We take a look at 8 rules golfers break without realising covering everything from wiping away sand on the fringe to take a drop for nearest point of relief


8 rules golfers break without realising

Picking ball up to identify it without first marking its position

Yes, the Rules have been relaxed so you no longer have to have someone observe the lifting, but you do still have to mark the ball’s position first. Many people didn’t do it before the 2019 Rules changes and still don’t do it now.

Rule 7.3 – penalty one-stroke.

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Wiping away sand on fringe

Sand and loose soil are only classed as loose impediments on the green. This means that if you’re on the green wanting to putt and there is sand from a previously played bunker shot on your line, both on the green and on the fringe, you may wipe the sand or loose soil away on the green but may not touch any that is lying on the fringe (unless that sand arrived there after your ball came to rest – e.g from another player’s bunker shot after your ball had landed). This is one of those rules golfers break without realising – Rory got penalised for brushing sand from the fringe a few years ago in Abu Dhabi.

Rule 8.1a – improving conditions affecting stroke (line of play). General penalty

Slope facility on range finders

These are great for practice rounds and social golf, but any slope feature must be turned off in a competitive round. This from Rule 4.3a:

Distance and Directional Information.


Getting information on distance or direction (such as from a distance-measuring device or compass).

Not Allowed

Measuring elevation changes, or Interpreting distance or directional information (such as using a device to get a recommended line of play or club selection based on the location of the player’s ball).

Rule 4.3a. First breach general penalty – second breach DQ

Nearest point of relief drop

Nearest point of complete relief

When dropping from a path or other immovable obstruction, many people mistakenly believe that they’re entitled to a perfect lie and line because they don’t really understand what it is they’re taking relief from. But in golf you don’t get free relief from trees, bushes, dreadful lies etc so if that is where your nearest point of complete relief is, that is where you must drop if you decide to take free relief. Dropping your ball at the ‘nicest point of relief’ would be one of those rules golfers break without realising. 

Rule 16.1 for example. Penalty for playing from wrong place after incorrect drop. General penalty

Asking what club someone else has just hit before playing

Although you can ask about distances (considered public information), you can’t ask other players what club they’ve just used before you play your shot, or touch or move their equipment to ascertain what club they hit (although interestingly if you don’t touch or move anything that would not be considered advice). See Rule 10.2a for more – and there’s lots more on exactly what does and doesn’t constitute advice in Interpretations on the Definitions – here are a couple of examples…

Considered advice

* While a player is setting up to hit his or her shot over a large penalty area filled with water, another player in the group comments, “You know the wind is in your face and it’s 250 yards to carry that water?”

Not considered advice

* During play of the 6th hole, a player asks another player what club he or she used on the 4th hole that is a par-3 of similar length.

* A player makes a second stroke that lands on the putting green. Another player does likewise. The first player then asks the second player what club was used for the second stroke.

Rules 10.2a. Penalty – general penalty

Putting out or tapping in in matchplay out of turn

You can’t do this as you can in strokeplay because it is always the turn of the player or team lying farthest from the hole. If a putt hasn’t been conceded in matchplay, and your opponents now lie further away, you cannot tap in. If you do, you may well be asked to replay the stroke, especially if you went ahead and holed it. You may feel aggrieved, but you shouldn’t do as the order, and the change in the psychological dynamics that come with it, are important elements of matchplay – it’s harder to make a three-footer to save a half or win a hole!

Rule 6.4a

Playing from a wrong green

You can’t do this – you must take free relief at the nearest point not nearer the hole where the wrong green doesn’t interfere with the lie of your ball, your stance or area of intended swing. This would most commonly be misinterpreted on links courses where two greens like close together with only very short fringe grass lying between them. Putting would be a natural choice, but you are not allowed to play from a wrong green however close together they are. This doesn’t apply to double greens where you can play to the correct flag from what might naturally seem to be the wrong part of your green.

Rule 13.1f. Penalty – General penalty

Golf Rules: Lost Ball

Playing a second ball without announcing it’s a provisional

You don’t have to use the word provisional, though it’s probably easiest if you say that you are hitting a provisional ball, but you do have to make it clear that you’re hitting another ball provisionally in case you don’t find the first one or find it OOB. If you say nothing before hitting it or just say, “I’m hitting another or reloading,” that’s not good enough and that second ball will automatically become the ball in play even if you find the first in the middle of the fairway. Many people still don’t do this, even in competitions.

Rule 18.3b

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