Know The Rules of Golf - MASSGOLF


Whether you are looking to brush up on the rules of golf or are new to the game and are learning the rules for the first time, Mass Golf has got you covered! Check out some of our growing content surrounding the rules of golf to gain a better understanding. Got questions? Our staff and volunteer rules officials are always here to help!




Golf is played in a very different ‘arena’ than most other sports and because of that, the rules take into consideration objects that we may encounter during a round.

A Loose Impediment is any unattached natural object.  Some examples are stones, loose grass, leaves, branches, sticks, dead animals, animal waste, worms, insects and similar animals that can be removed easily, as well as the mounds or casts they build (such as worm casts and ant hills).  Loose Impediments do not include anything that is growing/attached, solidly embedded in the ground or sticking to the ball.

A player is allowed to move a Loose Impediment anywhere on the course (general area, bunker, penalty area, putting green, teeing area).  However, if the players ball moves as a result of moving the loose impediment, the player incurs a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced, unless it happens on the putting green where there is not penalty, but the ball must be replaced.

A Movable Obstruction is an artificial object that can be moved with reasonable effort and without damaging the obstruction or the course.  Examples of Movable Obstructions are a rake in a bunker, discarded water bottle or scorecard, a stray ball, towel, paper cup, etc.  A player may remove a Movable Obstruction anywhere on course (general area, penalty area, bunker, putting green) and if your ball moves there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.

It’s important to understand the difference between Loose Impediments and Movable Obstructions.  The logic of a penalty for moving your ball when attempting to remove a Loose Impediment and not a Movable Obstruction is that Loose Impediments are part of the natural surroundings of the golf course and Movable Obstructions are not a part of the natural surroundings.




When the Rules of Golf were revised effective 2019, the USGA established Model Local Rule E-5 which provides an alternative to stroke-and-distance for a ball Lost or Ball Out of Bounds. When a provisional ball has not been played, and a player then realizes their ball is either Lost or Out of Bounds, significant pace of play issues arise in trying to correct this.  Thus, the Model Local Rule was meant for general play where golfers are playing casual rounds as an option to speed up play.  Unfortunately, this Model Local Rule has created misunderstanding among golfers of what exactly the rules are now for Lost and/or Out of Bounds.

First, here’s what the of Rules of Golf, Rule 18 states regarding a Ball Lost or Out of Bounds: If there is a chance a ball may be Lost or Out of Bounds, this rule allows for a provisional ball to be played.  (Be sure to clearly announce you are playing a provisional ball.  If you fail to do so, the ‘reload’ becomes your ball in play!)  If the initial ball is not found within 3 minutes it is Lost, or if found Out of Bounds, the provisional ball becomes the ball in play, for a penalty of one stroke, thus the stroke-and-distance rule.

Model Local Rule E-5 allows the player to drop in an area between the point where the ball is estimated to have come to rest (Lost) or gone Out of Bounds, and the edge of the fairway of the hole being played that is not nearer the hole.  The player gets two penalty strokes when using this relief option.  This means that the relief is comparable to what could have been achieved if the player had taken stroke-and-distance relief.

Model Local Rule E-5 must be adopted and a part of the Local Rules governing play in order for a player to operate its provisions. It is important to know what the local rules are when playing, even a casual round. In Mass Golf Championships this local rule will never be in effect. Mass Golf did put Model Local Rule E-5 in play for Member Days in 2019.

The bottom line is you need to know the local rules when proceeding under Lost or Out of Bounds. Many clubs have put this local rule into effect to speed up play; others clubs have not thinking it would be confusing to put it in play for day-to-day play but not for competitions, thus creating uncertainty for players.  If you are in doubt, playing a provisional ball and proceeding under Rule 18 (rather than the local rule) will always be an option.  Hitting ‘em straight down the middle is also an option!!



I don’t know many players (other than the pros perhaps) who enjoy being in a bunker.  But if you follow the news about the pro tours, you’ll see that even they occasionally encounter penalties when playing from the bunker.  Recently Abraham Ancer was penalized following his first round at the Masters for touching the sand on his backswing, and Anna Nordquist had the same penalty assessed to her in the final round and final hole of the 2016 US Women’s Open.

