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4
The Player’s Equipment
Purpose of Rule: Rule 4 covers the equipment that players may use during a round. Based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the player’s judgment, skills and abilities, the player:
  • Must use conforming clubs and balls,
  • Is limited to no more than 14 clubs, and
  • Is restricted in the use of other equipment that gives artificial help to their play.
4
The Player’s Equipment
For detailed requirements for clubs, balls and other equipment and the process for consultation and submission of equipment for conformity review, see the Equipment Rules.
4.1

Clubs

4.1a

Clubs Allowed in Making a Stroke

(1) Conforming Clubs. In making a stroke, a player must use a club that conforms to the requirements in the Equipment Rules when:
  • It is new, or
  • Its playing characteristics have been changed in any way (but see Rule 4.1a(2) when a club is damaged during the round).
But if the playing characteristics of a conforming club change because of wear through normal use, it is still a conforming club. The “playing characteristics” of a club are any part, feature, or property that affects how the club performs or aids in alignment, including but not limited to, weighting, lie, loft, alignment features and permissible external attachments. (2) Use, Repair or Replacement of Club Damaged During Round. If a conforming club is damaged during a round or while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a, except in cases of abuse, the player may repair it or replace it with another club. But no matter what the nature or cause of the damage, the damaged club is treated as conforming for the rest of the round (but not during a play-off in stroke play, which is a new round). For the rest of the round, the player may:
  • Continue to make strokes with the damaged club, or
  • Except in cases of abuse, repair the club or replace it with another club (see Rule 4.1b(4)).
If the player replaces the damaged club with another club, the player must take the damaged club out of play before making another stroke using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1) “Damaged during a round” means when any part, feature or property of a club is changed because of any act during the round (including while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a), whether:
  • By the player (such as making a stroke or practice swing with the club, putting it in or taking it out of a golf bag, dropping or leaning on it, or abusing it), or
  • By any other person, outside influence or natural forces.
But a club is not “damaged during a round” if its playing characteristics are deliberately changed by the player during the round, as covered by Rule 4.1a(3). (3) Deliberately Changing Club’s Playing Characteristics During Round. A player must not make a stroke with a club when they have deliberately changed that club’s playing characteristics during the round (including while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a):
  • By using an adjustable feature or physically changing the club (except when allowed to repair damage under Rule 4.1a(2)), or
  • By applying any substance to the clubhead (other than in cleaning it) to affect how it performs in making a stroke.
Exception – Adjustable Club Restored to Original Position or Non-Permissible External Attachment Removed: There is no penalty and the club may be used to make a stroke in the following two situations:
  • If a club’s playing characteristics were changed by using an adjustable feature and, before the club is used to make a stroke, the club is restored as nearly as possible to its original position by adjusting the feature back to where it was.
  • A non-permissible external attachment (such as a sticker on the club face) is removed from the club before the club is used to make a stroke.
Penalty for Making Stroke in Breach of Rule 4.1a: Disqualification.
  • There is no penalty under this Rule for merely having (but not making a stroke with) a non-conforming club or a club whose playing characteristics were deliberately changed during the round.
  • But such a club still counts towards the 14-club limit in Rule 4.1b(1).
4.1b

Limit of 14 Clubs; Sharing, Adding or Replacing Clubs During Round

(1) Limit of 14 Clubs. A player must not:
  • Start a round with more than 14 clubs, or
  • Have more than 14 clubs during the round.
This limit includes all clubs carried by or for the player. But it does not include parts of a broken club and separated parts (such as a clubhead, shaft or grip) that are being carried by or for a player at the start of their round If the player starts a round with fewer than 14 clubs, they may add clubs during the round up to the 14-club limit (see Rule 4.1b(4) for restrictions in doing this). A club is considered added when the player makes their next stroke with any club while the added club is in the player’s possession. When the player becomes aware that they are in breach of this Rule by having more than 14 clubs, the player must take the excess club or clubs out of play before making another stroke using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1):
  • If the player started with more than 14 clubs, they may choose which club or clubs will be taken out of play.
  • If the player added excess clubs during the round, those added clubs are the ones that must be taken out of play.
After a player’s round has started, if the player picks up another player’s club that was left behind, or a club is mistakenly put in the player’s bag without their knowledge, the club is not treated as one of the player’s clubs for purposes of the 14-club limit (but it must not be used). (2) No Sharing of Clubs. A player is limited to those clubs they started with or added as allowed in (1):
  • The player must not make a stroke with a club being used by anyone else who is playing on the course (even if the other player is playing in a different group or competition).
  • When the player becomes aware that they have breached this Rule by making a stroke with another player’s club, the player must take that club out of play before making another stroke using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1).
See Rules 22.5 and 23.7 (limited exception in partner forms of play allowing partners to share clubs if they have no more than 14 clubs between them). (3) No Replacing Lost Clubs. If a player started with 14 clubs or added clubs up to the limit of 14 and then lost a club during the round or while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a, the player must not replace it with another club. (4) Restrictions When Adding or Replacing Clubs. When adding or replacing a club under Rule 4.1a(2) or Rule 4.1b(1), a player must not:
  • Unreasonably delay play (see Rule 5.6a),
  • Add or borrow any club being carried by or for any other player who is playing on the course (even if the other player is playing in a different group or competition), or
  • Build a club from parts being carried by or for the player or any other player who is playing on the course (even if the other player is playing in a different group or competition).
When the player becomes aware that they have breached this Rule by adding or replacing a club when not allowed, the player must take that club out of play before making another stroke using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1). If the player makes a stroke with a club that is still being carried after being taken out of play before the round (Rule 4.1c(2)) or during the round (Rule 4.1c(1)), they are disqualified under Rule 4.1c(1). Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.1b: The penalty applies based on when the player becomes aware of the breach:
  • Player Becomes Aware of Breach While Playing the Hole. The penalty is applied at the end of the hole being played. In match play, the player must complete the hole, apply the result of that hole to the match score and then apply the penalty to adjust the match score.
  • Player Becomes Aware of Breach Between Two Holes. The penalty is applied as of the end of the hole just completed, not the next hole.
Penalty in Match Play – Match Score Revised by Deducting Hole, Maximum of Two Holes:
  • This is a match adjustment penalty – it is not the same as a loss of hole penalty.
  • At the end of the hole being played or just completed, the match score is revised by deducting one hole for each hole where a breach happened, with a maximum deduction of two holes in the round.
  • For example, if a player who started with 15 clubs becomes aware of the breach while playing the 3rd hole and then wins that hole to go three up in the match, the maximum adjustment of two holes applies and the player would now be one up in the match.
Penalty in Stroke Play – Two Penalty Strokes, Maximum of Four Strokes: The player gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes) for each hole where a breach happened, with a maximum of four penalty strokes in the round (adding two penalty strokes at each of the first two holes where a breach happened).
4.1c

