The Rules of Golf: A Gentleman's Game

FORE! Are you ready to learn about one of the oldest and most sophisticated sports in the world? 

Golf dates back to the 15th century in Scotland. Stories are told of how golf was initially played by Scottish shepherds who used their crooks to hit stones into rabbit holes. Golf has since evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of enthusiasts worldwide. 

If you're new to the game, don't worry - we've got you covered with an overview of the rules and everything you need to know to get started.


The Basics of Golf

The objective of golf is to hit a ball into a series of holes using as few strokes as possible. Each hole has a designated par, which is the number of strokes a skilled golfer is expected to complete the hole in. For example, a par-3 hole means that a golfer should be able to complete the hole in three strokes or fewer.

Golfers typically play 18 holes in a round, and the total number of strokes taken to complete all 18 holes is the golfer's score. The golfer with the lowest score at the end of the round wins.

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What You Need to Play Golf

To play golf, you'll need some clubs, which typically include a driver, a putter, and a variety of irons and woods. Golf balls, tees, and a golf bag to carry your clubs are also essential. Beginners often start with a reduced set to begin with, which might only include a wood, a 5,7,9 iron, and a putter.

To play golf, you'll need some clubs, which typically include a driver, a putter, and a variety of irons and woods.

Where to Play Golf

Golf courses come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally consist of 18 holes spread out over a large area. Some courses are public and open to anyone, while others are private and require a membership or invitation to play. Some local courses are smaller, and only have 9 holes, but you can then play the course twice to get your score for 18 holes.

The Rules of Golf

Golf has a reputation for being a sport with complicated rules, but the basics are actually quite simple. The most important rule is that each golfer must play the ball as it lies, meaning that the ball must be hit from wherever it comes to rest. Other rules include keeping pace with the group ahead, not touching the ball with your hands, and counting all strokes taken, even those that miss the ball.

Understanding the Rules of Golf

While the rules might seem complicated at first, once you understand them, it's a lot easier to enjoy the game. Here are some important rules to keep in mind:

  • Play the Ball as It Lies: The most important rule in golf is to play the ball as it lies. This means that you must hit the ball from wherever it comes to rest, whether it's on the fairway, in the rough, or in a bunker. You cannot pick up the ball and move it to a more favourable position, except in specific circumstances such as taking a penalty drop, or if there are local exceptions because of obstacles on the course e.g. it could be a sprinkler cover, or similar, where you get a free drop from.
  • Out of Bounds and Lost Balls: If your ball goes out of bounds or is lost, you must take a penalty stroke and replay the shot from where you originally hit it. Out-of-bounds is marked by white stakes or a fence, and lost balls are usually the result of hitting your ball into thick grass and bushes, or water hazards.
  • Count All Strokes: You must count every stroke you take, even if you swing and miss the ball completely. Each time you hit the ball (or attempt to hit it) is considered a stroke, and your score is the total number of strokes taken to complete each hole and then the total for the round.
  • Keep Pace of Play: Golf can be a slow game, especially if you're playing with a large group or on a crowded course. To keep the game moving, it's important to keep pace with the group ahead of you. If you're falling behind, let faster groups play through to avoid holding up the course.
  • Etiquette: Golf has a strong tradition of etiquette, which includes respecting your fellow golfers and the course itself. This means repairing divots and ball marks, raking bunkers, and avoiding talking or moving when another golfer is taking their shot. It's also important to be aware of your surroundings, especially on busy courses where other golfers may be hitting their shots nearby.
  • Penalties: There are several types of penalties in golf, including stroke penalties for breaking the rules and penalty drops for taking relief from hazards or unplayable lies. It's important to understand the different types of penalties and when they apply to avoid adding unnecessary strokes to your score.
When playing out of a bunker, you must play the ball where it lies, and you can't touch the sand with your club before you take the shot

Different scoring terms in Golf

When explaining golf scoring terms, it’s best to start with par, as all the other golf scores are defined in relation to par. "Par"  is the number of expected strokes an expert golfer would need to complete the play of one hole on a golf course. E.g. the length and difficulty of a hole is set as a par 4, and all golfers’ scores for that hole are based on that.

