your ball as it lies


Always play the golf ball as it lies unless the golf course has a local rule in play that allows for placing the ball on closely mown areas. Many beginners and amateur golfers are quick to bend the law on this rule, the quicker you get in the habit of not placing the ball the better. 

6. Unplayable lies

Play it as it lies

The unplayable lie rule, when used correctly, can be used to great effect to get you out of sticky situations on the golf course and as a beginner, you will be in those positions more often than not. 

If your golf ball comes to rest in a spot that you deem to be unplayable you have three options to choose from. The first being that you can go back and hit another shot from the position where you hit from originally. The second is to drop the ball not nearer to the hole within two club-lengths of where the ball currently lies. 

And the third option is to drop a ball behind where the ball currently lies going as far back as you want while keeping the original position of the ball between you and the hole. Regardless of which option you go with all 3 is accompanied by a 1 shot penalty. 

7. Out of bounds and lost balls

Golf out of bounds

When your golf ball is out of bounds it means that you aren’t allowed to hit the ball from outside the confines of the golf course. Out of bounds lines are normally identified by white stakes or boundary fences. If your golf ball goes out of bounds you are required to replay the shot from the same position and a one-shot penalty also needs to be added to your score on the hole. If you are unsure if your golf ball is out of bounds or not you are allowed to hit a provisional golf ball, this is normally done in the interest of time. 

The same rule applies for when a golf ball that can’t be found. Under the rules of golf, you have 3 minutes to look for your golf ball. If you can’t find your golf ball within 3 minutes of arriving in the area where it is presumed to be you will have to replay the shot from the original position and add 1 penalty stroke to your score. 

8. Seeking advice

Gold advice

Golf is a very social game but when it comes to hitting the golf ball and selecting which club to hit you are left to your own devices as per the rules of golf. During a round, a player may only ask for advice from his or her teammate or caddie. A player may however ask for advice on the rules of golf, the position of a penalty area, or the distance to the target. The penalty for the breach of this rule is 1 shot.

9. Dropping from a penalty area

Golf penalty area

The penalty area is the new cumulative term for water hazards and other areas on a golf course that is demarcated with either red or yellow stakes. If your golf ball enters into a penalty area various dropping options are available. 

If the penalty area is marked with yellow stakes you have the following dropping options: 

  • Replay the shot from where you originally played from
  • Drop your ball in a marked drop zone 
  • Drop the ball behind the penalty area keeping the point where it entered between where you are dropping and the hole

When a penalty area is marked with a red stake the same options apply with the addition of one extra option. If your ball enters into a penalty area with red stakes you have the option to drop the ball within two club-lengths of the point where the ball entered into the penalty area. 

In 2019 the rules on how to drop the ball changed, to learn how to drop the ball accurately click here

10. Scoring

Golf scorecard

Scoring is a very important part of golf. At the beginning of a round always swap scorecards with your playing partner to mark each other’s card. Once the round has been completed compare scores with your playing partner and make sure that you and the marker sign both scorecards. 

If your card isn’t signed or if the scores on your card and your markers card don’t match up hole for hole you will either face a penalty or you will be disqualified depending on the exact circumstances of the breach of the rule. 

Final Thoughts

The rules of golf are complex, but once you get the grasp of these basic rules you will be able to navigate your way around the golf course within the rules with ease. In addition to having complicated rules golfers also speak a language of their own, if some of the terms used to describe these rules are foreign to you read our Most Popular Golf Terms Every Golfer Should Know article. 

This article was last updated on September 29, 2020 .

Bertine Strauss
Written by
Bertine Strauss
The Golf Blog