Rule 4 - The Player's Equipment

Purpose of Rule: Rule 4 covers the equipment that players may use during a round. Based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the player’s judgment, skills and abilities, the player:

For detailed requirements for clubs, balls and other equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. and the process for consultation and submission of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. for conformity review, see the Equipment RulesEquipment Rules: The specifications and other regulations for clubs, balls and other equipment that players are allowed to use during a round. The Equipment Rules are found at usga.org. .

4.1 Clubs

a. Clubs Allowed in Making a Stroke

(1) Conforming Clubs. In making a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball., a player must use a club that conforms to the requirements in the Equipment RulesEquipment Rules: The specifications and other regulations for clubs, balls and other equipment that players are allowed to use during a round. The Equipment Rules are found at usga.org. :

“Performance characteristics” means any part of the club that affects how it performs in making a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball., such as its grip, shaft, clubhead or lie or loft (including lie or loft of an adjustable club).

(2) Use or Repair of Club Damaged During Round. If a conforming club is damaged during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. or while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a, the player normally must not replace it with another club. (For a limited exception when the player did not cause the damage, see Rule 4.1b(3)).

But no matter what the nature or cause of the damage, the damaged club is treated as conforming for the rest of the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. (but not during a play-off in stroke playStroke Play: A form of play where a player or side competes against all other players or sides in the competition., which is a new roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee.).

For the rest of the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee., the player may:

“Damaged during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. ” means when the club’s performance characteristics are changed because of any act during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. (including while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a), whether:

But a club is not “damaged during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. ” if its performance characteristics are deliberately changed by the player during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee., as covered by Rule 4.1a(3).

(3) Deliberately Changing Club’s Performance Characteristics During Round. A player must not make a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. with a club whose performance characteristics he or she deliberately changed during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. (including while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a):

Exception – Adjustable Club Restored to Original Position: If a club’s performance characteristics were changed by using an adjustable feature and, before the club is used to make a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball., the club is restored as nearly as possible to its original position by adjusting the feature back to where it was, there is no penalty and the club may be used to make a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball..

Penalty for Making StrokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. in Breach of Rule 4.1a: Disqualification.

b. Limit of 14 Clubs; Sharing, Adding or Replacing Clubs During Round

(1) Limit of 14 Clubs. A player must not:

If the player starts a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. with fewer than 14 clubs, he or she may add clubs during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. up to the 14-club limit (see Rule 4.1b(4) for restrictions in doing this).

When the player becomes aware that he or she is in breach of this Rule by having more than 14 clubs, the player must immediately take the excess club or clubs out of play, using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1):

After a player’s roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. has started, if the player picks up another player’s club that was left behind, or a club is mistakenly put in the player’s bag without his or her knowledge, the club is not treated as one of the player’s clubs for purposes of the 14-club limit (but it must not be used).

(2) No Sharing of Clubs. A player is limited to those clubs he or she started with or added as allowed in (1):

See Rules 22.5 and 23.7 (limited exception in partnerPartner: A player who competes together with another player as a side, in either match play or stroke play. forms of play allowing partnersPartner: A player who competes together with another player as a side, in either match play or stroke play. to share clubs if they have no more than 14 clubs between them).

(3) No Replacing Lost or Damaged Clubs. If a player started with 14 clubs or added clubs up to the limit of 14 and then loses or damages a club during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. or while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a, the player must not replace it with another club.

Exception - Replacing Damaged Club When Player Did Not Cause Damage: If a player’s club is damaged during the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. (including while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a) (see Rule 4.1a(2)) by an outside influenceOutside Influence: Any of these people or things that can affect what happens to a player’s ball or equipment or to the course: or natural forcesNatural Forces: The effects of nature such as wind, water or when something happens for no apparent reason because of the effects of gravity. or by any person other than the player or his or her caddieCaddie: Someone who helps a player during a round, including in these ways::

  • The player may replace the damaged club with any club under Rule 4.1b(4).

  • But when the player does so, the player must immediately take the damaged club out of play, using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1).

(4) Restrictions When Adding or Replacing Clubs. When adding or replacing a club under (1) or (3), a player must not:

Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.1b: The penalty applies based on when the player becomes aware of the breach:

Penalty in Match Play – Match Score Revised by Deducting Hole, Maximum of Two Holes:

  • This is a match adjustment penalty – it is not the same as a loss of hole penalty.

  • At the end of the hole being played or just completed, the match score is revised by deducting one hole for each hole where a breach happened, with a maximum deduction of two holes in the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee..

  • For example, if a player who started with 15 clubs becomes aware of the breach while playing the 3rd hole and then wins that hole to go three up in the match, the maximum adjustment of two holes applies and the player would now be one up in the match.

Penalty in Stroke Play – Two Penalty Strokes, Maximum of Four Strokes: The player gets the general penaltyGeneral Penalty: Loss of hole in match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play. (two penalty strokes) for each hole where a breach happened, with a maximum of four penalty strokes in the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. (adding two penalty strokes at each of the first two holes where a breach happened).

c. Procedure for Taking Clubs Out of Play

(1) During Round. When a player becomes aware during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. that he or she is in breach of Rule 4.1b(1), (2) or (3) for having more than 14 clubs or for making a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. with another player’s club, the player must immediately take an action that clearly indicates each club that is being taken out of play.

This may be done either by:

The player must not make a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. for the rest of the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. with any club taken out of play.

If a club taken out of play is another player’s club, that other player may continue to use the club.

Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.1c(1): Disqualification.