Procedure for Taking Clubs Out of Play

(1) During Round. When a player becomes aware during a round that they are in breach of Rule 4.1b, the player must take an action that clearly indicates each club that is being taken out of play before making the next stroke. This may be done either by:
  • Declaring this to the opponent in match play or the marker or another player in the group in stroke play, or
  • Taking some other clear action (such as turning the club upside down in the bag, placing it on the floor of the golf cart or giving the club to another person).
The player must not make a stroke for the rest of the round with any club taken out of play. If a club taken out of play is another player’s club, that other player may continue to use the club. Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.1c(1): Disqualification. (2) Before Round. If a player becomes aware shortly before starting a round that they accidentally have more than 14 clubs, the player should try to leave the excess club or clubs behind. But as an option without penalty:
  • The player may take any such excess clubs out of play before the start of the round, using the procedure in (1), and
  • The excess clubs may be kept by the player (but must not be used) during the round, and they do not count towards the 14-club limit.
If a player deliberately brings more than 14 clubs to their first teeing area and starts the round without leaving the excess clubs behind, this option is not allowed and Rule 4.1b(1) applies.
4.2

Balls

4.2a

Balls Allowed in Play of Round

(1) Conforming Ball Must Be Played. In making each stroke, a player must use a ball that conforms to the requirements in the Equipment Rules. A player may get a conforming ball to play from anyone else, including another player on the course. (2) Deliberately Altered Ball Must Not Be Played. A player must not make a stroke at a ball whose performance characteristics have been deliberately altered, such as by scuffing or heating the ball or by applying any substance (other than in cleaning it). Penalty for Making Stroke in Breach of Rule 4.2a: Disqualification.
4.2b

Ball Breaks into Pieces While Playing Hole

If a player’s ball breaks into pieces after a stroke, there is no penalty and the stroke does not count. The player must play another ball from where that stroke was made (see Rule 14.6). Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Rule 4.2b: General Penalty under Rule 14.7a.
4.2c

Ball Becomes Cut or Cracked While Playing Hole

(1) Lifting Ball to See If Cut or Cracked. If a player reasonably believes that their ball has become cut or cracked during the hole being played :
  • The player may lift the ball to look at it, but:
  • The spot of the ball must first be marked, and the ball must not be cleaned (except on the putting green) (see Rule 14.1).
If the player lifts the ball without having this reasonable belief (except on the putting green where the player may lift under Rule 13.1b), fails to mark the spot of the ball before lifting it or cleans it when not allowed, the player gets one penalty stroke.
(2) When Another Ball May Be Substituted. The player may substitute another ball only if it can be clearly seen that the original ball is cut or cracked and this damage happened during the hole being played – but not if it is only scratched or scraped or its paint is only damaged or discoloured.
  • If the original ball is cut or cracked, the player must replace either another ball or the original ball on the original spot (see Rule 14.2).
  • If the original ball is not cut or cracked, the player must replace it on its original spot (see Rule 14.2).
If a player makes a stroke at an incorrectly substituted ball, the player gets one penalty stroke under Rule 6.3b. Nothing in this Rule prohibits a player from substituting another ball under any other Rule or changing balls between two holes. Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Rule 4.2c: General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a.
4.3

