For the purpose of brevity, several sections that appear separately in the official Rules of Golf have been pooled together in this chapter. For the same reasons, the regulations concerning conformity of clubs and ball specifications have not been included.

The object of this chapter, and the reason why so many subjects are contained within the auspices of a player’s overall responsibilities, is to make the golfer aware of the things that are likely to affect him in an ordinary round of golf. It is not a definitive guide, and it is not intended to be so. However, it does provide clear answers to commonplace queries.


All about clubs

It wasn’t so long ago that there were no limits to the number of clubs you could bring on to the course. Provided you were strong enough, or could employ the services of a willing and able caddie, you basically chose as many as you felt you might need.

By the 1930s, though, matters were getting a little out of hand. Some professionals were going into battle with as many as 25 clubs on board, enough to cope with every conceivable situation the game could present to them, plus a few more. Too many specialist clubs were being carried and eventually the law enforcers of the game decided to clamp down, the maximum number of clubs permitted in any one round being restricted to 14. It has been that way ever since.

There is more to it than that, however. If you break a club in the normal course of play, then you are perfectly entitled to replace it, provided you do not delay play. If you break a club in temper – perish the thought – you have to live with that hot-headed blunder and get by as best you can.

Surprisingly enough, you can add clubs to your bag at any time during a round to bring your set up to the full quota of 14 but, again, on the express understanding that you do not hold up play in doing so.

If for some reason you do happen to take too many clubs on to the course with you, then prepare to be punished. In matchplay, you deduct one hole for each hole played with the extra ‘baggage’, up to a maximum of two holes. For example, if you lose the 1st hole and then discover on the 2nd tee that you’re carrying a 15th club, that means you’re in the uncomfortable position of being two down after one. Not a good start,

Alternatively, say you don’t discover a breach of this Rule until you’ve played 16 holes, at which point you are sitting pretty at one up- Well, you immediately turn that gain into a deficit and go one down. That also hurts.

In strokeplay you are penalized two strokes for each hole played with those extra clubs, up to a maximum of four strokes. In both forms of play it doesn’t matter if you are carrying one extra club or ten extra clubs, the penalty remains the same. You can also share clubs, provided the total number of clubs carried by you and your partner does not exceed 14.



As far as spherical objects go, the average golf ball is a fairly tough nut to crack. But damage does happen. Not surprisingly, the Rules as to what you can and can’t do when your ball becomes damaged are fairly delicate.

Strictly speaking, a ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape. If you have reason to believe that your ball has become unfit for play during the course of a hole, you are perfectly entitled to lift and inspect it. Before doing so, however, you must announce your intentions to whoever you are playing with, be it a partner or opponent. He can then verify your decision which, assuming that your ball is damaged, allows you to substitute it before you play your next stroke. If you fail to comply with this procedure, you are penalized one stroke in strokeplay or loss of hole in matchplay. In the unlikely event of a ball breaking into pieces at impact, you simply cancel that stroke and play another ball from the same spot; there is no penalty.

Although there are hundreds of different brands of golf ball on the market, it is wise to mark your ball with some form of identification, such as a black dot, using a felt-tip pen. There was an incident of two players who hit their balls into the same area of rough and, on arriving at the scene, discovered they were both playing the same make of bail with the same number stamped on it. As neither of them could say for certain which was his ball, they had to follow the statement in the Rules that both balls be deemed ‘lost’, A harsh lessson.


The player

If there was one expression to sum up this particular section on the Rules of Golf, it would be ‘know your facts before you start’. It’s as simple as that. We’re not talking about knowing the entire rule book by heart, although that may come in time, but about making yourself aware of certain information that has a bearing on the game you are about to play. This includes knowing your exact handicap, In matchplay it is your responsibility to know the stroke allowances that will apply. If you start a match having declared a wrong handicap, which might affect the number of strokes given or recorded, you are disqualified. The penalty is equally serious in strokeplay. You must enter the correct handicap in the box provided on the scorecard. If you sign and return a card which either omits your handicap, or states an incorrect handicap that affects the number of strokes you have received, then you are disqualified, And if there is one experience in golf that will leave you feeling totally despondent, then it is being disqualified for an ‘admin. error’ after playing your heart out and achieving a good score.

