New to golf? Don’t be bogged down by rules and etiquette. Here are 10 basics you need to get started.
If you’re new to the game and feeling intimated by the rules and etiquette of golf, don’t be.
It might sound a bit complicated, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of things (pun very much intended) with just these 10 basics.
1. Hit your tee shot from between the markers
The first shot you hit on any hole is a “tee shot” and is played from a dedicated area known as the “tee box”. On the tee box, you’ll see a few sets of markers, indicating where to hit your shot from. These are usually red (typically used by women), yellow (typically used by men) and white (typically used by men during competitions).
Always hit your tee shot from within, or just behind, the area between the markers.
2. Who goes first?
Traditionally, the person who had the lowest score on the last hole will tee off first. But nowadays, most people just play as soon as they’re ready. This is known as “ready golf”.
3. Where to stand when someone else is playing
This one is more about safety than anything else. When someone else is hitting a shot, always stay well behind them and out the way of their line of swing.
Some people find it a bit off-putting when people stand directly behind them (think: you’re trying to do something with someone looking over your shoulder), so I’d always stand just to the side a bit too.
It’s also courtesy to stay quiet when someone else is hitting a shot so that they can concentrate. But at all other times, chat away!
4. Keep up with the group ahead of you
No one, and I mean no one, really cares how well (or badly) you play as long as you don’t hang around when you do it. Hit your shot, move on, and hit it again.
Keeping up with the group ahead of you is a good indication that you’re playing at the right pace.
5. Replace divots, rake bunkers and repair pitch marks
You know that chunk of grass and dirt that went flying when you hit your shot? That’s called a divot. To keep the fairways in good condition, always replace your divot whenever you make one.
And if you find your ball in the bunker, remember to rake it after you’ve hit your shot.
When your ball – or someone else’s – hits the green, it often leaves a mark. It’s called a “pitch mark” and it’s good etiquette to repair them. Read this article by the USGA about how and why to repair pitch marks.
6. What to do if you lose a ball
This really depends on where you’ve lost the ball, but let’s keep it simple. Let’s say you’ve hit the ball in the trees. You should hit another shot from the same spot as a “provisional ball”.
If you find the ball but can’t play it, you can take a “penalty drop”. That means dropping the ball no nearer the hole with a one-shot penalty.
If you can’t find it, your “provisional ball” is now in play. Carry on with that ball and add a penalty shot. So … you hit your tee shot (that’s one shot) and lose it in the trees. You hit a provisional ball (that’s now your third shot – your second shot plus a penalty). Then the next shot you hit is your fourth.
Read more about what to do if you lose your ball.
7. When to shout FORE!
“Fore!” is used to warn other golfers that a ball is coming in their direction. So if you hit your ball offline, particularly towards another hole, always shout fore to keep everyone safe.
8. What to do if you hit it out of bounds
Every golf course is marked by boundaries, usually marked by white stakes or a painted white line. If you hit your ball outside of those boundaries, it’s “out of bounds”.
If you hit your ball out of bounds, you must play another shot from the same position and add one penalty shot.
Read more about what to do if your ball is out of bounds.
9. What happens if you miss the ball?
When you first play golf, there will be many an occasion when you stand up to hit the ball, ready to smash it down the fairway, and … you completely miss it.
If that happens, it counts a shot. I know, it seems a bit harsh, but rules are rules.
But. If you accidentally hit your ball when you take a practice swing or set up to the ball on the tee or the green, you can simply replace it without any penalty.
10. Shake hands when you finish your round
It's customary to shake hands with your playing partners at the end of every round. If you're playing with friends, this might only be a quick high-five, but it's a lovely tradition that I hope never fades away.
And that’s it. That really is the fundamentals of the rules and etiquette of golf. The final thing to remember is that these are in place to make the game more enjoyable and fairer for everyone. They’re not there to put anyone off.
Download The R&A app or visit randa.org for everything in more detail.
Ready to test your knowledge of the rules of golf? Take our quiz!