The most common scores in golf would then be: 

  • Hole in one or an Ace is when you get the ball in the hole in one shot. Extremely rare, and usually only seen on shorter, par 3 holes.
  • A double eagle (very rare) is 3-under par (also called an "albatross").
  • An eagle is 2-under par on a hole.
  • A birdie is a score of 1-under par on a hole (for example, scoring 4 on a par 5).
  • Par is a score matching the strokes set for the hole
  • A bogey is 1 over par on a hole.
  • A double bogey is 2 over par on a hole.
  • A triple bogey is 3 over par on a hole

Different Types of Gameplay in Golf

Golf is a sport that offers a variety of ways to play, from casual rounds with friends to high-stakes tournaments. Here are some of the most common types of gameplay in golf:

Stroke Play

Stroke play is the most common form of golf, where each player competes against the entire field to have the lowest score at the end of the round. The player with the lowest score at the end of the round wins the tournament. This is often the type of golf you will often see the professionals playing at major tournaments and on the PGA tour and European tour series’.

Match Play

Match play is a format where each hole is a separate contest. Players compete to win the most holes, and the player with the most holes won at the end of the round is the winner. The golfer with the lowest score on a given hole receives one point. If the golfers tie, then the hole is tied (or halved). In match play, players can concede a hole or a match to their opponent, which can speed up play and keep the match competitive. 

Texas Scramble

In Texas Scramble, typically a team of three or our golfers plays together as a team. Each golfer takes a shot, and the team chooses the best shot to play from. Each subsequent shot is taken from an agreed best shot until the ball is holed. This format allows players of different skill levels to play together and can lead to some exciting team play. As a team, you only return one score per hole and the lowest teams score overall wins.


In a Stableford format, golfers accumulate points based on their score on each hole. A player or team scores one Stableford point for a bogey, two for par, three for a birdie, four for an eagle and five for an albatross. Double-bogies and worse just get a zero. The objective is to accumulate the most points throughout the round. The higher the score, the fewer points awarded. The golfer with the most points at the end of the round wins the tournament. 


In a skins game, golfers compete on each hole to win a "skin". A skin is a prize awarded for having the lowest score on a hole, often an agreed amount of money. If two or more players tie, the skin carries over to the next hole. There are different versions of a skins game, but often they are completed after each hole or counted and calculated for the total round. 

Putting is often where you make or break your score.

International Governing Body

There are several international golfing associations globally, that run tournaments and competitions. However, it is generally accepted that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, commonly known as the R&A, is responsible for the rules of golf, including equipment standards. They also organise several high-profile tournaments, including The Open Championship, to help promote the game.

National Governing Bodies in the UK

In the UK, golf is governed by several national bodies, including the Scottish Golf Union, the English Golf Union, and the Golf Union of Wales. Each body is responsible for organizing tournaments and promoting the sport at a national level.

Is Golf for You?

Golf is a sport that rewards skill, patience, and perseverance. While it may seem intimidating at first, the rules are easy to understand, and the game can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. 

Whether you prefer the traditional stroke play format or a more casual game of Texas Scramble, there are plenty of ways to enjoy golf. By understanding the different types of gameplay, you can find the format that suits your playing style and level of skill. 

If you're looking for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon or a competitive outlet for your skills, golf is a sport that can provide both. So grab your clubs and hit the links - you may just find that you've discovered a lifelong passion!

Golf and SportMember

We hope this beginner's guide has helped you understand the basics of golf and inspired you to pick up some clubs and give it a try. Remember, the key to becoming a good golfer is practice, so grab some clubs and start playing!

The full overview and laws of the game can be found on the R&A website. There are thousands of golf clubs in the UK, and many of them are using a club management system, like Sportmember, to streamline their club admin and help save time running their club.

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Creating a club profile on SportMember will help you run and structure the club, and save you a lot of time on otherwise manual tasks. Try it out by clicking "Create profile" below.

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