(2) Before Round. If a player becomes aware shortly before starting a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. that he or she accidentally has more than 14 clubs, the player should try to leave the excess club or clubs behind.

But as an option without penalty:

If a player deliberately brings more than 14 clubs to his or her first teeing areaTeeing Area: The area the player must play from in starting the hole he or she is playing. and starts the roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. without leaving the excess clubs behind, this option is not allowed and Rule 4.1b(1) applies.

4.2 Balls

a. Balls Allowed in Play of Round

(1) Conforming Ball Must Be Played. In making each strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball., a player must use a ball that conforms to the requirements in the Equipment RulesEquipment Rules: The specifications and other regulations for clubs, balls and other equipment that players are allowed to use during a round. The Equipment Rules are found at usga.org. .

A player may get a conforming ball to play from anyone else, including another player on the courseCourse: The entire area of play within the edge of any boundaries set by the Committee:.

(2) Deliberately Altered Ball Must Not Be Played. A player must not make a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. at a ball whose performance characteristics have been deliberately altered, such as by scuffing or heating the ball or by applying any substance (other than in cleaning it).

Penalty for Making StrokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. in Breach of Rule 4.2a: Disqualification.

b. Ball Breaks into Pieces While Playing Hole

If a player’s ball breaks into pieces after a strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball., there is no penalty and the strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. does not count.

The player must play another ball from where that strokeStroke: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball. was made (see Rule 14.6).

Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong PlaceWrong Place: Any place on the course other than where the player is required or allowed to play his or her ball under the Rules. in Breach of Rule 4.2b: General PenaltyGeneral Penalty: Loss of hole in match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play. under Rule 14.7a.

c. Ball Becomes Cut or Cracked While Playing Hole

(1) Lifting Ball to See If Cut or Cracked. If a player reasonably believes that his or her ball has been cut or cracked while playing a hole:

If the player lifts the ball without having this reasonable belief (except on the putting greenPutting Green: The area on the hole the player is playing that: where the player may lift under Rule 13.1b), fails to markMark: To show the spot where a ball is at rest by either: the spot of the ball before lifting it or cleans it when not allowed, the player gets one penalty stroke.

If multiple Rule breaches with a one-stroke penalty result from a single act or related acts, see Rule 1.3c(4).

(2) When Another Ball May Be Substituted. The player may only substituteSubstitute: To change the ball the player is using to play a hole by having another ball become the ball in play. another ball if it can be clearly seen that the original ball is cut or cracked and this damage happened during the hole being played – but not if it is only scratched or scraped or its paint is only damaged or discoloured.

Nothing in this Rule prohibits a player from substitutingSubstitute: To change the ball the player is using to play a hole by having another ball become the ball in play. another ball under any other Rule or changing balls between two holes.

Penalty for Playing Incorrectly SubstitutedSubstitute: To change the ball the player is using to play a hole by having another ball become the ball in play. Ball or Playing Ball from a Wrong PlaceWrong Place: Any place on the course other than where the player is required or allowed to play his or her ball under the Rules. in Breach of Rule 4.2c: General PenaltyGeneral Penalty: Loss of hole in match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play. Under Rule 6.3b or 14.7a.

If multiple Rule breaches result from a single act or related acts, see Rule 1.3c(4).

4.3 Use of Equipment

Rule 4.3 applies to all types of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. that a player might use during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee., except that the requirement to play with conforming clubs and balls is covered by Rules 4.1 and 4.2, not by this Rule.

This Rule only concerns how equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. is used. It does not limit the equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. that a player may have with him or her during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee..

a. Allowed and Prohibited Uses of Equipment

A player may use equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. to help his or her play during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee., except that a player must not create a potential advantage by:

This Rule does not affect the application of any other Rule that limits actions a player is allowed to take with a club, ball or other equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. (such as setting down a club or other object to help the player in lining up, see Rule 10.2b(3)).

Common examples of uses of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. that are allowed and not allowed during a player’s roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. under this Rule are:

(1) Distance and Directional Information.

See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-5  (the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting the use of distance-measuring devices).

(2) Information on Wind and Other Weather Conditions.

(3) Information Gathered Before or During Round.

(4) Audio and Video.

See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-8  (the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting or restricting the use of audio and video devices during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee.).

(5) Gloves and Gripping Agents.

(6) Stretching Devices and Training or Swing Aids.

Further guidance on the use of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. described above and other types of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. (such as clothing and shoes) is found in the Equipment RulesEquipment Rules: The specifications and other regulations for clubs, balls and other equipment that players are allowed to use during a round. The Equipment Rules are found at usga.org. .

A player who is uncertain whether he or she may use a piece of equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. in a particular way should ask the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. for a ruling (see Rule 20.2b).

See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule G-6  (the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. may adopt a Local Rule prohibiting the use of motorized transportation during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee.).

b. Equipment Used for Medical Reasons

(1) Medical Exception. A player is not in breach of Rule 4.3 if he or she uses equipmentEquipment: Anything used, worn, held or carried by the player or the player’s caddie. to help with a medical condition, so long as:

(2) Tape or Similar Coverings. A player may use adhesive tape or a similar covering for any medical reason (such as to prevent an injury or help with an existing injury), but the tape or covering must not:

  • Be applied excessively, or

  • Help the player more than is necessary for the medical reason (for example, it must not immobilize a joint to help the player swing the club).

A player who is uncertain about where or how tape or similar coverings may be applied should ask the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. for a ruling.

Penalty for Breach of Rule 4.3: