RULES Misconceptions About Rules SEPTEMBER 14, 2010 By Travis Lesser, USGA

For many people, the Rules of Golf must seem like a group of strict parents. Spend much time around them and you are sure to know what you aren’t allowed to do. Figuring out what you can do takes a little digging, however, which can prove troublesome.

This may be why learning the Rules thoroughly can be such a difficult task for many golfers. In many other games, the rules clearly state what you can and cannot do and mandate penalties when you do something you shouldn’t. And similar to a strict parent, the Rules primarily restrict a player’s actions, but they also include instances when those restrictions can be overlooked. This can lure a player into a state of mental paralysis when thrown into a situation where the player is unsure of his or her rights.

Because the Rules of Golf often list prohibitions, many golfers mistakenly believe that other actions are also prohibited. Some of these misconceptions stem from unfamiliarity with the Rules. Fear not, because in golf, if a Rule doesn’t say you can’t do something, then it’s usually safe to presume that you can. With that in mind, let’s clear up some frequent misconceptions about the Rules.

Let’s begin by addressing some of the fallacies regarding the flagstick and the hole. To start, not only is it permissible for a player to have a flagstick attended for a stroke played from anywhere on the course (this is specifically stated in Rule 17-1), but the player also may attend the flagstick for himself. A player incurs no penalty if he holds the flagstick while it is in the hole with one hand and removes it after playing a stroke at his ball with a club in his other hand, provided the ball does not strike the flagstick.

One question the Rules staff at the USGA encounters frequently is whether a player incurs a penalty for standing on the opposite side of the hole from where his ball lies on the putting green while reaching across the hole to tap in a short putt. Isn’t the player standing on or astride his line of putt in breach of Rule 16-1e? The Definition of Line of Putt states that the line of putt does not extend beyond the hole,  therefore, in this situation it would be impossible for a player to be standing on or astride his line of putt, as it does not exist where the player is standing. A player incurs no penalty for playing a stroke in this manner, provided the ball is fairly struck.

On the subject of a holed ball, let’s clear up another misconception. There is no penalty to anyone if a player’s opponent or fellow competitor fails to remove their ball from the hole before the player holes his ball. Once holed a ball is no longer a ball in play. It should be noted, however, that it is considered a breach of etiquette for a player to fail to remove his ball from the hole, especially after an opponent or fellow competitor has requested the player to do so.

Next, let’s have a look at movable obstructions, which are by definition, artificial objects on the course that are readily movable (i.e., any artificial object that can be moved with little or no effort). Although not specifically covered in Rule 24-1, the Rule permits a player to remove objects such as rakes, cart signs and water-hazard stakes, even when the player’s ball lies in a water hazard. There is, however, a significant restriction under this Rule that must be kept in mind. When a ball is in motion, while a player is permitted to move equipment of any player or the flagstick (whether it is attended, removed or held up), any other obstructions that might influence the movement of the ball cannot be moved or removed.

On the topic of equipment, a common misconception is that there is a penalty if players share equipment. A thorough study of the Rules of Golf will show just one Rule, Rule 4-4, that prohibits players from sharing clubs (unless the players are partners, in which case partners may share clubs provided the total number of clubs between the two of them does not exceed 14). Nowhere else in the Rules will you find restrictions on players sharing any other equipment. It’s OK to borrow a towel, a jacket, tees or even golf balls from any person, whether a spectator, an opponent, a fellow competitor or your partner. Further, there is nothing prohibiting a player from using a tee found on the teeing ground before starting play of a hole, even if that tee is broken.

Does an umbrella or a ball retriever count as one of the player’s 14 allowable clubs if it includes something resembling a golf grip? As specified in Appendix II of the Rules of Golf, a golf club is required to have a head and a shaft. Umbrellas or ball retrievers carried by players are not counted as clubs as these objects do not meet both of those requirements, even though they might have golf grips on them. While on the subject of grips, there is no requirement that a club even have a grip. The minimum requirement for a club is that it must have a shaft and a head; therefore, a player incurs no penalty for holding a club below the grip when making a stroke despite that often repeated misconception.

