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6
Playing a Hole
Purpose: Rule 6 covers how to play a hole – such as the specific Rules for teeing off to start a hole, the requirement to use the same ball for an entire hole except when substitution is allowed, the order of play (which matters more in match play than stroke play) and completing a hole.
6
Playing a Hole
6.1

Starting Play of a Hole

a

When Hole Starts

A player has started a hole when he or she makes a stroke to begin the hole. The hole has started even if the stroke was made from outside the teeing area (see Rule 6.1b) or the stroke was cancelled under a Rule.
b

Ball Must Be Played from Inside Teeing Area

A player must start each hole by playing a ball from anywhere inside the teeing area under Rule 6.2b. If a player who is starting a hole plays a ball from outside the teeing area (including from a wrong set of tee markers for a different teeing location on the same hole or a different hole): (1) Match Play. There is no penalty, but the opponent may cancel the stroke:
  • This must be done promptly and before either player makes another stroke. When the opponent cancels the stroke, he or she cannot withdraw the cancellation.
  • If the opponent cancels the stroke, the player must play a ball from inside the teeing area and it is still his or her turn to play.
  • If the opponent does not cancel the stroke, the stroke counts and the ball is in play and must be played as it lies.
(2) Stroke Play. The player gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes) and must correct the mistake by playing a ball from inside the teeing area:
  • The ball played from outside the teeing area is not in play.
  • That stroke and any more strokes before the mistake is corrected (including strokes made and any penalty strokes solely from playing that ball) do not count.
  • If the player does not correct the mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning his or her scorecard, the player is disqualified.
6.2

Playing Ball from Teeing Area

a

When Teeing Area Rules Apply

The teeing area Rules in Rule 6.2b apply whenever a player is required or allowed to play a ball from the teeing area. This includes when:
  • The player is starting play of the hole (see Rule 6.1),
  • The player will play again from the teeing area under a Rule (see Rule 14.6), or
  • The player’s ball is in play in the teeing area after a stroke or after the player has taken relief.
This Rule applies only to the teeing area the player must play from in starting the hole he or she is playing, not to any other teeing locations on the course (whether on the same hole or a different hole).
b

Teeing Area Rules

(1) When Ball Is in Teeing Area.
  • A ball is in the teeing area when any part of the ball touches or is above any part of the teeing area.
  • The player may stand outside the teeing area in making the stroke at a ball in the teeing area.
(2) Ball May Be Teed or Played from Ground. The ball must be played from either:
  • A tee placed in or on the ground, or
  • The ground itself.
For purposes of this Rule, the “ground” includes sand or other natural materials put in place to set the tee or ball on. The player must not make a stroke at a ball on a non-conforming tee or a ball teed in a way not allowed by this Rule. Penalty for Breach of Rule 6.2b(2):
  • Penalty for first breach from single act or related acts: General Penalty.
  • Penalty for second breach unrelated to first breach: Disqualification.
(3) Certain Conditions in Teeing Area May Be Improved. Before making a stroke, the player may take these actions in the teeing area to improve the conditions affecting the stroke (see Rule 8.1b(8)):
  • Alter the surface of the ground in the teeing area (such as by making an indentation with a club or foot),
  • Move, bend or break grass, weeds and other natural objects that are attached or growing in the ground in the teeing area,
  • Remove or press down sand and soil in the teeing area, and
  • Remove dew, frost and water in the teeing area.
But the player gets the general penalty if he or she takes any other action to improve the conditions affecting the stroke in breach of Rule 8.1a. (4) Restriction on Moving Tee-Markers When Playing from Teeing Area.
  • The location of the tee-markers is set by the Committee to define each teeing area and should remain in that same location for all players who will play from that teeing area.
  • If the player improves the conditions affecting the stroke by moving any such tee-marker before playing from the teeing area, he or she gets the general penalty for breach of Rule 8.1a(1).
In all other situations, the tee-markers are treated as regular movable obstructions that may be removed as allowed in Rule 15.2. (5) Ball Is Not in Play Until Stroke Is Made. Whether the ball is teed or on the ground, when starting a hole or playing again from the teeing area under a Rule:
  • The ball is not in play until the player makes a stroke at it, and 
  • The ball may be lifted or moved without penalty before the stroke is made.
If a teed ball falls off the tee or is knocked off the tee by the player before the player has made a stroke at it, it may be re-teed anywhere in the teeing area without penalty. But if the player makes a stroke at that ball while it is falling or after it has fallen off, there is no penalty, the stroke counts and the ball is in play. (6) When Ball in Play Lies in Teeing Area. If the player’s ball in play is in the teeing area after a stroke (such as a teed ball after a stroke that missed the ball) or after taking relief, the player may:
  • Lift or move the ball without penalty (see Rule 9.4b, Exception 1), and
  • Play that ball or another ball from anywhere in the teeing area from a tee or the ground under (2), including playing the ball as it lies. 
Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Rule 6.2b(6): General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a. If multiple Rule breaches result from a single act or related acts, see Rule 1.3c(4).
6.3

