The Basic Rules of Golf – A Guide for Beginners

If you have never played golf before, it can be a little overwhelming. It may seem like a game with a lot of complicated, hard to follow rules. In reality, golf is just as easy to understand as any other sport.

This post will give you an overview of the rules of golf, to give you a better idea of what to expect when you step out onto the green. 

Teeing Off

Golf rules and ettiquite

Let’s start with the very beginning. There are 18 holes in a round of golf – the aim of the game is to make it into each hole with as few shots as possible.

At every hole, you will start by teeing off. That means placing your ball on a tee at a certain point, before you take your first swing. You will see two tee markers at the teeing off point, forming an invisible line between them. You must tee your golf ball behind that line. It can be anywhere between the two markers, and as far back as double the length of your driver from the line. 

In other words, if you have a 45 inch driver, you can place your tee anywhere within 90 inches behind the tee markers.

Once your ball is teed, you can take your first shot. There are a few simple rules here – every swing counts as a shot. So, if you swing and miss, that counts as one shot, and you will have a “one” on your score. 

On the other hand, if your ball falls off the tee but you have not swung your driver, it doesn’t count as a shot – you can replace the ball and try again. 

Playing a Hole

Man swinging a golf club on the golf course

Once all the players have teed off, the hole is in play. There are a few crucial rules to stick by during the play of a hole. The first, and possibly most important, is that you must play the ball as it lies. You cannot pick it up and move it, kick it, or even nudge it with your toe – you have to take the shot wherever the ball lies.

Additionally, you cannot improve the conditions where the ball is lying. That means you can’t press it down to harden the sand, or move away any sticks or twigs around it. This can be a tricky rule to enforce – your best bet is just to stay away from the area until you swing.

The second important rule to remember is the order of play. After the initial swing, the order of play starts with the player whose ball is farthest from the hole. That order holds until everyone has sunk their ball.

Some people, in casual play, may have different order rules – always make sure you are aware of the order of play, for your own safety.

Hitting any ball on the course that is not your own will result in a 2 stroke penalty – always make sure you know which ball is yours before you swing. When you take your shot, you have to hit the ball in a single stroke – that means no pushing or hockey-like nudges. It has to be a direct hit.

Some players will use a distance measuring device like a Golf GPS. There are very  strict rules regarding the use of these devices so be sure to check the local rules, especially if you plan to use them in any kind of tournament play.

On the Green

Putting on a golf green

At the end of each hole, you will find your ball on the putting green – this is when it becomes a short game, as opposed to a long game. If your ball is on the green – even if only partly – you are allowed to pick it up to clean it, placing a marker in the spot so that you can return it to the exact same place.

Always make sure, if you pick your ball up on the green, that you replace it in the exact same spot, or as near as possible. Moving it closer to the hole, even by an inch or two, can result in your disqualification from the game.

While you are putting, if your ball is right on the edge of the hole, you are allowed to wait ten seconds before finishing the shot. If your ball does not fall into the hole within those ten seconds, it has to count as another stroke on your score.

As of January 2019, you do not have to remove the flag from the hole while you are putting – it is okay if your ball hits the flag stick.


With the right gear and enough practice, anyone can perfect their golf swing. Remember, it all starts with the perfect stance and a good grip. Now that you have a basic idea of how to get started, grab your driver and start practicing!

Photo of author

Steve Mitchell

Steve is currently a scratch handicapper and has been playing golf since he was a child. He is dedicated to bringing and teaching golf to those who have never played the game. His goal is to simplify and demystify a sport that some may find intimidating.