Advice and the Golf Rules: What Is, and Isn't, Allowed

Partners can advise one another, but opponents and fellow-competitors must be careful about advice, because some is allowed and some isn't under the Rules of Golf.
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We all know what "advice" means in a general sense: Golfers offering one another information during a round. The reason golf requires a more specific definition of "advice" is that certain types of it are allowed, and other types not allowed, under the rules.

Rule 10 covers the topic of advice in golf. But the Definitions section of the rulebook is the place to start.

The Official, Rule Book Definition of 'Advice'

The USGA and R&A are the governing bodies of golf, and in the Rules of Golf they define "advice," in a golf rules context, this way (quoted directly from the full rules of golf edition):

"Any verbal comment or action (such as showing what club was just used to make a stroke) that is intended to influence a player in:

  • Choosing a club,
  • Making a stroke, or
  • Deciding how to play during a hole or round.

"But advice does not include public information, such as:

  • The location of things on the course such as the hole, the putting green, the fairway, penalty areas, bunkers, or another player’s ball,
  • The distance from one point to another, or
  • The Rules."

Rule 10-2, titled "Advice and Other Help," specifically deals with when offering or receiving advice is permitted during a round of golf played under the rules, and what the penalties are when the rules about advice are not followed. Golfers with questions about advice should thoroughly read Rule 10-2, and also the Interpretations of Rule 10-2, which include further information.

Examples of Advice That Is Permitted

When it comes to advice and the Rules of Golf, a good rule of thumb is this: Do not offer or seek advice during a round of golf played under the Official Rules unless you are sure what you are doing is allowed.

Which brings up the question: What's allowed? What kind of advice is it OK for golfers to exchange during a round?

First, note that a golfer is always allowed to seek advice from his caddie, his partner and his partner's caddie. ("Partner," in this use, does not mean another golfer you happen to be playing with; it refers to a competition partner, as in your partner in a fourball or foursomes.) Also, you are always allowed to offer advice to a partner.

  • "Matters of public information" means that, for example, asking about the position of bunkers, or whether there's an unseen penalty area ahead, or what the line of play is on a blind shot, are OK.
  • It is OK to offer or seek advice about positions of hazards, or where the flagstick is positioned on the green.
  • It is OK to offer or seek advice about the Rules of Golf.
  • It is OK to indicate the line of play so long as no person or thing is placed in a position to do so during the stroke.
  • For a golf ball on the putting green, a partner or caddie can indicate the line of putt, so long as no person or object is placed to do so during the stroke, and so long as the caddie is not standing directly behind the golfer when the golfer takes her stance.
  • You can ask anyone about the distance between two objects, such as between your ball and the hole, or from the teeing area to a penalty area. This falls under the "public information" clause in the definition above.
  • It is OK for golfers to exchange info about clubs used on previous holes, or on previous strokes. You can also seek advice on club selection from a golfer who has already finished his round.
  • It is OK to look into another golfer's bag to see what club they used before playing your stroke so long as that golfer's clubs are openly visible.

Examples of Advice That Is Not Allowed

  • Giving advice about the swing, stance or anything else that can be considered "golf tips" or golf instruction to an opponent or fellow-competitor is a violation.
  • Likewise, asking another golfer to advise you about your swing or offer other golf instruction topics during a round is not allowed.
  • You cannot ask a golfer what club she used before you've played your stroke.
  • While you can ask about yardages, you cannot ask for advice on which club to use for that shot. OK: "How far is it from my ball to the back of the green?" Not OK: "Do you think I should use a 9-iron or pitching wedge for this shot?"
  • You cannot intentionally mislead an opponent or fellow-competitor about what club you just used, e.g., saying, in a manner meant to be overheard, "That was a 5-iron" when you actually played a different club.
  • You cannot check a golfer's bag seeking information about club selection if a physical act — say, moving a towel out of the way — is required to see the other golfer's clubs.

Penalties for Breaching the Rules on Advice

In match play, a breach of Rule 10-2 results in loss of hole; in stroke play, a penalty of two strokes.