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Ever read the USGA rules of golf? Didn't think so.
Ever read the USGA rules of golf? Didn't think so. (Katharine Dyson/WorldGolf.com)

Translating the rules of golf is no easy task - here's a little help

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

Ever read the USGA rules of golf?

Didn't think so.

Frankly, the book can be extremely boring (even to the avid golfer), or extremely overwhelming (to the rest of us who don't know what the "amended rule of determinable replacement" is).

Relax, you can still play by the rules without reading the rule book.

In 1982, Golf Magazine along with the USGA published a golden list of rules. Despite technology that has created Big Bertha after Bigger Bertha, these rules still remain as timeless as the game itself. BadGolfer.com is here to help interpret these "golden rules."

1. Play the ball as it lies. It doesn't matter if the ball is in a divot and you have 180 yards to the green into the wind over water. Sometimes that's just tough luck. Heed this however: those who replace their divots the most, usually find themselves in them the least . . .

2. Don't move, bend, or break anything growing or fixed, except in fairly taking your stance or swing. Don't press anything down. And no, wood-trimmers may not be counted as a club either.

3. You may lift natural objects not fixed or growing, except in a water hazard or bunker. No penalty . Of course, the sand itself in the bunker isn't one of these objects, so it can't be moved. They must be foreign. Likewise, draining a stream because the water is over your ball isn't acceptable either.

4. You may move man-made objects even in a bunker or water hazard. If they are immovable, you may drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole. In a hazard, you must drop in the hazard. No penalty. Wait, if it's a man-made water hazard, does that mean you can move it without penalty? A loophole!

5. You may drop away from casual water, ground under repair, burrowing animal holes or casts. On the putting green, place, or in a hazard drop, at the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole; otherwise drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole. No penalty. Some of you may be curious as to the difference between a water hazard and casual water. If the water is just hanging out, you know, with no waves or fountains or anything, it's casual. Take a free drop.

6. In a water hazard or bunker, don't touch the water or ground with your hand or club before the stroke. Next time you must think about this because you are about to attempt a water shot, take a deep breathe, pull out your driver's license, remind yourself you aren't Phil Mickelson or Tiger, and just take a drop.

7. If you hit your ball into a water hazard and cannot play it, either drop behind the hazard or at the place where you played the shot. One penalty stroke. If you hit into a lateral hazard, you may also drop within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the hazard margin, or a point equidistant from the hole on the opposite margin. One penalty stroke. Simply put, if your ball finds the drink, take a drop wherever you think is the best position to hit your approach without getting closer to the hole.

8. When you hit your ball out of bounds or lose it, add a penalty stroke, go back and drop a ball at the place where you played the shot. On the tee, you may tee the ball. If you think you have hit your ball out of bounds or lost it outside a water hazard, play a provisional ball before searching for the first one. One small amendment to this rule however. Due to the boom in golf course communities in the past 20 years, chances are you'll hit your ball into someone's yard, which is out of bounds. But as long as you tip-toe in and hit your ball without taking too much of a divot, no one will cry foul.

9. When you have an unplayable lie, you may drop a ball at the place where you played the previous shot, adding a penalty stroke. On the tee, you may tee the ball. Alternatively, drop within two club-lengths, no nearer the hole, or any distance behind the unplayable spot, keeping it between you and the hole. If the ball is in a bunker, you must drop in the bunker, under either of the alternative options. OK, maybe everything isn't that clear. Umm, if you can't play your ball put it somewhere you can. Once you hole out, if you made a par, maybe give yourself a bogey and call it even.

10. On the putting green, you may repair ball marks and old hole plugs on the line of the putt, but not spike marks. And of course, never, ever, ever step in your opponent's line ... unless the putt is for dormie.

And so you have it, learning the rules golf is just that easy. Next week: 10 ways you can use the phrase "line of flight" to YOUR advantage.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Man Made Hazzard

    Dale Burgess wrote on: Jul 3, 2011

    If your ball lands near a man made hazzard such as an electrical box, sign, or post(birdhouse)etc. what is the rules that apply?


  • Free drop

    Alan wrote on: Feb 4, 2011

    What if you are allowed a free drop within one club length of where your ball lies and this puts your ball in an unplayable lie? Where can you place your ball?


      • RE: Free drop

        Jeff wrote on: Jun 17, 2011

        I'm not sure. My buddy raised the same question. Try using the foot wedge on those shots.