Golf Rules & Regulations

The ultimate goal in golf is to hit a golf ball into the hole in as few shots (strokes) as possible. The rules of the game are many and nuanced, but this brief guide will help the beginning golfer understand the general regulations used on a golf course.

Course Layout

There are 18 holes on a regulation golf course. Each hole is set up to begin at a set of tees and end at the cup, which is indicated by a flagged pin in the putting green. The pin’s location on the green can be changed at the discretion of the course manager to alter the way golfers play each hole.

Located at the start of each hole are different sets of tees for various levels of difficulty. In this area, known as the “tee box,” the tees that are furthest back from the putting green are considered the most difficult. The tees that are set closest to the putting green are the least difficult. A golfer’s first shot from the teeing area is the only time he can use a wooden tee to prop up the ball. On all other shots, a golfer must play the ball as it lies.


Each hole on the golf course has a prescribed number of strokes a golfer is expected to take to get his ball into the cup. This number is called par. On a regulation golf course, there are three types of holes: par 3s, par 4s, and par 5s. Par 3 holes are the shortest holes, where golfers are able to hit their tee shot directly onto the green in one stroke. Par 4s are mid-length holes, where an ideal tee shot will land in the short grass in the middle of the hole known as the fairway, and a second shot from there can land on the putting green. Par 5s are the longest holes on a golf course, and it is expected for a golfer to hit his third shot onto the green.

For example, if a golfer takes five strokes to get his or her ball into the cup on a par-5 hole, he is said to have scored a par.

As each hole has its own set par, the 18 combined holes create a sum of the par for the entire golf course. A golf course very typically contains 10 par 4s, 4 par 3s, and 4 par 5s. In this case, the par for the course would be 72 strokes.

Obstacles & Hazards

Surrounding and intruding on the nice, short grass of the fairways and greens are many obstacles and hazards. Golf course designers can surround the fairways with long, tough grass to hit from, which is known as the rough. Another type of hazard is a sand bunker, often placed strategically around the putting green or alongside the fairway. There is no stroke penalty for missing the fairway and landing in the rough or in a bunker, but it makes a golfer’s shot much more difficult to control.

There can also be obstacles that do carry stroke penalties. Water hazards such as lakes, rivers, and streams, for instance, carry with them a two-stroke penalty if a golfer’s ball lands in one. Then the golfer is forced to drop a new ball into play to finish the hole. Areas deemed out-of-bounds by the course managers also carry a two-stroke penalty.

Golf Clubs

Golfers must have their own set of clubs in their golf bag. Golf clubs are tested by the two governing bodies of golf (see below) to ensure that they meet certain criteria regarding club-face technology and physical characteristics. The maximum number of golf clubs allowed in a bag at one time is 14. A typical set of golf clubs include:


The longest club in a golfer’s bag, used off of the tee on par 4s and par 5s for maximum distance.

Fairway woods

Long, big-headed clubs used for a lot of distance from the fairway, rough, or fairway bunker.


A set of thin-soled clubs ranging in loft from the lowest (and longest) to the highest (and shortest).


A set of high-lofted clubs used from areas closer to the putting green.


A flat-faced club used to roll the ball while on the putting green.

The Ball

Like golf clubs, the golf ball a golfer uses must meet regulation. Specifications include a maximum ball weight of 1.62 ounces and a diameter of no less than 1.68 inches. Golf balls are usually white with anywhere from 250 to 450 dimples, though golf balls of all colors are available for purchase and use.

Formats of Play

There are two main formats with which to play golf, although there are many varieties therein:

In stroke play format, the most common in golf, a golfer’s final score is the total number of strokes made plus any of the penalty strokes collected throughout the game (round).

In match play format, a golfer or team of golfers tries to win each hole by scoring a lower number of strokes than an opponent on that given hole.

Governing Bodies of Golf & the Official Rules

The two governing bodies of golf are the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association. Rules for the game of golf are consistently enforced by both associations, and are jointly published biannually as “The Rules of Golf.” The book of rules has been published this way since 1952, and in 2000, minor changes were made so that the two associations were completely uniformed.

These rules of golf have been compiled to make sure that golfers count their strokes in a fair and honest way. Every golfer is encouraged to keep a small rule book in his or her bag.

The link to the official rules of golf can be found here:

The Rules of Golf

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