IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ROLEX
Rules Throwback: The Game's First Documented Rules July 5, 2017 By Jamie Wallace, USGA

The original Rules were written for one golf competition, but they became the basis for how the game is played today. 

While golf has been played for more than 600 years, the earliest known written rules for the game date back to 1744. This document, titled “Articles & Laws in Playing at Golf” but often known as the Thirteen Articles, still exists today in the National Library of Scotland’s archives. It was drafted by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in anticipation of a tournament on the Leith Links. These 13 rules were intended only for a single day of competition in 1744, but they describe a game that in virtually every respect is similar to the one played around the world today. The principles of “play the ball as it lies” and “play the course as you find it” are not directly stated, but are indirectly found throughout. In the following years, many clubs copied verbatim or borrowed liberally from the Thirteen Articles, while at the same time inserting modifications to reflect the rules situations and conditions that were prevalent on their own golf courses. This document directly influenced all future sets of rules for the game of golf.

See below for a direct translation of the original 1744 “Articles & Laws in Playing at Golf.”

Article & Laws in Playing at Golf.

1. You must Tee your Ball within a Club's length of the Hole.

2. Your Tee must be upon the Ground.

3. You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee.

4. You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, Except upon the fair Green and that only within a Club's length of your Ball.

5. If your Ball comes among watter, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.

6. If your Balls be found any where touching one another, You are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.

7. At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not to play upon your Adversary's Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.

8. If you should lose your Ball, by it's being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball, And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.

9. No man at Holling his Ball, is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club, or anything else.

10. If a Ball be stopp'd by any Person, Horse, Dog or anything else, The Ball so stop'd must be play'd where it lyes.

11. If you draw your Club in Order to Strike, & proceed so far in the Stroke as to be e Accounted a Stroke.

12. He whose Ball lyes farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.

13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar's Holes, or the Soldier's Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out teed and play'd with any Iron Club.

John Rattray, Capt

Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules education and digital content for the USGA. Email him at jwallace@usga.org.