There are very few shortcuts when it comes to mastering the Rules, but remember that, if an action is not expressly prohibited in the text of the Rule, it is almost always OK. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with all parts of the Rule before coming to a conclusion, because an exception or note listed under the Rule might permit the exact action you are trying to execute.

Travis Lesser is a Rules associate for the USGA.

The 10 Most Misunderstood Golf Rules

Created on 05-17-2016

The Rules of GolfMost avid golfers pride themselves on knowing the Rules of Golf, yet many times golfers have a different interpretation of the Rules and how to handle a specific situation.  Ron Kaspriske at shares a list of the 10 Most Misunderstood Rules and the correct ruling behind these myths.

1. MYTH: A golfer who is off the green must play a shot before a golfer who is on the green.

FACT: The player farthest from the hole, regardless of position, is always entitled to play first. So if a golfer has 50-foot putt while another golfer is facing a 5-yard chip, the golfer on the green is entitled to play first. Note, there is no penalty for playing out of order. However, in match play, you can be made to replay your shot by your opponent if you don’t wait your turn.

2. MYTH: A ball that is touched and falls off the tee after it has been addressed counts as a stroke.

FACT: In most cases, it doesn’t count as a stroke and the ball should be re-teed without penalty. It counts as a stroke if the ball already was in play (if you whiffed on your first attempt, for example), or if you were making a stroke at the time the ball fell off the tee.

3. MYTH: In a scramble or other team format, you can stand on or close to an extension of your partner’s line of putt while he makes a stroke.

FACT: No one on your side, including caddies, can intentionally stand on or close to an extension of the line of putt during a stroke. Intentionally is the key word. If someone on your side was standing there inadvertently, there would be no penalty.

4. MYTH: If you hit a ball into a water hazard, you can hit a provisional ball before going to search for the original.

FACT: If you’re virtually certain your ball is in a water hazard, you can’t hit a provisional. The next shot you hit is considered a ball in play (plus add a penalty stroke). If you hit a ball in a hazard, proceed under options for Rule 26. If you think your ball could possibly be outside the hazard, then you can hit the provisional. But if it turns out that your ball is in the hazard, you must abandon the provisional.

5. MYTH: If you hit a ball in a water hazard marked with yellow stakes or lines, you can always drop within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the hazard’s boundary.

FACT: Only hazards marked with red stakes or lines (lateral water hazard) allow you the option of dropping within two club-lengths, no closer to the hole. You have three options when a ball enters a hazard marked by yellow stakes or lines:

1. Play it as it lies.

2. Replay from the previous position.

3. Drop a ball outside the hazard behind the point where the ball last entered it, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped. There is no limit how far behind that point you can drop.

(The last two options come with a one-stroke penalty.)

6. MYTH: If your ball is unplayable, you’re entitled to a drop in a spot that gives you a “playable” lie.

FACT: You have three options (under penalty of one stroke) if you declare a ball unplayable:

                1. Replay the previous shot.

2. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.

3. Drop within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, no closer to the hole. Keep in mind that none of these options guarantee that you’ll be able to play from an unfettered position.

7. MYTH: You can either remove an out-of-bounds stake, or take relief from it or any fence/wall marking the course’s boundary.

FACT: You do not get relief from anything marking the course’s boundary. Play the ball as it lies or take an unplayable lie and proceed under those options (see previous myth/fact).

8. MYTH: You can’t have a ball marked off the green unless it interferes with your ball, stance or swing.

FACT: If you think another ball might interfere with your play of a hole, you can request it be marked and lifted. Note: A ball marked in this instance CAN’T be cleaned unless it’s on the putting green.

9. MYTH: If you can’t find your ball, you can go back to the tee and play a provisional ball.

FACT: A provisional must be played before you go up to look for your ball. If you go back and play another ball, your original is lost.

10. MYTH: When your ball, stance or swing is interfered with by a cart path (immovable obstruction), you always take relief on the side farthest away from the hole.