It’s your responsibility to know your starting time. If you’re late, then you’re out of the competition, although committees have been known to allow a five-minute leeway, albeit with a penalty of two strokes in strokeplay or loss of hole in matchplay.

It’s up to you to make sure your score is recorded correctly before you sign and return your card. If you return a score for any hole which is lower than actually taken, you are disqualified. If you record a higher score than you actually took, then the recorded score stands and you are otherwise not penalized. If your adding up is incorrect, don’t worry. You are not penalized for bad arithmetic – it is up to the committee to get that right,

One of the golden Rules of Golf is that you don’t unduly delay play. Slow play makes life unpleasant for everyone on the course and the fact that it is an almost accepted phenomenon at most clubs does not mean that it goes unpunished. Make no mistake, if you continually hold up play, you will be penalized two strokes,

or loss of hole in matchplay. if you then persist in holding up play, you may be disqualified. As far as stopping altogether is concerned, you can’t suddenly discontinue play without good reason to do so. Hard rain is unpleasant but is not sufficient cause to stop play, provided the course is playable. Lightning is a different story, though, and if you feel you’re in danger the Rules allow you to run for cover, The few other instances where you can discontinue play are for illness and in seeking a decision from the committee on a disputed point.



Few would argue that practice is the best way to improve your game. but there are times when it doesn’t always make perfect. Far from it. If you practise when you shouldn’t, you’ll be penalized for it,

The first point to remember, as far as strokeplay is concerned, is that on the day of a competition, practice is not permitted on the course before the round. Even in the case of, say, a 36-hole competition where the two rounds are to be played on consecutive days, the rules are strict -absolutely no practice on the course between rounds. The penalty is disqualification, Once on the course, though, you can practise to a degree. For instance, you may practise your putting or chipping on or near the green of the last hole played, between the play of two holes. Obviously this is not acceptable if the group behind are ready and waiting to play their approach shots to the same green – remember, a golfer who unduly delays play is himself subject to penalty.

Taking a different scenario, if, for example, you’re playing a two-round competition on the same day, Rule 7 again applies. Provided you do not unduly delay play, it does not matter whether it is the morning round or the afternoon round; you are still allowed to practise your chipping or putting on the green of the last hole played, between the play of two holes.

In matchplay the rules regarding practice differ in one important respect, namely, that you can practise on the competition course before a round.


Advice, indicating line of play

Remember the definition? Advice is ‘any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of club or the method

of making a stroke’. That means you can ask for information on matters such as where the flagstick is situated on the green, or how far it is from a sprinkler-head to the centre of the green. But you cannot ask anyone other than your playing partner or caddie a distance from your ball to the flag.

Here are some more examples,

• You cannot ask your opponent or fellow competitor what club they have just used. However, you can look into an opponent’s bag to see what club he has just used. But if that player decides he doesn’t want you to know and places a towel over his clubs, you cannot take a peek under it.

• Be careful about advising an opponent or fellow competitor about their technique. If you tell someone he is gripping the club too tightly, you will be penalized two strokes or loss of hole in matchplay, even though your intentions are friendly, The person you advise is not penalized, as someone cannot be held responsible for something he hears.

The line of play is the direction that the player wishes his ball to take, plus a reasonable distance either side of that line. It does not extend beyond the hole, though. Off the green, anyone can indicate the line of play to you, but they must move before you play the stroke. There is one interesting variation on this rule, however. If you are below the level of the green and cannot see the flagstick, you can have someone hold the flag high above the hole in order for you to see it. The person can stay in position when you play the shot, too. Once on the green, you may have a line pointed out to you before you putt, but without the putting surface being touched.


Information as to strokes taken

It is essential that all parties involved in a match be aware of the number of strokes taken and, consequently, of any penalties incurred. It is a breach of the rules not to inform your opponent that you have incurred a penalty, but at the same time you don’t have to state the obvious. If you are unlucky enough to play a stroke and your ball plunges into the middle of a lake, words are to a certain extent unnecessary.