Ball Used in Play of Hole

Purpose: A hole is played as a progression of strokes made from the teeing area to the putting green and into the hole. After teeing off, the player is normally required to play the same ball until the hole is completed. The player gets a penalty for making a stroke at a wrong ball or a substituted ball when substitution is not allowed by the Rules.
a

Holing Out with Same Ball Played from Teeing Area

A player may play any conforming ball when starting a hole from the teeing area and may change balls between two holes. The player must hole out with the same ball played from the teeing area, except when:
  • That ball is lost or comes to rest out of bounds, or
  • The player substitutes another ball (whether or not allowed to do so).
The player should put an identifying mark on the ball to be played (see Rule 7.2).
b

Substitution of Another Ball While Playing Hole

(1) When Player Is Allowed and Not Allowed to Substitute Another Ball. Certain Rules allow a player to change the ball he or she is using to play a hole by substituting another ball as the ball in play, and others do not:
  • When taking relief under a Rule, including when either dropping a ball or placing a ball (such as when a ball will not stay in the relief area or when taking relief on the putting green), the player may use either the original ball or another ball (Rule 14.3a),
  • When playing again from where a previous stroke was made, the player may use either the original ball or another ball (Rule 14.6), and
  • When replacing a ball on a spot, the player is not allowed to substitute a ball and must use the original ball, with certain exceptions (Rule 14.2a).
(2) Substituted Ball Becomes Ball in Play. When a player substitutes another ball as the ball in play (see Rule 14.4):
  • The original ball is no longer in play, even if it is at rest on the course.
  • This is true even if the player:
    • Substituted another ball for the original ball when not allowed by the Rules (whether or not the player realized that he or she was substituting another ball), or
    • Replaced, dropped or placed the substituted ball (1) in a wrong place, (2) in a wrong way or (3) by using a procedure that does not apply.
  • For how to correct any error before playing the substituted ball, see Rule 14.5.
If the player’s original ball has not been found and the player put another ball in play to take stroke-and-distance relief (see Rules 17.1d, 18.1, 18.2b and 19.2a) or as allowed under a Rule that applies when it is known or virtually certain what happened to the ball (see Rules 6.3c, 9.6, 11.2c, 15.2b, 16.1e and 17.1c):
  • The player must continue playing with the substituted ball, and
  • The player must not play the original ball even if it is found on the course before the end of the three-minute search time (see Rule 18.2a(1)).
(3) Making Stroke at Incorrectly Substituted Ball. If a player makes a stroke at an incorrectly substituted ball:
  • The player gets the general penalty.
  • In stroke play, the player must then play out the hole with the incorrectly substituted ball.
If multiple Rule breaches result from a single act or related acts, see Rule 1.3c(4).
c

Wrong Ball

(1) Making Stroke at Wrong Ball. A player must not make a stroke at a wrong ball. Exception – Ball Moving in Water: There is no penalty if a player makes a stroke at a wrong ball that is moving in water in a penalty area or in temporary water:
  • The stroke does not count, and
  • The player must correct the mistake under the Rules by playing the right ball from its original spot or by taking relief under the Rules.
Penalty for Playing Wrong Ball in Breach of Rule 6.3c(1): General Penalty. In match play:
  • If the player and opponent play each other’s ball during the play of a hole, the first to make a stroke at a wrong ball gets the general penalty (loss of hole).
  • If it is not known which wrong ball was played first, there is no penalty and the hole must be played out with the balls exchanged.
In stroke play, the player must correct the mistake by continuing play with the original ball by playing it as it lies or taking relief under the Rules:
  • The stroke made with the wrong ball and any more strokes before the mistake is corrected (including strokes made and any penalty strokes solely from playing that ball) do not count.
  • If the player does not correct the mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning his or her scorecard, the player is disqualified.
(2) What to Do When Player’s Ball Was Played by Another Player as Wrong Ball. If it is known or virtually certain that the player’s ball was played by another player as a wrong ball, the player must replace the original ball or another ball on the original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2). This applies whether or not the original ball has been found.
d

When Player May Play More Than One Ball at a Time

A player may play more than one ball at a time on a hole only when:
  • Playing a provisional ball (which will either become the ball in play or be abandoned, as provided in Rule 18.3c), or
  • Playing two balls in stroke play to correct a possible serious breach in playing from a wrong place (see Rule 14.7b) or when uncertain about the right procedure to use (see Rule 20.1c(3)).
6.4

Order of Play When Playing Hole

Purpose: Rule 6.4 covers the order of play throughout a hole. The order of play from the teeing area depends on who has the honour, and after that is based on which ball is farthest from the hole.
  • In match play, the order of play is fundamental; if a player plays out of turn, the opponent may cancel that stroke and make the player play again.
  • In stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn, and players are both allowed and encouraged to play “ready golf” – that is, to play out of turn in a safe and responsible way.
a