Use of Equipment

Rule 4.3 applies to all types of equipment that a player might use during a round, except that the requirement to play with conforming clubs and balls is covered by Rules 4.1 and 4.2, not by this Rule. This Rule only concerns how equipment is used. It does not limit the equipment that a player may have with them during a round.
4.3a

Allowed and Prohibited Uses of Equipment

A player may use equipment to help their play during a round, except that a player must not create a potential advantage by:
  • Using equipment (other than a club or a ball) that artificially eliminates or reduces the need for a skill or judgment that is essential to the challenge of the game, or
  • Using equipment (including a club or a ball) in an abnormal way in making a stroke. “Abnormal way” means a way that is fundamentally different than its intended use and is not normally recognized as part of playing the game.
This Rule does not affect the application of any other Rule that limits actions a player is allowed to take with a club, ball or other equipment (such as setting down a club or other object to help the player in aiming, see Rule 10.2b(3)). Common examples of uses of equipment that are allowed and not allowed during a player’s round under this Rule are: (1) Distance and Directional Information.
  • Allowed. Getting information on distance or direction (such as from a distance-measuring device or compass).
  • Not Allowed.
    • Measuring elevation changes,
    • Interpreting distance or directional information (such as using a device to get a recommended line of play or club selection based on the location of the player’s ball), or
    • Using an alignment device (see definition in Equipment Rules) to help align the ball. 
See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-5 (the Committee may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting the use of distance-measuring devices). (2) Information on Wind and Other Weather Conditions.
  • Allowed.
    • Getting any type of weather information (including wind speed) that is available from weather forecasts, or
    • Measuring temperature and humidity at the course.
  • Not Allowed.
    • Measuring wind speed at the course, or
    • Using an artificial object to get other wind-related information (such as using powder, a handkerchief or a ribbon to assess wind direction).
(3) Information Gathered Before or During Round.
  • Allowed.
    • Using information that was gathered before the round (such as playing information from previous rounds, swing tips or club recommendations), or
    • Recording (for use after the round) playing or physiological information from the round (such as club distance, playing statistics or heart rate).
  • Not Allowed.
    • Processing or interpreting playing information from the round (such as club recommendations based on current round distances), or
    • Using any physiological information recorded during the round.
(4) Audio and Video.
  • Allowed.
      • Listening to audio or watching video on matters unrelated to the competition being played (such as a news report or background music). But in doing so, consideration should be shown to others (see Rule 1.2).
  • Not Allowed.
      • Listening to music or other audio to eliminate distractions or to help with swing tempo, or
      • Watching video of the competition that helps the player in choosing a club, making a stroke, or deciding how to play during the round, except that a player may watch video that is being broadcast to spectators at the course, such as on a video scoreboard.
See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-8 (the Committee may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting or restricting the use of audio and video devices during a round). (5) Gloves and Gripping Agents.
  • Allowed.
    • Using a plain glove that meets the requirements in the Equipment Rules,
    • Using resin, powders and other moisturizing or drying agents, or
    • Wrapping a towel or handkerchief around the grip.
  • Not Allowed.
    • Using a glove that does not meet the requirements in the Equipment Rules, or
    • Using other equipment that gives an unfair advantage with hand position or grip pressure.
(6) Stretching Devices and Training or Swing Aids.
  • Allowed.
    • Using any equipment for general stretching (other than in making a practice swing), whether the equipment is designed for stretching, for use in golf (such as an alignment rod placed across the shoulders) or for any purpose unrelated to golf (such as rubber tubing or a section of pipe).
  • Not Allowed.
    • Using any type of golf training or swing aid (such as an alignment rod or a weighted headcover or “donut”) or a non-conforming club in any way that creates a potential advantage by helping the player in preparing for or making a stroke (such as help with swing plane, grip, alignment, ball position or posture).
Further guidance on the use of equipment described above and other types of equipment (such as clothing and shoes) is found in the Equipment Rules. A player who is uncertain whether they may use a piece of equipment in a particular way should ask the Committee for a ruling (see Rule 20.2b). See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-6 (the Committee may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting the use of motorized transportation during a round).
4.3b

Equipment Used for Medical Reasons

(1) Medical Exception. A player is not in breach of Rule 4.3 if they use equipment to help with a medical condition, so long as:
  • The player has a medical reason to use the equipment, and
  • The Committee decides that its use does not give the player any unfair advantage over other players.
See Rule 25.3a (status of prosthetic devices); Rule 25.4f (application of Rule 4.3 for assistive mobility). (2) Tape or Similar Coverings. A player may use adhesive tape or a similar covering for any medical reason (such as to prevent an injury or help with an existing injury), but the tape or covering must not:
  • Be applied excessively, or
  • Help the player more than is necessary for the medical reason (for example, it must not immobilize a joint to help the player swing the club).
A player who is uncertain about where or how tape or similar coverings may be applied should ask the Committee for a ruling. Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.3:
  • Penalty for first breach: General Penalty. If the breach happens between two holes, the penalty applies to the next hole.
  • Penalty for second breach: Disqualification. This penalty applies even if the nature of the breach was entirely different than the breach resulting in the first penalty. This penalty only applies if there has been an intervening event after the first breach (see Rule 1.3c(4)).
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