The revision to the Rules of Golf effective 2019 allow players a bit more freedom in what can be done in a bunker, however, you still cannot:

  • Deliberately touch the sand with your hand, a club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand (intent based)
  • Touch the sand in the bunker with a club in the area right in front of our right behind the ball when making a practice swing or in making the backswing for a stroke


Players may now remove loose impediments (natural unattached objects such as leaves, acorns, etc) in a bunker.  However, if moving the loose impediment causes your ball to move, that is a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced.  You may also remove movable obstructions (man made objects) such as a rake, scorecard, etc. in a bunker.  If your ball moves as a result of moving the movable obstruction, no penalty and you must replace it.  If you ball is near a rake, for example, and you think the ball will move when the rake is moved, be sure to mark the spot of your ball before moving the rake (or other movable obstruction).

If you encounter an unplayable lie in a bunker the 2019 rules now allow 4 options for taking relief:

  • For one penalty stroke, you may take lateral relief.  The reference point is the spot where the ball lies and the relief area is two club lengths from that reference point in any direction, no near the hole, but relief must be in the bunker;
  • For one penalty stroke you can take back on the line relief, keeping the spot of the ball (reference point) in line with the flag and dropping on that line, but relief must be in the bunker, and no closer to the hole;
  • For one penalty stroke you can take the stroke and distance relief option which is to return to where you played your last shot from;
  • And for two penalty strokes, a new option allows the player to take back on the line relief outside the bunker, keeping the spot where the ball lies in the bunker in line with the flag and dropping outside the bunker on that line.


Hopefully you won’t have occasion to use these penalty options, but if you do, understanding your options will help.

Rule 12 – Bunkers



It is April and that means Spring Team matches are just around the corner.  Many of you will be braving the New England weather and heading out early in the morning to compete in this great tradition!  With that in mind, I wanted to provide some match play reminders that might be helpful during your matches.

Match Play has specific Rules (particularly about concessions and giving information about the number of strokes taken) because you and your opponent compete solely against each other, can see each other’s play, and can protect you own interests.


General penalty: In stroke play the general penalty is 2 strokes, but in match play it is loss of hole.


Rules Issues:  Players may agree how to decide a Rules issue. The agreed outcome is conclusive even if it turns out to be wrong under the Rules but the players did not know it was wrong.  If the players do not agree or have doubt, a player may request a ruling (claim).  The player must notify the opponent that a later ruling will be sought on the facts, and the ruling request must be made in time and before either player makes a stroke to begin another hole.  A player who is uncertain about the correct procedure in a match is not allowed to play out the hole with 2 balls.


Concessions:  A player may concede the opponent’s next stroke, a hole or a match. This is allowed any time before the opponent’s next stroke is made.  A concession can be done either verbally or by an action that clearly shows the player’s intent to concede the stroke, hole or match. A concession is final and cannot be withdrawn.  Please make your concessions clear so there is no misunderstand about the concession!



Information: A player has the right to know how many strokes an opponent has taken because it might affect the way she plays. Thus, a player is penalized for given wrong information about the number of strokes taken – or for not informing her opponent of a penalty – unless she corrects the mistake before an opponent plays the next stroke.


Playing out of turn: If the player plays when it was the opponent’s turn to play, there is no penalty but the opponent may cancel the stroke, requiring the player to replay the stroke in the correct order. This must be done promptly and before either player makes another stroke.  ExceptionTo save time: The player may invite the opponent to play out of turn or may agree to the opponent’s request to play out of turn. If the opponent makes the stroke out of turn, the player has given up the right to cancel the stroke.


Playing outside teeing ground:  Your opponent may cancel the stroke promptly and before either player makes another stroke. There is no penalty and the ball may be re-teed within the proper teeing area.


Ball at rest moved: By the player or opponent during search:  No penalty, must replace ball. If the opponent lifts or deliberately touches the player’s ball at rest or causes it to move: The opponent is penalized 1 stroke and the ball must be replaced.


Ball in motion accidentally hits an opponent or opponent’s equipment: There is no penalty and the ball is played as it lies. On the putting green, there is no penalty if your ball strikes your opponent’s ball at rest. Your ball is played as it lies and the opponent’s ball is replaced.


Playing wrong ball: Loss of hole  

If the player and opponent play each other’s ball, the first to make a stroke at a wrong ball gets the penalty of loss of hole.  If players cannot determine where/when the exchange took place they continue to play out the hole with the exchanged balls.


