The 3 rules most commonly broken by new golfers

UPDATED: Guidance guru Gail Rogers has seen these common rules violations too many times. Follow her golf tournament tips so that you won’t make them when you’re playing for major marbles.

Image of Rules of Golf bookWhile playing in a tournament recently, I observed a number of mistakes that will cost a player a penalty stroke or two but that can easily be understood and avoided.

MOST COMMONLY BROKEN GOLF RULES, 1: Identifying your ball

The most common error occurs when you come up to a ball in the general area where your ball should be. You find a ball but you cannot see your identification mark on it because of the way it is oriented on the ground or because it is in the rough

Commonly the player reaches down, picks up the ball and says, “Yes, it’s mine.” ADD ONE PENALTY STROKE to your score for the hole every time you do this.

To avoid this penalty simply say to your fellow-competitor, “I need to lift this ball for identification. Do you want to watch?” The other player then has the opportunity to watch your action or to just let you proceed without anyone watching. Rule 7-3 tells us to mark the position of the ball before lifting it. A tee is good for this. Lift the ball without cleaning it and if it is your ball replace it on the spot including to the same depth in the rough as it was before you lifted it. Then remove the tee and play on.

MOST COMMONLY BROKEN GOLF RULES, 2: Accidentally moving your ball

A player accidentally drops her club on the ball and the ball moves. Sometimes we run over it with a cart or accidentally hit it when making a practice swing. In each situation, ADD ONE PENALTY STROKE TO YOUR SCORE for that hole.

In all cases the ball must be replaced. When you know the spot from which it was moved, you get the ball back in play by placing it on the spot. If you run over it you most likely do not know the blades of grass where it had lain so you estimate the spot and drop the ball. IF YOU PLAY THE BALL from the place when it came to rest after accidentally moving it, your penalty increases from one to two penalty strokes. Rule 9 is the reference here.


We are used to casual golf where we chat with our friends about club selection, the way they are swinging today versus what they usually do or we consult in reading putts. But when you are in a tournament, these are topics you cannot discuss with a fellow-competitor without incurring a penalty. In stroke play both players who had the conversation receive the penalty and it means ADDING TWO PENALTY STROKES TO YOUR SCORE for the hole.

WOW! That means we need to know what information we are allowed to share. Certainly information on the rules can be shared. Preventing another player from breaching a rule and receiving a penalty is always a good thing. Any information that would be found in a yardage book may be shared. If you have an approved distance measuring device, you can share yardages with a fellow player.

Read Rule 10.2 Advice and Other Help to reinforce your understanding. Practice these simple rules as you play your casual rounds. It will help you to prepare for your next tournament.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gail Rogers is a USGA rules official. Look for her in the first two rounds of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open at Cordevalle.

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