The new, modernized Rules of Golf were finalized and released by the USGA and R&A, and went into effect at the beginning of 2019.
Golf authorities have sought to bring clarity and simplification to the rules through this update and also to streamline their own systems.
The result is that the number of rules of golf has recently shrunk.
In order to simplify the sport’s regulations, there are now 24 rules, down from 34.
Among the notable changes was a reduction in the time spent to find a lost ball from five to three minutes, elimination of penalties for accidentally moving a ball on the green or during a search, fixing spike marks among other relaxed procedures on greens and in bunkers and allowing for the removal of loose impediments and touching the ground in hazards.
The governing bodies also opted to drop the penalty for a double hit, allowing golfers to simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball, something that had not been introduced in the proposed Rules ahead of their changes but was brought in after getting feedback from golfers.
What are the 24 rules?
Well, unfortunately it isn’t as simple as 24 hard and fast rules, with each of the rules having sub-rules and some exceptions.
The 24 rules are more like 24 sections of rules.
Rule 1 for instance reads in full:
1 The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules
1.1 The Game of Golf
1.2 Standards of Player Conduct
1.2a Conduct Expected of All Players
All players are expected to play in the spirit of the game by:
1.2b Code of Conduct
The Committee may set its own standards of player conduct in a Code of Conduct adopted as a Local Rule.
1.3 Playing by the Rules
1.3a. Meaning of ‘Rules”; Terms of the Competition
The term “Rules” means:
1.3b Applying the Rules
(1) Player Responsibility for Applying the Rules. Players are responsible for applying the Rules to themselves:
You can consult the R&A and USGA websites for full rules lists.
Below is an overview of each rule.
1 The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules
Purpose of Rule: Rule 1 introduces these central principles of the game for the player:
Play the course as you ﬁnd it and play the ball as it lies.
Play by the Rules and in the spirit of the game.
You are responsible for applying your own penalties if you breach a Rule, so that you cannot gain any potential advantage over your opponent in match play or other players in stroke play.
2 The Course
Purpose of Rule: Rule 2 introduces the basic things every player should know about the course:
There are five defined areas of the course, and
There are several types of defined objects and conditions that can interfere with play.
It is important to know the area of the course where the ball lies and the status of any interfering objects and conditions, because they often affect the player’s options for playing the ball or taking relief.
3 The Competition
Purpose of Rule: Rule 3 covers the three central elements of all golf competitions:
Playing either match play or stroke play,
Playing either as an individual or with a partner as part of a side, and
Scoring either by gross scores (no handicap strokes applied) or net scores (handicap strokes applied).
4 The Player’s Equipment
Purpose of Rule: Rule 4 covers the equipment that players may use during a round. Based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the player’s judgment, skills and abilities, the player:
Must use conforming clubs and balls,
Is limited to no more than 14 clubs, and
Is restricted in the use of other equipment that gives artificial help to their play.
5 Playing the Round
Purpose of Rule: Rule 5 covers how to play a round – such as where and when a player may practise on the course before or during a round, when a round starts and ends and what happens when play has to stop or resume. Players are expected to:
Start each round on time, and
Play continuously and at a prompt pace during each hole until the round is completed.
When it is a player’s turn to play, it is recommended that they make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually more quickly than that.
6 Playing a Hole
Purpose of Rule: Rule 6 covers how to play a hole – such as the specific Rules for teeing off to start a hole, the requirement to use the same ball for an entire hole except when substitution is allowed, the order of play (which matters more in match play than stroke play) and completing a hole.
7 Ball Search: Finding and Identifying Ball
Purpose of Rule: Rule 7 allows the player to take reasonable actions to fairly search for their ball in play after each stroke.
But the player still must be careful, as a penalty will apply if the player acts excessively and causes improvement to the conditions affecting their next stroke.
The player gets no penalty if the ball is accidentally moved in trying to find or identify it, but must then replace the ball on its original spot.
8 Course Played as It Is Found
Purpose of Rule: Rule 8 covers a central principle of the game: “play the course as you find it”. When the player’s ball comes to rest, they normally have to accept the conditions affecting the stroke and not improve them before playing the ball. However, a player may take certain reasonable actions even if they improve those conditions, and there are limited circumstances where conditions may be restored without penalty after they have been improved or worsened.
9 Ball Played as It Lies; Ball at Rest Lifted or Moved
Purpose of Rule: Rule 9 covers a central principle of the game: “play the ball as it lies.”
If the player’s ball comes to rest and is then moved by natural forces such as wind or water, the player normally must play it from its new spot.
If a ball at rest is lifted or moved by anyone or any outside influence before the stroke is made, the ball must be replaced on its original spot.
Players should take care when near any ball at rest, and a player who causes their own ball or an opponent’s ball to move will normally get a penalty (except on the putting green).
10 Preparing for and Making a Stroke; Advice and Help; Caddies
Purpose of Rule: Rule 10 covers how to prepare for and make a stroke, including advice and other help the player may get from others (including caddies). The underlying principle is that golf is a game of skill and personal challenge.
