Golf's Rule 1: The Game and Player Conduct

Golfer teeing up a ball to begin his round
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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 1 is titled "The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules."

The purpose of the rule, as explained in the rule book, is this:

Rule 1 introduces these central principles of the game for the player:
Play the course as you find it and play the ball as it lies.
Play by the Rules and in the spirit of the game.
You are responsible for applying your own penalties if you breach a Rule, so that you cannot gain any potential advantage over your opponent in match play or other players in stroke play.

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.

To that end, these are links directly to the text of Rule 1 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 1: The Game and Its Standards

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 1 as follows:

  • Play the course as you find it; play the ball as it lies.
  • You must always play by the Rules. You are not allowed to change or ignore them. And play by the spirit of the game — always be honest.

There are three sections contained within Rule 1: Rule 1-1 is titled "The Game of Golf"; Rule 1-2 is "Standards of Player Conduct" and Rule 1-3 is "Playing by the Rules."

Rule 1-1 just states the briefest definition of "golf" that you can find:

"Golf is played in a round of 18 (or fewer) holes on a course by striking a ball with a club.
"Each hole starts with a stroke from the teeing area and ends when the ball is holed on the putting green (or when the Rules otherwise say the hole is completed)."

Rule 1-2 states that certain conduct is expected of all golfers, defined as playing "within the spirit of the game": During your round of golf you are expected to act with integrity (e.g., follow the rules, apply penalties, be honest); show consideration to others on the course (e.g., play promptly, act safely); and take good care of the golf course as you traverse it (e.g., fill divots, repair pitch marks, rake bunkers).

And, in Rule 1-3, the governing bodies remind us that playing by the rules is, itself, a rule, and that golfers are expected to know when they have breached a rule and to apply the proper penalty. Penalties — which range from one stroke to two strokes (or loss of hole in match play) to disqualification in the worst-case scenarios — happen when a rules breach is the result of a golfer's own actions, the actions of the golfer's caddie, or another person acting with the golfer's authority and knowledge.

Be sure to read the full Rule 1, interpretations of Rule 1, and definitions of important terms either on or