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The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules
Purpose: Rule 1 introduces these central principles of the game for the player:
  • Play the course as you find it and play the ball as it lies.
  • Play by the Rules and in the spirit of the game.
  • You are responsible for applying your own penalties if you breach a Rule, so that you cannot gain any potential advantage over your opponent in match play or other players in stroke play.
The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules

Standards of Player Conduct

Meaning of Serious Misconduct
The phrase "serious misconduct" in Rule 1.2a is intended to cover player misconduct that is so far removed from the expected norm in golf that the most severe sanction of removing a player from the competition is justified. This includes dishonesty, deliberately interfering with another player's rights, or endangering the safety of others. The Committee must determine if the misconduct is serious considering all the circumstances. Even if the Committee determines that the misconduct is serious, it may take the view that it is more appropriate to warn the player that a repeat of the misconduct or similar misconduct will result in disqualification, instead of disqualifying him or her in the first instance. Examples of actions by a player that are likely to be considered serious misconduct include:
  • Deliberately causing serious damage to a putting green.
  • Disagreeing with the course setup and taking it on himself or herself to move tee-markers or boundary stakes.
  • Throwing a club towards another player or spectator.
  • Deliberately distracting other players while they are making strokes.
  • Removing loose impediments or movable obstructions to disadvantage another player after that other player has asked him or her to leave them in place.
  • Repeatedly refusing to lift a ball at rest when it interferes with another player in stroke play.
  • Deliberately playing away from the hole and then towards the hole to assist the player's partner (such as helping the player's partner learn the break on the putting green).
  • Deliberately not playing in accordance with the Rules and potentially gaining a significant advantage by doing so, despite incurring a penalty for a breach of the relevant Rule.
  • Repeatedly using vulgar or offensive language.
  • Using a handicap that has been established for the purpose of providing an unfair advantage or using the round being played to establish such a handicap.
Examples of actions by a player that, although involving misconduct, are unlikely to be considered serious misconduct include:
  • Slamming a club to the ground, damaging the club and causing minor damage to the turf.
  • Throwing a club towards a golf bag that unintentionally hits another person.
  • Carelessly distracting another player making a stroke.