Playing from a wrong place: Loss of hole.


Good luck with your matches and have fun!




The entire Mass Golf staff is excited to get the 2021 season started.  Staggered signups began March 2nd which means that the 2021 golfing season is just around the corner!  In preparation for 2021 events, I wanted to write about the information that is made available to players in advance of each tournament.  Knowing what is in these documents will help you on the course and could potentially save your unwanted penalty strokes. 

So here is a brief overview of the documents you will find on the Mass Golf website for each event, and some of the information contained in each.

Local Rules

The Local Rules sheet will always state that USGA rules apply and the local course scorecard has no status in this event.  Some club scorecards have their own local rules imbedded within the scorecard, thus the statement that their scorecard has no status.  Mass Golf local rules sheet will always be specific to the host course.  It provides detailed information on what holes have out of bounds and penalty areas; it will tell how the cart paths are treated, for example, if cart paths are sandy areas, relief may not be allowed; information on abnormal course conditions, if there are No Play Zones on the course, and information on Pace of Play and Code of Conduct.  In 2020, the local rules also clarified Mass Golf’s COVID guidelines for the flagstick and bunkers.

Player Information Sheet

The event format is detailed on the Player Information Sheet.  Information on whether motorized golf carts are allowed, if caddies are allowed, spectator policy, approximate course yardage, if practice facilities/practice rounds are available, what food/beverage may be available and last but certainly not least, where restrooms are located.  The most important piece of information is the reminder to report to your starting tee immediately after the group in front has cleared (10 minutes before your tee time).

Mass Golf Hard Card

This document provides the standard rules of play for competition that apply to all Mass Golf events.  It describes in broader terms how penalty areas, out of bounds, abnormal course conditions etc. are identified (lines, stakes), details the Code of Conduct including penalties, and what practicing is allowed.  The hard cart details how play is suspended for both an immediate suspension (dangerous situation) and normal suspension (such as darkness).  How play is suspended is important as an immediate suspension requires players to stop immediately and not make another stroke after the horn blast.

Evacuation Plan

This document describes evacuation plans in case of a suspension of play.  It gives detailed information hole by hole.  While not usually exciting reading, this document is extremely important for player safety.

Happy reading!




We all learned growing up that practice makes perfect.  In golf, however, there are times when practice is not allowed and, therefore, does not make for perfect!

To understand when and where you are allowed to practice before, during and after a competitive round, you need to understand first what constitutes practice.  A stroke is the forward movement of the club made (intent) to strike the ball.  Thus, a practice stroke involves a club and ball.  A practice swing does not involve a ball, simply a club.  When the rules discuss practice, it will mean a practice stroke (not practice swing) and includes testing the surface of the putting green by rolling a ball or rubbing the surface.

Limitations on practice on the course before or between rounds apply only to the player, not to the player’s caddie.  The rules for practice before or between rounds are different for match play and stroke play.    In match play a player may practice on the course before a round or between rounds of a match play competition.

In stroke play on the day of a stroke play competition a player must not practice on the course before a round, except that a player may practice putting or chipping on or near his or her first teeing area (as defined) and practice on any practice area.   A player may practice on the course after completing play (including a playoff) of his or her final round for that day.

While playing a hole a player must not make a practice stroke at any ball on or off the course.  Between two holes a player must not make a practice stroke.  But there is an exception: a player may practice putting or chipping on or near the putting green of the hole just completed and any practice green, and on or near the teeing are of the next hole.  This practice between two holes does not allow practice from a bunker, and is only permitted between the play of two holes if it does not delay play or is prohibited by a local rule (always read your local rules/player information sheet).

The penalty for practicing on the course before or between rounds is the general penalty (two strokes) for the first breach (making a stroke), and disqualification for the second breach. The penalty for practice between two holes (other than exception above) is the general penalty and it applies to the next hole.

Refer to rule 5 for more detailed information on practice.




The difference between a golf ball interfering and helping can be confusing.  Darin Green, Head Rules Official for Florida State Golf Association wrote this article recently.  I feel he did a great job in explaining this rather confusing subject, and rather than trying to recreate an article on the subject, Darin has graciously agreed to let me share it with our Mass Golf-The Up and Down Women’s Newsletter readers.   Kudo’s and thank you to Darin!