FACT: You have to locate the nearest spot off the cart path that allows you to stand and swing without interference and is not nearer the hole than the ball’s location. That spot could be on either side of the cart path depending on your ball’s position and the stroke you intend to make for your next shot. Once you determine where that spot is, you’re allowed to drop within one club-length of that spot, no closer to the hole.

Visit for more answers to your Rules of Golf questions.

Golf Myths DEBUNKED: Misunderstood Golf Rules - The GOLFTEC Scramble

Learn truth vs. common fiction in golf … Chapter 2: Misunderstood Golf Rules

By Jon Levy

Our series, Golf Myths DEBUNKED, *finally* puts an end to those longstanding debates you and your buddies can’t settle when it comes to fact vs. fiction in golf. We periodically shed light on five myths that have commonly, and incorrectly, become the standard for most of the golfing world.

In Chapter 1, we covered various topics that many golfers think are truths within the game. And, as we unveiled after a little fact-checking, myth vs. reality turned out to be drastically different.

We’re back with Chapter 2 to explore five commonly misunderstood golf rules that can be confusing for many. So read on, get enlightened, and share with a friend who could use this information!

Chapter 2: Misunderstood Golf Rules

1. Out of Bounds vs. Ball Lost vs. … what you do

Here’s a quick breakdown of the three:

Out of Bounds:  If your shot comes to rest on the wrong side of the white stakes, you’re required to play another from the same spot under the penalty of Stroke and Distance. It’s commonly thought an O.B. ball incurs a two-stroke penalty, which, in essence it does. But think of it as a one-shot penalty plus another stroke played from where you just hit. This replayed shot basically erases any “distance” the O.B. shot may have gained, thus taking the essence of a two-stroke penalty.

Also, whether you know your shot went O.B. or just think it could be, USGA Rule 27 calls for declaring a Provisional Ball. This is the name for your do-over effort. The provisional becomes in play if the original shot is deemed out of bounds, and disregarded if it’s in. Either way, you should always hit a provisional before leaving the area to keep up speed of play.

Misunderstood Golf Rules - Golf Myths Debunked

Ball Lost:  Similar to the out-of-bounds ball, it’s wise to hit a provisional anytime there’s a chance you may not find it. USGA Rule 27 also states you have 5 minutes to identify your ball once you start searching. If the ball is not found, your provisional is in play under the same stroke-and-distance penalty as the O.B. ball.

What YOU do:  OK, maybe you don’t do this, but someone you know does. What we’re talking about is flailing one O.B. or into the woods, and then dropping the ball – taking only a one-stroke penalty – in an area near where it entered Troubleville. This unofficial amendment of the rule not only creates an arbitrary dropping point, but virtually eliminates the “distance” part of intended penalty and saves a shot from your score.

PSA:  Now that you know this, if you – sorry, your “buddies” – still don’t hit provisionals and drop per the usual with O.B. and lost balls, at least add TWO onto your score to more accurately reflect.

*Check out THIS video from the USGA for more information on out-of-bounds and lost ball procedures

2. Relief from a cart path

No, you cannot drop the ball on whichever side of the path gives the best shot to the green on your next. Yes, you are guilty of this at one time or another.

USGA Rule 24-2 basically explains that free relief is given from immovable obstructions, which are artificial objects like cart paths, sprinkler heads, signs, etc. But most golfers already know that. The real fun happens in many players’ adaptations of the rule regarding where they take their relief.

Here’s a snazzy chart from the USGA explaining further:Misunderstood Golf Rules: Rule 24 - Immovable Obstructions

So, yes, this means that, sometimes, the open and inviting fairway on one side of the path with a clear shot to the green is NOT where you’re allowed to drop. The only entitled relief may instead be on that other side of the path, which isn’t as favorable to your cause.

Keep in mind you can always play the shot from the path as it lies, which we’ve seen more than once on the PGA Tour. Check out Phil Mickelson illustrating this point below, with one of his many instances of short game magic:

*Check out THIS video from the USGA for more information about relief situations.

