Player Services: Rules of Golf

The USGA and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, jointly write and interpret the Rules of Golf to guard the tradition and integrity of the game. The latest version went into effect in 2012.

The MGA is readily available to provide answers to any Rules of Golf questions or concerns. The MGA is an experienced liaison between the USGA - the ultimate authority on the Rules of Golf - and our member clubs. For more information about the Rules of Golf, as well as access to an interactive Rules of Golf quiz, please visit the USGA's official Rules Section.

The MGA is also available to assist Member Clubs with any rules questions that they may have. For more information, contact Kevin Eldridge at

MassGolfer Rules Alert... the following questions and answers which appeared in recent issues of MassGolfer magazine are courtesy of Kevin Eldridge, the MGA's director of rules & competitions.

MassGolfer - Summer 2014

Q: During the club championship both Rick and Dan hit their tee shot on the 4th hole into the same area of deep rough. Without first identifying their balls Rick steps up and hits his second shot onto the green. When he arrives at the green Rick realizes that he has played Dan's ball by accident. Unsure of what to do he calls for a rules official. How should Rick proceed?

A: Rick is in violation of Rule 15-3b and receives a penalty of two strokes for playing a "wrong ball". Rick must also correct his error by going back to where his original ball lie and continue play with the correct ball. If Rick does not correct his error before teeing off on the next hole or in the case of the last hole of the round, fails to declare his intention to correct his error before leaving the putting green, he is disqualified. Also, the strokes that Rick made at the wrong ball do not count in his score.

MassGolfer - Spring 2014

Q: Richard's tee shot comes to rest just outside an area marked as ground under repair due to some damage from the winter months. While taking his stance to hit his approach shot, his feet are positioned within the area marked as ground under repair. With the turf under his feet being very rugged and uncomfortable but his ball being positioned in the fairway, is Richard permitted to take relief without penalty from the abnormal ground condition (Ground Under Repair)?

A: Yes. Interference by an abnormal ground condition, in this case ground under repair, occurs when a players ball lies in or on the condition or when the condition interferes with the player's stance or area of intended swing. Richard would be permitted to take relief without penalty from the ground under repair and drop his ball within one club length of the nearest point of complete relief while making sure it is not nearer the hole.

MassGolfer - Fall 2013

Q: Part of a wooden fence (not a boundary fence), which is beyond white stakes defining out of bounds, leans onto the course and interferes with Jim's swing. May Jim push the fence back into an upright position or treat it as an obstruction?

A: Jim is not permitted to move the fence or anything fixed, even if it is off the course. If moved, he would be in breach of Rule 13-2: Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play. However, part of the fence leaning onto the course would be considered an immovable obstruction and Jim would be entitled to relief under Rule 24-2b.

MassGolfer - Summer 2013

Q: In a Mass Open Qualifier, Mark prepares to play a 20-yard chip shot from off the putting green. As Mark lines up his shot, his caddie removes the flagstick and touches the green with the bottom end to indicate the line of play. Is Mark in breach of Rule 8 (Advice; Indicating Line of Play)?

A: There is no penalty in this situation given that Mark's ball lies off the putting green. The prohibition against touching the putting green to indicate the line of play would apply only if Mark's ball lies on the putting green.

MassGolfer - Spring 2013

Q. In an MGA Mid-Amateur Qualifier on Cape Cod (in late-August), Jared's ball came to rest and lies on the putting green. Due to the windy conditions on the shoreline, the ball is oscillating as he begins to make his next stroke to save par. Is Jared permitted to make a stroke at the ball while it oscillates?

A. Yes. As defined by the Rules of Golf, there is no penalty for making a stroke at an oscillating ball -- an oscillating ball is not moving. With this in mind, Jared must continue play of the hole without undue delay (Rule 6–7).

MassGolfer - Winter 2012

Q. Alex and Rick are scheduled to play in the final round of the stroke-play club championship. Alex has a morning tee time and Rick has an afternoon tee time. Is it permissible for Alex and Rick to caddie for one another?

A. Yes (Decision: 6-4/8).

MassGolfer - Fall 2012

Q. As Peter prepares to play a chip shot from off the putting green, his caddie touches the green with a club to indicate the intended line of play. Is Peter liable for penalty given his caddie's actions?

A. Peter incurred no penalty. He and his caddie are off the hook, given that the prohibition against touching the putting green - to indicate the line of play - applies only if the player's ball lies on the putting green.