Match Play

(1) Order of Play. The player and opponent must play in this order:
  • Starting First Hole. At the first hole, the honour is decided by the order of the draw set by the Committee or, if there is no draw, by agreement or by using a random method (such as tossing a coin).
  • Starting All Other Holes.
    • The player who wins a hole has the honour at the next teeing area.
    • If the hole was tied, the player with the honour at the previous teeing area keeps it.
    • If a player makes a timely ruling request (see Rule 20.1b) that has not yet been decided by the Committee and could affect who has the honour on the next hole, the honour is decided by agreement or by using a random method.
  • After Both Players Start a Hole.
    • The ball that is farther from the hole is to be played first.
    • If the balls are the same distance from the hole or their relative distances are not known, the ball to be played first is decided by agreement or by using a random method.
(2) Opponent May Cancel Player’s Stroke Made Out of Turn. If the player plays when it was the opponent's turn to play, there is no penalty but the opponent may cancel the stroke:
  • This must be done promptly and before either player makes another stroke. When the opponent cancels the stroke, he or she cannot withdraw the cancellation.
  • If the opponent cancels the stroke, the player must, when it is his or her turn to play, play a ball from where that stroke was made (see Rule 14.6).
  • If the opponent does not cancel the stroke, the stroke counts and the ball is in play and must be played as it lies.
Exception – Playing Out of Turn by Agreement to Save Time: To save time:
  • The player may invite the opponent to play out of turn or may agree to the opponent's request to play out of turn.
  • If the opponent then makes the stroke out of turn, the player has given up the right to cancel the stroke.
See Rule 23.6 (order of play in Four-Ball).
b

Stroke Play

(1) Normal Order of Play.
  • Starting First Hole. The honour at the first teeing area is decided by the order of the draw set by the Committee or, if there is no draw, by agreement or by using a random method (such as tossing a coin).
  • Starting All Other Holes.
    • The player in the group with the lowest gross score at a hole has the honour at the next teeing area; the player with the second lowest gross score should play next; and so on.
    • If two or more players have the same score at a hole, they should play in the same order as at the previous teeing area.
    • The honour is based on gross scores, even in a handicap competition.
  • After All Players Have Started a Hole.
    • The ball that is farthest from the hole should be played first.
    • If two or more balls are the same distance from the hole or their relative distances are not known, the ball to be played first should be decided by agreement or by using a random method.
There is no penalty if a player plays out of turn, except that if two or more players agree to play out of turn to give one of them an advantage, each of them gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes). (2) Playing Out of Turn in a Safe and Responsible Way (“Ready Golf”). Players are both allowed and encouraged to play out of turn in a safe and responsible way, such as when:
  • Two or more players agree to do so for convenience or to save time,
  • A player’s ball comes to rest a very short distance from the hole and the player wishes to hole out, or
  • An individual player is ready and able to play before another player whose turn it is to play under the normal order of play in (1), so long as in playing out of turn the player does not endanger, distract or interfere with any other player.
But if the player whose turn it is to play under (1) is ready and able to play and indicates that he or she wants to play first, other players should generally wait until that player has played. A player should not play out of turn to gain an advantage over other players.
c

When Player Will Play Provisional Ball or Another Ball from Teeing Area

The order of play in this case is for all other players in the group to make their first stroke on the hole before the player plays the provisional ball or another ball from the teeing area. If more than one player will play a provisional ball or another ball from the teeing area, the order of play is the same order as before. For a provisional ball or another ball played out of turn, see Rules 6.4a(2) and 6.4b.
d

When Player Takes Relief or Will Play Provisional Ball from Anywhere Except Teeing Area

The order of play under Rules 6.4a(1) and 6.4b(1) in these two cases is: (1) Taking Relief to Play Ball from a Different Place Than Where It Lies.
  • When Player Becomes Aware That He or She Is Required to Take Stroke-and-Distance Relief. The player’s order of play is based on the spot where his or her previous stroke was made.
  • When Player Has Choice to Play Ball as It Lies or Take Relief.
    • The player’s order of play is based on the spot where the original ball lies (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2).
    • This applies even when the player has already decided to take stroke-and-distance relief or to take relief to play from a different place than where the original ball lies (such as when the original ball is in a penalty area or will be treated as unplayable).
(2) Playing Provisional Ball. The order of play is for the player to play the provisional ball right after making the previous stroke and before anyone else plays a ball, except:
  • When starting a hole from the teeing area (see Rule 6.4c), or
  • When the player waits before deciding to play a provisional ball (in which case the player’s order of play, once he or she has decided to play a provisional ball, is based on the spot where the previous stroke was made). 
6.5

Completing Play of a Hole

A player has completed a hole:
  • In match play, when:
    • The player holes out or the player’s next stroke is conceded, or
    • The result of the hole is decided (such as when the opponent concedes the hole, the opponent's score for the hole is lower than the player possibly could make or the player or opponent gets the general penalty(loss of hole)).
  • In stroke play, when the player holes out under Rule 3.3c.
See Rules 21.1b(1), 21.2b(1), 21.3b(1) and 23.3c (when a player has completed a hole in other forms of stroke play or in Four-Ball)
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