Are you “Golfing” if you relax the rules?

A recent segment on The Golf Channel’s Morning Drive  broached the subject of playing golf with a relaxed set of rules, and it’s fostering a spirited debate.  The question:  Are you playing golf if you aren’t abiding by The Rules of Golf?  RulesGolf is a unique sport because we referee ourselves, but I believe you can play golf by a different set of rules depending on the venue and type of competition.   The most important rule is that everyone in your group or the competition play by the same set, even if you are in technical violation of USGA or R&A standards.

The most common rule players break is rule 1-1 that states you must hole your ball with a stroke.  Essentially when we take putts, we are in violation.  Weekend golfers take putts.  The second rule most folks break is the various permutations for lost balls.  Most just drop  as close to where they lost it and count one penalty stroke.  I believe, if agreed upon, this is permissible, because it speeds the game up.  If you post a handicap round that included a lost ball that was played in this fashion, you are posting for a lower score than you actually shot, which is the opposite of sandbagging, and again, I have no problem.

Where it gets dicey is for folks who don’t play the ball down.  I play it down and many of my weekend partners do not.  You gain a huge advantage of improving your lies in the rough, as well as in the fairway.  If there’s no money on the line, I’m fine this transgression, but it’s where I draw the line for personal integrity.   The other relaxed rules about picking up after double par and limiting searches for two minutes make sense as well.

I have played in sanctioned Mid-Atlantic PGA events, Pro-Am competitions, club championships, member-guests, outings for charity, weekend money matches, and just for fun.  Each of these games was played by a different set of rules (some with a local rules sheets, others without).  Each time I believe I can state I was “playing golf” even though I may have been in technical violation of some USGA rules.  Generally, the  more serious the game, the more closer you’ll usually have to conform to the official Rules of Golf.

Do you believe in relaxing the rules?  If so, which ones to do you bend or break most often?



10 thoughts on “Are you “Golfing” if you relax the rules?”

  1. Brian

    Not playing by the rules all the time is definitely OK in my books. It is important to know the rules and when to apply them. But for the average golfer who is only out to enjoy themselves….it does not matter. During a tournament, you play by the sanctioned rules, violate those and there is an issue. I know I will continue to take putts, move my ball from into a better lie (sometimes, especially in the spring and fall), drop a ball out because I lost mine and play on…etc, etc.

    Golf is meant to be fun. Sometimes, that means bending the rules a little. Great question by the way!


    1. Jim, your affirmation is refreshing. Yes, at the end of the day it’s about having fun. What’s interesting is the amount of push back from the purists on this. I consider myself a bit of a purist but I follow the “agreed upon” rules during play. Interesting debate though. Thanks! Brian

  2. I do get annoyed when people do not abide by the rules. Recently a guy put his putter along side his ball, then proceeded to pick it up and clean it, and replace next to the putter head gain. He was just too lazy to mark it properly, but why? Just one of the many small rules that get ignored all the time.

    1. Pete, I think violating these small rules shows a general lack of knowledge about the game. I don’t really expect the casual player to understand how to correctly mark a ball, but what concerns me more is general breaches of etiquette. Not being ready to hit when it’s your turn, making noise and fidgeting when others are playing, etc. These should be taught first thing to anyone hitting the links. Thanks, Brian

  3. Brian,
    Great write-up. Generally I am OK with other people playing by whatever sort of rules they like as long as they don’t slow up play and as long as they’re consistent and not sandbagging in any way. When playing for money with my buddies, I like to play by the rules with the exception of gimmie putts, but we aren’t overly generous. Usually anything “in the leather” is automatic. If I end up losing my tee shot without hitting a provisional I would simply forfeit the hole and then mark my most likely score, or maximum score (double bogey) for handicap purposes. Sometimes if I’m playing with a higher handicapper that is struggling I’ll suggest they just take drops instead of hitting a provisional to make it easier on them, and I won’t make them forfeit the hole just to keep the competition rolling.

    I agree with the spirit behind the “relaxed rules”, to grow the game and keep people in the game. Playing by the rules for higher handicappers can be stressful and just turn them away from the game. But are they truly playing golf? That is questionable.


    P.S. How’s your “going low” mentality going?

  4. Hey Josh, for the high handicappers, learning the rules is important even if they aren’t playing strictly by the letter. What’s more important is abiding by the rules of good etiquette. That’s the first stop for anyone hitting the links who wants to participate with a group.

    The go low mentality is working well but I seem to be struggling late in my rounds. Case in point, last weekend I was even-par on the 16th tee and could feel myself starting to protect. Finished up double-bogey, bogey, par. What’s your friend’s take on the approach? Think aggressive, or just play the shots one at a time? The go low mentality by nature does not conform to the one shot a time theory because you are thinking score. I like go low but am struggling with this a bit. Thoughts?


  5. 1. Preferred lies (Lift Clean Place) may be taken in the fairway or lite-rough. If the ball comes to rest in an improperly manicured area, you may lift and place the ball in a properly manicured area, with-in two club lengths of its original location, and no closer to the hole. If the ball comes to rest in a bunker, with poor but playable conditions, you may lift rake and replace the ball, except in the case of a buried lie. If the bunker conditions are unplayable, resulting from poor maintenance or other circumstances, you may lift and place the ball with-in two club lengths outside the bunker, no closer to the hole. No penalty.

    2. If ball comes to rest in any of the following circumstances which inhibits play, it is considered an “unfortunate lie”: Divot, Rocks, Cart Paths, Tree, Roots, Fence, or any like situation. Relief may be taken by placing the ball with-in two club lengths of its original location, no closer to the hole. No penalty.

    3. A maximum of 3 stokes over par, per hole, may be taken. Example: (Par 3 = 6) (Par 4 = 7) (Par 5 = 8).

    4. Give-me putts may be taken with the consent of your playing companion(s). (Suggestion = 24”)

    5. You may ground your club in a hazard. No penalty.

    6. One Mulligan per nine, tee shot only. An unused Mulligan may not be carried over to the next nine.

    7. Out of bounds, or lost ball in any water hazard. Place ball in the fairway at the point it last exited the fairway and became lost, or went out of bounds. No closer to the hole. Penalty = One stroke.

    8. If the ball hits an object, such as a sprinkler, when landing in the fairway or around the green, resulting in a lost ball, or the ball bouncing into the rough/ hazard. The ball may be placed back in the vicinity of the object which caused the unfortunate result, no closer to the hole. No penalty.

    9. If the ball lands in the fairway, or lite-rough, and was reasonably expected to be found by the golfer, and inexplicably disappears. A ball may be placed in the approximate area, with no penalty.

    10. The flagstick does not need to removed/pulled unless requested by the player chipping or putting. If the ball hits the flagstick, and is not holed, there is no penalty. If the ball comes to rest against the flag stick, it is considered holed. Spike marks and other imperfections on the greens may be repaired with no penalty.

    NOTE: The “Relaxed Rules of Golf” are designed for the recreational golfer, and to speed up play.

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