MassGolfer - Summer 2012

Q: Rudy's tee shot landed in the vicinity of a lateral water hazard. When approaching the area, Rudy found a ball buried in "muck" (within the hazard) and cannot easily identify the ball as her own. Is Rudy permitted to remove the ball from the "muck" (within the hazard) simply to identify it?

A: Yes, a ball may be lifted for identification under Rule 12-2. Rudy must first announce her intention to lift the ball to her opponent, fellow-competitor or marker, and mark the position of the ball. She is then permitted to lift the ball and identify it, provided that she gives her opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement (this action may be done anywhere on the golf course – including a hazard).

MassGolfer - Spring 2012

Q. Bob's ball lies only 6 inches to the side of a sprinkler head. The sprinkler head does not physically interfere with the his stance or the area of his intended swing, however, Bob feels as though the sprinkler head bothers him mentally. Is he entitled to relief under Rule 24-2b (relief from an immovable obstruction)?

A. Unfortunately, Bob is not entitled to relief in this situation. Under Rule 24-2a, interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player's stance or the area of his intended swing.

MassGolfer - Winter 2011-12

Q. Karen takes her stance and grounds her club lightly behind her ball which is lying on the putting green. Before making her stroke, the ball rolls a couple of inches and comes to rest. What is the proper procedure and has Karen incurred a penalty?

A. Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address) is the relevant Rule. This Rule was
recently revised by the USGA and R&A so the answer is dependent on whether the
2008-2011 or 2012-2015 Rules of Golf is in effect.

2008-2011 Rules of Golf

2012-2015 Rules of Golf

Karen is deemed to have caused the ball to move – she incurs a one-stroke penalty and she must replace the ball on the spot from which it was moved.

If it is known or virtually certain that Karen did not cause the ball to move (e.g., a strong gust of wind came up after Karen addressed the ball and the moved due to the wind) then no penalty is incurred and the ball is played from its new position (as mentioned in the new Exception to Rule 18-2b).

However, in the absence of such evidence Karen would incur a one-stroke penalty and be required to replace the ball on the spot from which it had been moved.


MassGolfer - Fall 2011

Q. While playing in his stroke-play club championship, Jeff plays his third stroke and the ball comes to rest two inches short of the hole. In disgust, he knocks the ball away from the hole (to Point X) with his putter. Jeff is unsure what to do and plays the ball from Point X and then, using one more stroke, holes out. What is Jeff's score for the hole?

A. Knocking the ball away from the hole was not a stroke (Decision 18-2a/23); rather, Jeff incurred a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2a and was required to replace the ball on the spot from which it was moved (two inches from the hole). By failing to do so (i.e., by instead playing from Point X), Jeff instead incurred the general penalty, two strokes, under Rule 18-2. Jeff's score for the hole is 7 (5 strokes made plus 2 penalty strokes).

MassGolfer - Summer 2011

Q. Bernie hits his tee shot into the rough.  After a brief search he locates a ball but he is unable to recognize it as his own. Crouching down, Bernie rolls the ball over slightly so that he can see his identifying mark.  Has Bernie proceeded correctly?

A. No.  Rule 12-2 permits a player to lift a ball if lifting it would allow him to identify the ball; however, a player doing so must follow the procedure specified in that Rule: he must first announce his intention to lift the ball to his marker or fellow-competitor (in stroke play) or his opponent (in match play) and allow this person to observe the lifting and replacement of the ball; he must mark the position of the ball; and he must only clean the ball to the extent necessary to identify the ball. By failing to follow the procedure in Rule 12-2, Bernie has incurred a one-stroke penalty.

MassGolfer - Spring 2011

Q. Anna plays her stroke and sees that her ball is rolling towards a few loose twigs laying on the ground. Worried that the twigs will deflect her ball, she moves them. Has Anna breached a Rule?

A. Yes. Loose impediments such as these loose twigs may not be moved while a ball is in motion if doing so might influence the movement of the ball (Rule 23-1). Anna has incurred the loss of hole penalty in match play or a two-stroke penalty in stroke play. Anna would be wise to avoid moving anything other than equipment of a player (including her own equipment) or a removed, attended, or held-up flagstick (Rule 24-1) while her ball is in motion.


©2003- Massachusetts Golf Association. All rights reserved. Site Design by RainCastle Communications, Inc.