Playing by the Rules

Disqualifying Players Who Know a Rule but Deliberately Agree to Ignore it
If two or more players deliberately agree to ignore any Rule or penalty they know applies, they will be disqualified unless the agreement is made before the round and is cancelled before any player involved in the agreement begins his or her round. For example, in stroke play, two players agree to consider putts within a club-length of the hole holed, when they know that they must hole out on each hole. While on the first putting green, another player in the group learns of this agreement. That player insists the two players who made the agreement hole out, and they do so. Even though neither player who made the agreement acted on it by failing to hole out, they are still disqualified because they deliberately agreed to ignore Rule 3.3c (Failure to Hole Out).
In Order to Agree to Ignore a Rule or Penalty, Players Must Be Aware the Rule Exists
Rule 1.3b(1) does not apply and there is no penalty if players agree to waive a Rule that they are not aware of or fail to apply a penalty that they do not know exists. Examples where two players are unaware of a Rule, or where they have failed to apply a penalty, and therefore are not disqualified under Rule 1.3b(1), include:
  • In a match, two players agree in advance to concede all putts within a specific length but are unaware that the Rules prohibit them from agreeing to concede putts in this way.
  • Before a 36-hole match, two players agree that they will play only 18 holes and whoever is behind at that point will concede the match, not knowing that this agreement does not comply with the Terms of the Competition. The match goes forward on that basis and the player behind after 18 holes concedes the match. Since the players do not know such an agreement is not allowed, the concession stands.
  • In a stroke-play competition, a player and his or her marker, who is also a player, are unsure if the relief area for ground under repair is one club-length or two. Unaware of the Rule, they agree that it is two club-lengths and the player takes relief by dropping a ball almost two club-lengths from the nearest point of complete relief. Later in the round the Committee becomes aware of this. Although neither player is disqualified under Rule 1.3b(1) because they were unaware of the Rule, the player has played from a wrong place and gets the penalty under Rule 14.7 (Playing from Wrong Place). There is no penalty for accidentally giving incorrect information on the Rules of Golf.
Interpretations Related to Rule 1.3b(2):
  • 6.1/1 – What to Do When One or More Tee-Markers Are Missing
  • 9.6/2 – Where to Replace Ball When It Was Moved from Unknown Location
  • 17.1a/2 – Ball Lost in Either Penalty Area or Abnormal Course Condition Adjacent to Penalty Area
  • 17.1d(3)/2 – Player Drops Ball Based on Estimate of Where the Ball Last Crossed Edge of Penalty Area That Turns Out to Be the Wrong Point
Action of Another Person Breaches a Rule For Player
A player is responsible when another person's action breaches a Rule with respect to the player if it is done at the player's request or if the player sees the action and allows it. Examples of when a player gets the penalty because he or she requested or allowed the action include:
  • A player asks a spectator to move a loose impediment near his or her ball. If the ball moves the player gets one penalty stroke under Rule 9.4b (Penalty for Lifting or Deliberately Touching Ball or Causing It to Move) and ball must be replaced.
  • A player's ball is being searched for in tall grass. A spectator finds the ball and presses the grass down around the ball, improving the conditions affecting the stroke. If the player, seeing that this is about to happen, does not take reasonable steps to try to stop the spectator, he or she gets the general penalty for a breach of Rule 8.1a (Player's Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke).
Intervening Event Between Breaches Results in Multiple Penalties
When a player breaches multiple Rules or the same Rule multiple times, any relationship between the breaches is broken by an intervening event and the player will get multiple penalties. The three types of intervening events where the player will get multiple penalties are:
  • Making a stroke. Example: In stroke play, a player's ball is near a bush. The player breaks branches and this improves the area of intended swing (a breach of Rule 8.1a). The player makes a stroke, misses the ball, and then breaks more branches (a breach of Rule 8.1a). In this case, the stroke that missed the ball is an intervening event between the two breaches. Therefore, the player gets two separate two-stroke penalties under Rule 8.1a, for four penalty strokes in total.
  • Putting a ball in play. Examples:
    • In stroke play, a player's ball is under a tree. The player breaks tree branches, improving the conditions affecting the stroke, but then decides the ball is unplayable. The player drops a ball within two club-lengths under Rule 19.2c (Unplayable Ball Relief) and then breaks more tree branches. In addition to the one penalty stroke under Rule 19.2, the player gets two separate two-stroke penalties under Rule 8.1a for improving conditions affecting the stroke, for five penalty strokes in total.
    • A player's ball lies in the fairway and he or she accidentally moves the ball at rest. As required by Rule 9.4 (Ball Lifted or Moved by Player), the player replaces the ball and adds one penalty stroke. Before making a stroke, the player accidentally moves the ball again. The player gets an additional penalty stroke and must again replace the ball, for two penalty strokes in total.
  • Becoming aware of the breach. Example: In stroke play, a player's ball lies in a bunker where the player takes several practice swings each time touching the sand. Another player advises the player that this is a breach of the Rules. The player disagrees and takes several more practice swings, again touching the sand before making a stroke. Correctly informing the player of the breach of the Rules is an intervening event and, therefore, the player gets two separate two-stroke penalties under Rule 12.2b (Restrictions on Touching Sand in Bunker), for four penalty strokes in total.
Multiple Breaches From a Single Act Result in a Single Penalty
A single act may breach two different Rules. In this situation, one penalty is applied. In the case of two Rules with different penalties, the higher-level penalty will apply. For example, a player presses down the grass behind his or her ball in play and improves the lie in the rough, accidentally moving the ball as well. This single act (that is, pressing down the grass) breached two Rules, Rule 8.1a (Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke) and Rule 9.4b (Lifting or Deliberately Touching Ball or Causing It to Move) and only one penalty applies. In this case, the penalty under Rule 8.1a is the general penalty and the penalty under Rule 9.4b is one penalty stroke. Therefore, the higher-level penalty applies and the player loses the hole in match play or must add a total penalty of two strokes in stroke play under Rule 8.1a and the ball must be replaced.
Meaning of Unrelated Acts
Unrelated acts in the context of Rule 1.3c(4) are acts of a player that are of a different type or associated with a different process. Examples of unrelated acts where multiple penalties apply include:
  • Making a practice swing that touches sand in a bunker and bending an overhanging tree branch that interferes with the player's swing.
  • Moving an immovable obstruction that improves the area of the player's swing and pressing down grass behind the ball.
Examples of related acts where only one penalty applies include:
  • Making several practice swings that touch sand in a bunker.
  • Asking for two different pieces of advice, such as what club the player used and what the wind direction is, both related to the process of selecting what club to use for the next stroke.
Not Replacing the Ball May Be Considered a Separate and Unrelated Act
In the example given in 1.3c(4)/2, a single act of pressing down grass and moving the ball breached two Rules (Rule 8.1a and Rule 9.4b) and resulted in a single penalty being applied under Rule 8.1a (Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke). However, Rule 9.4b (Lifting or Deliberately Touching Ball or Causing It to Move) requires that the moved ball be replaced and, if it is not replaced before the stroke, the player will get an additional penalty of two strokes under Rule 9.4b. The failure to replace the ball is considered a separate and unrelated act.
Clarification: Playing From a Wrong Place Is Related to Causing the Ball to Move:
If a player moves his or her ball in play in breach of Rule 9.4 and plays it from its new location rather than replacing it, the player gets only the general penalty under Rule 14.7 for playing from a wrong place. The act of moving the ball in breach of Rule 9.4 is related to playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 14.7. (Clarification added 12/2018)
Player Is Not Disqualified from a Competition When That Round Does Not Count
In competitions where not all rounds count, a player is not disqualified from the competition for being disqualified from a single round. Examples of when a player is not disqualified from the competition:
  • In a handicap competition where the two best of four rounds count, a player mistakenly returns his or her scorecard with a higher handicap that affects how many strokes are received in the first round. Since the higher handicap affected the number of handicap strokes received, the player is disqualified from the first round of the competition and now has three rounds in which to determine his or her two best net scores.
  • In a team competition with four-player teams, where the three best scores for each round are added up to make the team's score for each round, a player is disqualified from the second round for not correcting the play of a wrong ball. That player's score does not count for the team score in the second round but the player's score would count for any other round of the competition.
Applying Disqualification Penalties, Concessions and Wrong Number of Strokes in a Stroke-Play Play-Off
During a play-off in a stroke-play competition the Rules are applied as follows:
  • If a player is disqualified (such as for making a stroke with a non-conforming club), the player is disqualified from the play-off only and the player is entitled to any prize that may have been won in the competition itself.
  • If two players are in the play-off, one player is allowed to concede the play-off to the other player.
  • If Player A mistakenly gives the wrong number of strokes to Player B and that mistake results in Player B lifting his or her ball (such as when Player B thinks he or she has lost the play-off to Player A), Player B is allowed to replace the ball without penalty and complete the hole. There is no penalty to Player A.