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The Rules of Golf (Explained)

Golf, it’s been said, is perhaps the toughest sport to master.

Sure, there’s no 260-pound linebacker or defensive end coming to take your head off, but golf presents its competitors with a rather unique set of obstacles. You won’t face a 95-mile per hour fastball but there’s no doubt, you get quite the challenge chasing that little white ball around.

Among the challenges, of course, are the rules. The rules of golf are quite tough to master. Even golfers with years of experience tend to forget, misuse or otherwise unknowingly break the game’s key rulings – just ask Tiger Woods, DA Points and Justin Rose.

To help newcomers to the game build a bit of confidence to simply get out and play, here’s our quick and easy-to-understand breakdown of the basic rules and etiquette of the game.

Clubs – You can have up to 14 clubs in your bag. Typical breakdown of clubs includes: one driver, two fairway woods, seven irons (3-iron through 9-iron), three wedges and a putter. If you’re just starting out, opt for more woods than wedges and remember that you don’t necessarily need to have a full bag of 14 clubs.

Whose Turn? – This is a tricky one for beginners but it’s pretty easy. On the tee, the player with the lowest score from the previous hole goes first. If he’s slow to the tee, though, feel free to jump in front. Real golfers are all about pace of play, unless it’s a tournament or you’re playing for some serious cash. Once off the tee, the player farthest from the hole goes. This, rule also has some flexibility when you’re playing a friendly round, so whenever possible, think about improving your group’s pace of play.

Ball – If you’re lucky, you’ll play just one ball on any given hole —- maybe even for a few! If you keep it in play, the rules state that you’re allowed to play your ball and your ball only. This means no replacing without losing and certainly never make the mistake of hitting someone else’s ball.

Out of Bounds – Out of bounds markers are typically white and your scorecard will likely note which holes have out of bounds in play. If your ball goes out of bounds, you must go back and hit from your original shot and incur a penalty shot. The total haul for going OB? Three shots: the original shot, penalty stroke and replayed shot. Easy fix here? Avoid going out of bounds.

Hazards – This isn’t as much of a ruling as it is an explanation of the various hazards you’ll face on the course. With any luck, you’ll avoid them, but we all know how hard that is. A water hazard is any body of water on the course, or area even without water, marked off by yellow stakes. If your ball goes in the water hazard, you must drop behind the hazard while keeping in line with the ball’s point of entry. You can go as far back as you want. A lateral hazard is marked by red stakes. If you can’t drop behind it, which is likely as they run lateral to the hole, you get two club lengths from the point of entry.

Advanced tip: Use your driver to measure the two club lengths! The bad news with hitting your ball in the hazard? The penalty stroke you’re forced to take.

Losing a Ball – If you hit the ball in play or otherwise not in a hazard or out of bounds, you have five minutes to find the ball (with help from your partners). If you can’t find it, the same rule as an out of bounds ball is the result.

Bunkers – Speaking of hazards, here’s a bit about the sand bunkers you’re very likely to see out on the course. These are technically considered a hazard, but you don’t need to take a drop and ensuing penalty stroke. You can play out of these. Just make sure you don’t ground your club prior to impact or you’ll be penalized for testing the condition. Unless the rules are stated as ‘Playing through the green’ you’ll want to avoid grounding your club in the sand before your shot.

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