3. The difference between Red and Yellow water hazards

TPC Sawgrass #17 via Wikipedia CommonsThis one stumps a lot of golfers. Here are two ways to simplify differences between each:

  1. Yellow stakes indicate a Water Hazard, which is generally an obstacle the hole’s intended design requires you to carry. Red stakes indicate Lateral Water Hazard, which is more auxiliary to the hole (hence, “lateral”) and often take the form of creeks or lakes/marshy areas on the sides of the fairway.
  2. When your ball comes to rest within a yellow-staked area, you have three options to proceed. When in a red-staked area, you have five.

The three options when in a water hazard (yellow) are as follows:

  • Play the ball as it lies, without penalty
  • Play a ball from the same spot where your last shot was played, taking a one-stroke penalty
  • Drop a ball any distance behind the hazard, keeping a straight line between the hole and the point where the ball last crossed into the hazard, and take a one-stroke penalty

Here’s another nifty graphic from the USGA on the additional two options in a lateral water hazard (red):

Misunderstood Golf Rules: Rule 26 - Water Hazards

Still a little murky on water hazards? You’re not alone.

Even at the game’s highest level – most famously so with Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters as shown below in the Associated Press’ recap of his controversy on No. 15 – the correct procedures surrounding water hazards still cause confusion.

*Check out THIS video from the USGA for more information about water hazards

4.  Does a golfer playing from off of the green always hit first, regardless if his or her playing partner on the green is farther away?

No. Here’s USGA Rule 10 if you want to dig into it, but long story short, whichever golfer is farthest away from the hole plays first. It doesn’t matter whether he or she is on the putting surface or not.

The only thing you really need to remember, though, has to do with speeding up play. Or, basically this: The golfer who is ready to play first, should always play first!

*Check out THIS resource from the USGA about for more information about order of play. 

5.  The proper way to drop a golf ball

Let’s refer back to TW in 2013. Notice his form below – arm extended, ball dropped from shoulder height straight down with no added force or intention, an anxious look from caddie, Joe LaCava, who was likely wondering if his player’s drop and ensuing shots would lead to another Masters title (it didn’t) – yes, even though the subject of where Tiger dropped the ball was in question, his form doing so was perfect.

Misunderstood Golf Rules: How to drop a ball
Tiger Woods’ controversial drop on No. 15 at the 2013 Masters (image via the Associated Press video above).

USGA Rule 20 covers the full monty on dropping a golf ball, but if you just want to know the basics, copy Tiger’s form as shown above.

*Check out THIS resource from the USGA for more information about how to properly drop a golf ball

Postlude: One golfer’s statement about the USGA Rules of Golf

While incredibly complex, far-reaching and written in a book that reads akin to the U.S. Constitution at best, the official USGA Rules of Golf were created to govern the confines of golf in a manner guided by the following, as written in the book’s Foreword:

The historical principles and ethos of the game, the need for the Rules to remain clear, comprehensive, appropriate and relevant, and the importance of ensuring that golf is played with integrity and in accordance with etiquette. 

The reality in golf is that the majority who play it (somewhat) strive to follow the rules. But, aside from competitive golf, where rules are followed to the letter, many golfers incorporate a relaxed, generalized version of the rules when they play.

And that’s OK. Golf should, and NEEDS, to remain fun at all costs. Because, considering the complex nature of golf’s rules, it can be tough (and too slow) for John Q Golfer to follow all of them as fully intended. Regardless, it’s good to know the rules of golf whether you choose to abide by them or not.

No matter the case, though, (and regardless of your stance on the complicated nature of golf’s rules, which has become politicized), we should all play golf how it best suits each one of us, and our enjoyment of the game.

Because – again – golf should, and NEEDS, to remain fun at all costs.

