When one thinks of etiquette, the game of golf doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Think again, though. Etiquette, perhaps best described as ‘acceptable behaviour within a certain group’, plays a major part in golf. If anything, learning correct etiquette is the first step towards becoming a complete golfer. If you practise good etiquette, you can command respect, almost regardless of your ability or talent. If, on the other hand, you practise poor etiquette, it is unlikely to endear you to your fellow golfers.


Courtesy is one element of the Rules of Golf that derives more from common sense than anything else. Any golfer with an ounce of social nous should find that much of this section comes as second nature. If you consider yourself a perfectly behaved individual on the golf course, then bear with us briefly while we offer a few reminders on courtesy.

Firstly, don’t take practice swings when your playing companions are in striking distance, not even if you’re losing heavily. Golf is a non-contact sport, remember. And don’t move around while someone is playing a shot – it is very distracting. Equally, don’t talk, fidget, laugh or jingle loose change in your pocket while someone is playing a stroke. It is neither gentlemanly nor sporting and, again, it might win you matches but it is just as likely to lose you several friends. Simply stand still, out of your playing partner’s line of vision.

Before teeing off, make sure the group in front have moved well out of

range. Your Sunday-best drive which lands at the feet of an unsuspecting golfer on the fairway may cause your playing partners to express their admiration, but such bravado attempts to hurry along the pace of play, or let the group in front know what a powerful hitter you are, do not go down well.

If the players ahead are clearly playing at a slower speed than your group, they should accept that and call you through. Likewise, you should do the same if a group are continually waiting to play their shots behind you, and there are clear holes ahead of you. Try always to bear in mind that if you behave courteously and considerately on the golf course, you have every reason to expect the same treatment from your fellow players,


Seemingly one of the oldest adages in golf goes along the lines that if you look after the golf course, then the golf course will in turn look after you. Even if this reciprocal arrangement doesn’t always work in your favour (for instance, you will from time to time experience the frustration of finding your ball in a footmark in sand or in a divot mark in the fairway), it is still a commendable way to behave.

It’s not as if a gentle spot of gardening on the way round takes much time or effort. There are a mere handful of tasks that all golfers should perform, each one taking no time at all. Repair your pitch-mark on the green, either with a tee-peg or a tool specifically designed for that purpose. While you’re about it, repair another one, too, because you can be sure that someone out there has either forgotten how to look after the course or else is too lazy to do so. Don’t become one of that ilk. Be careful about spike marks, though. You can only repair these blemishes on the line of play after you have completed the hole. It seems something of an anomaly when one form of damage to the green can be repaired before you putt and another can’t, but rules are rules.

Rake your footprints after you’ve finished in a bunker. You’ll know yourself how awkward sand play can be, even from a perfect lie. The difficulties of extricating your ball from a size-10 footprint do not bear thinking about.

Always replace divots in the fairway, including those that you might dislodge during your practice swings. As a general rule of thumb, rather than it being a specific rule of golf, you should not replace divots taken on the tee, though. Occasionally there will be a bucket of sand-and-seed provided for that purpose, in which case you should make use of it. Before too long these tasks will become second nature.


If you’re thinking that this is one of those sections you can skip past, then stop right there; you’re making a big mistake. The entire Rules of Golf hinge upon the terms and expressions used in these definitions. Rather like trying to run before you can walk, if you don’t familiarize yourself with them, then pretty soon you’re going to come unstuck.

Some definitions may appear obvious, but each exists for a specific purpose and they are seldom as straightforward as they might at first seem. Equally, many of the definitions are quite wordy and involved. For these reasons, key words are highlighted in bold and are themselves defined. Additional comments have been included in some cases either to clarify a definition or to provide a practical example. Read every one carefully – your understanding of the Rules of Golf depends upon it.

Addressing the ball

A player has addressed the ball when he has taken his stance and has also grounded his club, except that in a hazard a player has addressed the ball when he has taken his stance. This is one reason why you should hover the clubhead off the ground in situations where the ball is perched precariously in rough or on top of loose grass, since you reduce the chances of the ball moving. And if the ball does move, you’re off the hook because the fact that you haven’t grounded the club means you can justifiably claim not to have addressed the ball.


Advice is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of dub or the method of making a stroke. Advice must only be sought frorn your playing partner or your caddie. Information on the Rules or on matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, does not constitute advice.

A subtle change of wording can make all the difference here. A question such as: ‘How far is it from that bunker to the front edge?’ is not deemed to be asking for advice.

However, ‘How far have 1 got to the pin?’ is asking for trouble. A two-stroke penalty is incurred, or toss of hole in matchplay, for giving advice to the opposing side. So be careful. Try to remember the distinction between asking for ‘advice’ and asking for information’. If you’re in any doubt, say nothing.

Ball deemed to move

See ‘Move or moved’.

Ball holed

See ‘Holed’.

Ball in play

A ball is in play as soon as the player has made a stroke on the teeing ground. It remains in play until holed out, except when it is lost, out of bounds or lifted, or another ball has been substituted under an applicable Rule, whether or not such Rule permits substitution; a ball so substituted becomes the ball in play.

Ball lost

See ‘Lost ball’.


A bunker is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like. Grass-covered ground bordering or within a bunker is not part of the bunker. As Gary Player is fond of saying, never call a bunker a ‘trap’. Don’t even think about it- The word ‘trap’ has a negative overtone, and besides, bunker play is difficult enough.


A caddie is a person who carries or handles a player’s clubs during play and otherwise assists him in accordance with the Rules, When one caddie is employed by more than one player, he is always deemed to be the caddie of the player whose ball is involved, and carried by him is deemed to be that player’s equipment, except when the caddie acts upon specific directions of another player, in which case he is considered to be that other player’s caddie.

Casual water

Casual water is any temporary accumulation of water on the course which is visible before or after the player takes his stance and is not in a water hazard. Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player. Manufactured ice is an obstruction. Dew and frost do not constitute casual water.


The committee is the one in charge of a competition or in charge of the course. During everyday competition play, the committee is unlikely to be present on the day. In such cases the responsibilities are usually passed on to the club professional.


A competitor is a player in a stroke competition. A fellow competitor is any person with whom the competitor plays. Neither is a partner of the other. In strokeplay foursomes and fourball competitions, where the context so admits, the term ‘competitor’ or ‘fellow competitor’ includes a player’s partner. It sounds like splitting hairs, but the precise status of the person you are playing with has a significant bearing on the Rules. It pays to know whom you are playing with.


The course is the whole area within which play is permitted.


Equipment is anything used, worn or carried by or for the player except any ball he has played at the hole being played and any small object, such as a coin or a tee, when used to mark the position of a ball or the limit of an area in which a ball is to be dropped.

Equipment includes a golf cart, whether or not motorized. If such a cart is shared by two or more players, the cart and everything in it are deemed to be that of the player whose ball is involved except that, when the cart is being moved by one of the players sharing it, the cart and everything in it are deemed to be that player’s equipment.

Note that a ball played at the hole being played is equipment when it has been lifted and not put back into play.

Fellow competitor

See ‘Competitor’.


The flagstick is a movable straight indicator, with or without bunting or other material attached, centred in the hole to show its position. The rules say that it shall be circular in cross-section.


A forecaddie is one who is employed by the committee to indicate to players the position of balls during play. He is an outside agency.

Ground under repair

Ground under repair is any portion of the course so marked by order of the committee or so declared by its authorized representative. Such ground includes material piled for removal and a hole made by a greenkeeper, even if not so marked. Stakes and lines defining ground under repair are in such ground. The margin of ground under repair extends vertically downwards, but not upwards.

Note that grass cuttings and other material left on the course, which have been abandoned and are not intended to be removed, are not ground under repair unless so marked, and that the committee may make a Local Rule prohibiting play from ground under repair,


A hazard is any bunker or water hazard.


The hole shall be 4,25 in (108mm) in diameter and at least 4 in (100 mm) deep. If a lining is used, it shall be sunk at least 1 in (25 mm) below the putting green surface unless the nature of the soil makes this impracticable; its outer diameter shall not exceed 4,25 in (108 mm).


A ball is holed when it is at rest within the circumference of the hole and all of it is below the level of the lip of the hole.


The side entitled to play first from the teeing ground is said to have the honour.

Lateral water hazard

A lateral water hazard is a water hazard or that part of a water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the committee to be impracticable, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26. That part of a water hazard to be regarded as a lateral water hazard should be distinctively marked by red stakes or lines.

Line of play

The line of play is the direction that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke, plus a reasonable distance on either side of the intended direction, The line of play extends vertically upwards from the ground, but does not extend beyond the hole.

Line of putt

The line of putt is the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green. The line of putt includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole.

Loose Impediments

Loose impediments are natural objects such as stones, leaves, twigs, branches and the like, dung, worms and insects and casts or heaps made by them, provided they are not fixed or growing, are not solidly embedded and do not adhere to the ball. Sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere. Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments at me option of the player. Manufactured ice is an obstruction. Dew and frost do not constitute loose impediments.

Lost ball

A ball is deemed lost if:

  1. it is not found or identified as his by the player five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it; or
  2. the player has put another ball into play under the Rules, even though he may not have searched for the original ball; or
  3. the player has played any stroke with a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place, whereupon the provisional ball becomes the ball in play.