11 Ball in Motion Accidentally Hits Person, Animal or Object; Deliberate
Purpose of Rule: Rule 11 covers what to do if the player’s ball in motion hits a person, animal, equipment or anything else on the course. When this happens accidentally, there is no penalty and the player normally must accept the result, whether favourable or not, and play the ball from where it comes to rest. Rule 11 also restricts a player from deliberately taking actions to affect where any ball in motion might come to rest.
Purpose of Rule: Rule 12 is a specific Rule for bunkers, which are specially prepared areas intended to test the player’s ability to play a ball from the sand. To make sure the player confronts this challenge, there are some restrictions on touching the sand before the stroke is made and on where relief may be taken for a ball in a bunker.
13 Putting Greens
Purpose of Rule: Rule 13 is a specific Rule for putting greens. Putting greens are specially prepared for playing the ball along the ground and there is a flagstick for the hole on each putting green, so certain different Rules apply than for other areas of the course.
14 Procedures for Ball: Marking, Lifting and Cleaning; Replacing on Spot; Dropping in Relief Area; Playing from Wrong Place
Purpose of Rule: Rule 14 covers when and how the player may mark the spot of a ball at rest and lift and clean the ball and how to put a ball back into play so that the ball is played from the right place.
When a lifted or moved ball is to be replaced, the same ball must be set down on its original spot.
When taking free relief or penalty relief, a substituted ball or the original ball must be dropped in a particular relief area.
A mistake in using these procedures may be corrected without penalty before the ball is played, but the player gets a penalty if they play the ball from the wrong place.
15 Relief from Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions (Including Ball or Ball-Marker Helping or Interfering with Play)
Purpose of Rule: Rule 15 covers when and how the player may take free relief from loose impediments and movable obstructions.
These movable natural and artificial objects are not treated as part of the challenge of playing the course, and a player is normally allowed to remove them when they interfere with play.
But the player needs to be careful in moving loose impediments near their ball off the putting green, because there will be a penalty if moving them causes the ball to move.
16 Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball
Purpose of Rule: Rule 16 covers when and how the player may take free relief by playing a ball from a different place, such as when there is interference by an abnormal course condition or a dangerous animal condition.
These conditions are not treated as part of the challenge of playing the course, and free relief is generally allowed except in a penalty area.
The player normally takes relief by dropping a ball in a relief area based on the nearest point of complete relief.
This Rule also covers free relief when a player’s ball is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the general area.
17 Penalty Areas
Purpose of Rule: Rule 17 is a specific Rule for penalty areas, which are bodies of water or other areas defined by the Committee where a ball is often lost or unable to be played. For one penalty stroke, players may use specific relief options to play a ball from outside the penalty area.
18 Stroke-and-Distance Relief, Ball Lost or Out of Bounds, Provisional Ball
Purpose of Rule: Rule 18 covers taking relief under penalty of stroke and distance. When a ball is lost outside a penalty area or comes to rest out of bounds, the required progression of playing from the teeing area to the hole is broken; the player must resume that progression by playing again from where the previous stroke was made.
This Rule also covers how and when a provisional ball may be played to save time when the ball in play might have gone out of bounds or be lost outside a penalty area.
19 Unplayable Ball
Purpose of Rule: Rule 19 covers the player’s several relief options for an unplayable ball. This allows the player to choose which option to use – normally with one penalty stroke – to get out of a difficult situation anywhere on the course (except in a penalty area).
20 Resolving Rules Issues During Round; Rulings by Referee and Committee
Purpose of Rule: Rule 20 covers what players should do when they have questions about the Rules during a round, including the procedures (which differ in match play and stroke play) allowing a player to protect the right to get a ruling at a later time.
The Rule also covers the role of referees who are authorized to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. Rulings from a referee or the Committee are binding on all players.
21 Other Forms of Individual Stroke Play and Match Play
Purpose of Rule: Rule 21 covers four other forms of individual play, including three forms of stroke play where scoring is different than in regular stroke play: Stableford (scoring by points awarded on each hole); Maximum Score (the score for each hole is capped at a maximum); and Par/Bogey (match play scoring used on a hole by hole basis).
22 Foursomes (Also Known as Alternate Shot)
Purpose of Rule: Rule 22 covers Foursomes (played either in match play or stroke play), where two partners compete together as a side by alternating in making strokes at a single ball. The Rules for this form of play are essentially the same as for individual play, except for requiring the partners to alternate in teeing off to start a hole and to play out each hole with alternate shots.
Purpose of Rule: Rule 23 covers Four-Ball (played either in match play or stroke play), where partners compete as a side with each playing a separate ball. The side’s score for a hole is the lower score of the partners on that hole.
24 Team Competitions
Purpose of Rule: Rule 24 covers team competitions (played in either match play or stroke play), where multiple players or sides compete as a team with the results of their rounds or matches combined to produce an overall team score.
25 Modifications for Players with Disabilities
Purpose of Rule: Rule 25 provides modifications to certain Rules of Golf to allow players with specific disabilities to play fairly with players who have no disabilities, the same disability or a different type of disability.