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Why the Rules Matter January 28, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By Kathryn Belanger, USGA

Adhering to the Rules of Golf connects us to golfers all over the world, and adds a sense of pride to our accomplishments on the course. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Rules of Golf     Changes for 2016

You do not have to be around it long to realize golf is a unique game. It is played by people of all ages and backgrounds in a variety of settings. The Rules of Golf are also unique. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Rules is that they are written assuming all players are honest and will play by the Rules. While it can be tempting to overlook the Rules due to their complex nature, all golfers stand to benefit by familiarizing themselves with the Rules.

By knowing and adhering to the Rules, you receive an accurate picture of your skills and abilities. You can compare your personal best against friends and family or even see how you stack up against the top professionals in the world. However, in order to accurately compare your ability to others, you need to become acquainted with the Rules.

When you finally break through your scoring barrier (e.g., breaking 100, 90 or 80 for the first time), you can take pride in knowing you did so in the same way as those with whom you are comparing your results. The accomplishment can begin to lose its luster when the number of unaccounted-for Rules infractions rises.

The Rules also connect players across the world. Together, the USGA and The R&A write and administer a single set of Rules to apply worldwide to all golfers. When you have to proceed under penalty of stroke and distance when your ball is not found within five minutes of searching for it, you can take solace in knowing a player in China faced with the same situation will proceed in an identical manner.

Another benefit to knowing the Rules is the added comfort you have in knowing your rights or options on the course. A lot of us have probably found ourselves asking: Is it one club length or two club lengths? Is it a one-stroke or two-stroke penalty? What options are there for a red water hazard? The better you understand the Rules, the more of these questions you will be able to answer. You can be confident in knowing all the options a lateral water hazard offers or that in taking relief from an immovable obstruction the ball must be dropped within one club length of its nearest point of relief. When you know all of your options, you will be better equipped to select the specific option that will be the most beneficial in an each situation.  

There are not many games that depend upon the honesty and integrity of the player. In golf, it is normal for a player in breach of a Rule to notify his opponent or fellow competitor of the penalty. This type of behavior is expected on the course, whereas it may be the exception in other sports. Players who know the Rules want to play by them and enforce them, even when it means they have to add a penalty stroke to their score. The values that the Rules instill will benefit players well beyond the golf course.

Once players familiarize themselves with the Rules, they will quickly realize how important the Rules are to golf and begin to reap the many benefits the Rules offer. If you want to get started on learning more about the Rules, you can view our many resources on the Rules here.

Kathryn Belanger is the assistant manager, Rules communications, for the USGA. Email her at

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