Written by: Darin Green, Senior Director of Rules & Competitions, Florida State Golf Association

There are many misconceptions regarding what can be done to other golf balls that are either interfering with your stroke or that might help your stroke. People often ask, “Who controls that ball?” That is not the correct question, rather, we first need to determine if we are dealing with a ball that is interfering or helping.

Interference” occurs when a player believes that another ball might interfere with their stance, lie of their ball, area of intended swing, line of play, or it is a distraction. Only the player about to make a stroke makes this determination. If a player believes another golf ball is interfering with their play, they may require the owner of that ball to mark and lift it anywhere on the course. In stroke play, the other player may first rather than lifting their ball.

Be careful, you cannot decide that your ball is interfering with someone else and lift it. If you marked and lifted your ball anywhere on the course, except the putting green or teeing area, because you alone thought your ball was interfering with someone else you will receive a one-stroke penalty.

Summary – Interfering is only decided by the player about to play the next stroke and can require any ball interfering to be marked and lifted. If the other player refuses and the stroke is made, then the other player receives the General Penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play).

Helping” occurs when a ball lies on the putting green and any player believes the ball might help another player. If any player believes a ball on the putting green may help another player, they may require the ball to be marked and lifted. The same applies to any ball marker on the putting green; if you think that big coin near the hole may deflect an offline shot from another play into the hole, you may have that ball marker moved. Note – a ball can only “help” when it is on the putting the green.

In stroke play only, if two or more players agree to leave a ball in place to help any player, and that player then makes a stroke with the helping ball left in place, each player who made the agreement gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes).

Summary – Helping only applies to a ball on the putting green and can be determined by any player. If any player believes a ball on the putting green may help another player, they may require the ball to be marked and lifted. Refusing to lift the ball and the stroke is made, the other player receives the General Penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play).




The revision to the Rules of Golf effective January 1, 2019 create a more user-friendly world for enjoying the game of golf.  Many of the new rules are intent based (actions that are accidental versus purposeful).

One area that has not changed from the prior rules is when a player is allowed to clean their ball in play.  A ball marked/lifted from the putting green may always be cleaned.  A ball lifted anywhere else may be cleaned except when you have lifted the ball under the following four circumstances:

  • If you lift your ball in play to determine if it is unfit for play (cut or cracked), you are not allowed to clean it.
  • If you lift your ball in play to identify it you are not allowed to clean it.
  • If you lift your ball at the request of a fellow competitor or opponent because it interferes with their play, you are not allowed to clean it.
  • If you lift your ball in play to determine if a particular condition allows you relief under a rule, you are not allowed to clean it unless you are then taking relief under the applicable rule.  (For example, determining if a ball is embedded).


If a player cleans a ball when not allowed as stated above, he or she gets a one stroke penalty. In these four circumstances, remember to mark your ball before you lift it!


playing a competitive round of golf – IS IT IN OR OUT???


The 2019 revision to the Rules of Golf states there are 5 areas of the course:  The general area covers the entire course except for the four specific areas of the course which are the teeing area of the hole being played, all penalty areas, all bunkers and the putting green of the hole being played.

When a rules official is called upon to make a ruling, a key (but basic) factor is where the ball is.  Is the ball in the players hand, or on the ground?  If on the ground, the specific area of the course where the ball lies will obviously determine which rule(s) will apply.  Thus, its important to know where your ball lies when applying the rules.

In a previous Mass Golf/The Up & Down Women’s Newsletter, we discussed what constitutes the teeing area of the hole being played.

Rules 17 (Penalty Areas) states that a ball is in a penalty area when any part of the ball lies on or touches the ground inside the edge of the penalty area or is above the penalty area (such as on a bridge over a penalty area).  When defined by stakes, the edge of the penalty area is defined by a line between the outside points of the stakes at ground level and the stakes are inside the penalty area. When defined by a painted line on the ground, the edge of the penalty area is the outside edge of the line and the line itself is in the penalty area.  Thus, if your ball is touching a red or yellow penalty area line, it is in the penalty area.  When a penalty area is defined by both lines and stakes, the stakes are merely to identify that it is a penalty area.

Understanding when we are in a bunker may not be as easy as it sounds.  As sand spills out of the bunkers from normal play, the edge of the bunker becomes distorted.  By definition a bunker is a specifically prepared area of sand.  Any wall, lip or face of the bunker which consists of soil, grass, stacked turf or artificial objects are not part of the bunker.  Sand that has spilled outside the edge of the ‘prepared area’ of the bunker is not part of the bunker.

The putting green is an area specifically prepared for putting.   A ball is on the putting green when any part of the ball touches the putting green.  But this only applies to the putting green of the hole being played; all other putting greens are wrong greens and part of the general area.

And lastly, although not a specific area of the course, its important to know what constitutes out of bounds.  When out of bounds is defined by boundary objects (white stakes, a fence) the boundary edge is defined by the line between the course-side points of the stakes or fence posts at ground level; those stakes or fence posts are out of bounds.  When defined by a painted line on the ground, the boundary edge is the course side edge of the ground and the line itself is out of bounds.  If a ball is completely touching the line it is out of bounds; if a part of the ball is on the general area, it is in bounds.



playing a competitive round of golf – KEEPING SCORE


With the introduction of electronic scoring, and more recently, the restrictions resulting from COVID-19, scorecards for a competitive round can have a very different look, as well as some additional guidelines for verifying a player’s score when electronic scoring is utilized.

When playing in a competition that offers the option of both paper scorecard or electronic scoring, you need to know which form of scorecard is considered the ‘official’ scorecard.

If a competition is using paper scorecards, you will exchange scorecards with another player so that you have a marker for your score, and you will also be a marker for another player in your group.  At the completion of the round, the scorecard must be signed by both the player and the marker.  You are encouraged to keep your own score so that you can do a hole by hole comparison with your marker at the end of your round before signing the scorecard.  Hole by hole is encouraged rather than simply comparing total scores.

Mass Golf, along with most clubs, is now using the USGA Tournament Management App, known as Golf Genius.  If a competition is using electronic scoring as the official scorecard, you should maintain a paper scorecard to verify your own score at the end of the round.  Only one person in each group will need to enter the electronic scores.  Verifying scores at the end of the round when electronic scorecards are utilized can be done in a few different ways, but the goal is the same as with paper scorecards; you will want to verify your electronic score hole by hole and give a verbal signature/approval.

Golf Genius Software


In a handicap competition, whether you are using an electronic scoring or a paper scorecard, each player is responsible for playing to their correct handicap.  If you play to an incorrect handicap that is lower than your handicap, your score will stand.  If you play to a handicap that is higher, the penalty is disqualification.  With the changes that have occurred in the handicap system this year, handicaps are updated daily.  Thus, in order to know your correct handicap, you will need to know the date the handicap was established for scoring purposes for your competitive round.


Rules tips when playing a competitive round of golf


A competitive round of golf begins with your starting time.  Mass Golf encourages players to arrive at their assigned teeing area 10 minutes before your tee time.  A player must be ready to play at their assigned starting time and at their starting point (tee assigned).   An 8:00 am starting time means 8:00:00.  If a player arrives at their starting time ready to play no more than 5 minutes late, they get the general penalty (2 strokes added to their score on the first hole of play).  If they arrive more than 5 minutes late the penalty is disqualification.

Play begins within the teeing area of the starting hole assigned.  The teeing area is a rectangle that is two club lengths deep where the front edge is defined by the line between the forward most points of the two tee markers and the side edges are defined by the lines back and from the outside points of the tee markers.   All other areas of the ‘tee boxes’ outside this rectangular area on the hole being played are considered the general area.

If a player makes a stroke to start play of the hole or round from outside the teeing area, in stroke play, the player gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes added to the score of that hole) and must correct the mistake by playing from inside the teeing area.  The ball played from outside the teeing area is not in play and any further strokes made with that ball before the mistake is corrected do not count.  If a player does not correct the mistake before making a stroke to begin the next hole (or on the final hole before returning a scorecard) they are disqualified.

In match play, there is no penalty for starting play outside the teeing area, however, your opponent may cancel the stroke.  This must be done promptly and before either player makes another stroke.

Other hints when starting a competitive round of golf:  make sure you have no more than 14 clubs in your bag and place an identifying mark on your golf ball.

For more information on Rule 6 – Playing a Hole, CLICK HERE