Time spent in playing a wrong ball is not counted in the five-minute period allowed fora search.


A marker is a person who is appointed by the committee to record a competitors score in strokeplay. He may be a fellow competitor. He is not a referee.


See ‘Sides and matches’.

Move or moved

A ball is deemed to have moved if it leaves its position and comes to rest in any other place. A ball merely oscillating in strong wind is not deemed to have moved, nor if the clubface touches the ball while the player is addressing the ball, provided the ball does not move from its spot.


An observer is a person who is appointed by the committee to assist a referee to decide questions of fact and to report to him any breach of a Rule, An observer should not attend the flagstick, stand at or mark the position of the hole, or lift the ball or mark its position.


An obstruction is anything artificial, including manufactured ice and the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths, except:

  1. 1 objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes and railings;
  2. any part of an immovable artificial object that is out of bounds; and
  3. any construction declared by the committee to be an integral part of the course.

Out of bounds

Out of bounds is ground on which play is prohibited. When out of bounds is defined by reference to stakes or a fence, the out of bounds line is determined by the nearest inside points of the stakes or fence posts at ground level excluding angled supports. When out of bounds is defined by a line on the ground, the line itself is out of bounds. The out of bounds line extends vertically upwards and downwards. A ball is deemed to be out of bounds when all of it lies out of bounds. A player may stand out of bounds to play a ball lying within bounds.

Outside agency

An outside agency is any agency not part of the match or, in strokeplay, not part of the competitor’s side, and includes a referee, a marker, an observer or a forecaddie Neither wind nor water is an outside agency.


A partner is a player associated with another player on the same side. In a threesome, foursome, bestball or fourball match, where the context so admits, the word ‘player’ includes his partner or partners.

Penalty stroke

A penalty stroke is one added to the score of a player or side under certain Rules, in a threesome or foursome, penalty strokes do not affect the order of play.

Provisional ball

A provisional ball is a ball played for a ball which may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds.

Putting green

The putting green is all the ground of the hole being played which is specially prepared for putting or otherwise defined as such by the committee. A ball is on the putting green when any part of it touches the putting green.


A referee is a person who is appointed by the committee to accompany players to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules of Golf. He shall act on any breach of a Rule which he observes or is reported to him, A referee should not attend the flagstick, stand at or mark the position of the hole, or lift the ball or mark its position.

Rub of the green

A rub of the green occurs when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency.


The term ‘rule’ includes Local Rules made by the committee.

Sides and matches

Side: a player, or two or more players who are partners.

Single: a match in which one plays against another.

Threesome a match in which one plays against two, and each side plays one ball.

Threeball: a matchplay competition in which three play against one another, each playing his own ball. Each player is playing two distinct matches. Bestball: a match in which one plays against the better ball of two or the best ball of three other players. Pourbali. a match in which two play their better ball against the better ball of two other players.


Taking the stance consists in a player placing his feet in position for, and preparatory to, making a stroke.

Stipulated round

The stipulated round consists of playing the holes of the course in their correct sequence unless otherwise authorized by the committee. The number of holes in a stipulated round is 18 unless a smaller number is authorized by the committee. As to an extension of a stipulated round in matchplay, see Rule 2.


A stroke is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of fairly striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he is deemed not to have made a stroke.

Teeing ground

The teeing ground is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area, two club-lengths in depth, the front and sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers, A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground. You are perfectly entitled to stand outside the teeing ground, provided the ball is teed between the tee-markers.

Through the green

Through the green is the whole area of the course except:

  1. the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played; and
  2. all hazards on the course

Be careful not to confuse the term ‘through the green’ with ‘being over the back of the green’, i.e. being beyond the putting green. They are not necessarily the same thing.

Water hazard

A water hazard is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature. All ground or water within the margin of a water hazard is part of the water hazard. The margin of a water hazard extends vertically upwards and downwards. Stakes and lines defining the margins of water hazards are in the hazards. Note that water hazards (other than lateral water hazards) should be defined by yellow stakes or lines.

Wrong ball

A wrong ball is any ball other than:

  1. the ball in play;
  2. a provisional ball; or
  3. in strokeplay, a second ball played under Rule 3-3 or Rule 20-7b. (Please consult the full Rules of Golf for coverage of these sections, which cannot easily be condensed here.)

Note that a ball is in play as soon as the player has made a stroke on the teeing ground. The ball remains in play until holed out, except when it is lost. out of bounds, lifted or another ball has been substituted under an applicable Rule.

You will find it helpful if you continually refer back to these definitions. They shed light on the occasionally complex wording of some Rules and, on the whole, make the Rules of Golf a great deal easier to understand.