Hitting the Flagstick How to Manage the Pin

Learn when you should pull the pin, rules for tending it and when you can be penalized by striking it.  Managing the Flag

One would think that a rule as simple as "don't hit the flagstick with your ball while you are on the green" would be an easy rule to follow in the game of golf. Actually though, it is probably one of the most confusing and debated rules in the game. Search engines are loaded down on the internet with questions as to how to proceed with the flag when a player is on or off the green. The rule is actually lengthy and complex as it is is stated in the USGA Rules of Golf. Who should tend the flag? How should they tend it? Where should the flag be put when it's pulled out? Can you hit the flag when off the green if it's tended? How about if it's not being tended? There are just so many variables that can happen around the green and when dealing with multiple players in a group.

A lot of Variables

Let's first start by looking at the rule itself - Rule 17 from the USGA Rules Book:

"Before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the hole. If the flagstick is not attended, removed or held up before the player makes a stroke, it must not be attended, removed or held up during the stroke or while the player's ball is in motion if doing so might influence the movement of the ball.

Note 1: If the flagstick is in the hole and anyone stands near it while a stroke is being made, he is deemed to be attending the flagstick.

Note 2: If, prior to the stroke, the flagstick is attended, removed or held up by anyone with the player's knowledge and he makes no objection, the player is deemed to have authorized it.

Note 3: If anyone attends or holds up the flagstick while a stroke is being made, he is deemed to be attending the flagstick until the ball comes to rest.

(Moving attended, removed or held-up flagstick while ball in motion - see Rule 24-1)

17-2. Unauthorized Attendance
If an opponent or his caddie in match play or a fellow-competitor or his caddie in stroke play, without the player's authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and the act might influence the movement of the ball, the opponent or fellow-competitor incurs the applicable penalty.


Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes.

*In stroke play, if a breach of Rule 17-2 occurs and the competitor's ball subsequently strikes the flagstick, the person attending or holding it or anything carried by him, the competitor incurs no penalty. The ball is played as it lies, except that if the stroke was made on the putting green, the stroke is canceled and the ball must be replaced and replayed.

17-3. Ball Striking Flagstick Or Attendant
The player's ball must not strike:

a. The flagstick when it is attended, removed or held up;
b. The person attending or holding up the flagstick or anything carried by him; or
c. The flagstick in the hole, unattended, when the stroke has been made on the putting green.

Exception: When the flagstick is attended, removed or held up without the player's authority - see Rule 17-2.


Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes and the ball must be played as it lies.

17-4. Ball Resting Against Flagstick
When a player's ball rests against the flagstick in the hole and the ball is not holed, the player or another person authorized by him may move or remove the flagstick, and if the ball falls into the hole, the player is deemed to have holed out with his last stroke; otherwise, the ball, if moved, must be placed on the lip of the hole, without penalty."

When to Pull It

The gist of all of this is if you are on the green be sure to take the flag out or ask someone to tend it. If you hit the flag it's 2 stroke penalty in stroke play or loss of hole if you are in match play.

If you are off of the green there is no penalty if you hit the flag unless you ask someone to tend it and then they don't pull it out. So make sure that you are clear when you are off the green that you want someone to tend it and pull it as your ball nears. In most cases unless you really think you are going to make it or at least have a chance to, it's probably best to leave the pin in. If you think you are going to drain it pull it out so it won't deflect the ball. Short chips around the green or putts from the fringe can be made whereas a 40 yard pitch shot most likely won't be.

Something to note is that if someone is not tending the flag when you putt, they can't run up there and tend it after you have struck your putt if they think you are going to hit the flag. They would incur a penalty for doing so. However, if the flag is lying on the ground and someone moves the flag so the ball won't strike it, that is not a penalty. The flip side is what if you ask someone to pull it and they don't? Unfortunately you would actually incur the penalty unless it was intentional. If it is intentional and they tried to influence your ball or force you to get penalized then they will be disqualified.

Hopefully that helps clear up some of the common misconceptions when it comes to dealing with the flagstick. Although some of the rules may seem silly or unfair, a lot of thought has gone into them for hundreds of years and I have learned there is reason for everything when it comes to the rules of golf. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, it always helps to stay up on the rules and review them periodically so no questions arise during play.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.