Golf's Rule 6: Playing a Hole

Golfer silhouetted in in Ranzow, Germany
Rolf Kosecki/Getty Images

In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 6 is titled "Playing a Hole."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

Rule 6 covers how to play a hole — such as the specific Rules for teeing off to start a hole, the requirement to use the same ball for an entire hole except when substitution is allowed, the order of play (which matters more in match play than stroke play) and completing a hole.

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 6 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 6: Playing a Hole

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 6 as follows:

  • Begin by playing a ball from the teeing area and play until you have holed out on the putting green, unless other play formats allow you to cease play earlier.
  • Tee your ball between the tee markers or a little way behind them.
  • You may not change balls during the play of a hole unless a Rule allows it. However, if you damage your ball or it goes out of shape, you may change it.
  • Make sure you can identify your own ball (put a mark on the ball in case someone else is using an identical ball).
  • If you play a ball that is not yours, you lose the hole in match play or incur a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.

There are five sections within Rule 6. Those sections are Rule 6-1, titled "Starting Play of a Hole"; Rule 6-2, "Playing Ball from Teeing Area"; Rule 6-3 goes over "Ball Used in Play of Hole"; Rule 6-4 discusses "Order of Play When Playing Hole"; and Rule 6-5 is titled "Completing Play of a Hole."

You must start the hole by playing from inside the teeing area, according to Rule 6-1. Rule 6-2 includes a diagram that illustrates what the teeing area is and when one's ball is — or isn't — inside it.

Rule 6-3's purpose, quoting from the Player's Edition:

A hole is played as a progression of strokes made from the teeing area to the putting green and into the hole. After teeing off, you are normally required to play the same ball until the hole is completed. You get a penalty for making a stroke at a wrong ball or a substituted ball when substitution is not allowed by the Rules.

Order of play from the teeing area is based on which golfer has the honor, states Rule 6-4. In match play, order of play on all strokes is enforced and a golfer who plays out of order may have his stroke cancelled by an opponent. In stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn and golfers are allowed, even encouraged, to play "ready golf."

Be sure to read the full Rule 6, interpretations of Rule 6, and definitions of important terms either on or