I had the good fortune of knowing P. J. Boatwright when he was Executive Director of the USGA. He knew the rules so well that they named their rules database P.J. Junior. One thing that he said has always stuck with me because it is so true:
“The average golfer is more likely to have a hole-in-one than read the rule book.”
Since “forgotten” means that you had to know it to start with, whether these rules are forgotten or ignored is debatable. But here are the 10 most forgotten rules in golf:
1) What Ball Are You Playing
How many times has your buddy hit the ball in the rough or trees, and you find a ball and ask him what he’s playing? His answer is invariably, “I think it was a Top-Flite, or a Titleist or a Tour-something. It definitely began with a T.” Well that doesn’t float. That’s why professionals always put a unique type of mark on their ball. If you cannot absolutely identify it as yours it is considered lost and you go back and hit another one.
2) Check Your Bag
If you have more than 14 clubs in it you are violating a rule. You might just be trying out a couple of putters and don’t mean to violate the rule, but you better clear that with your buddies in case there is a side wager going on.
3) Teeing Your Ball Up
There is an imaginary line that extends across the front of the tee markers and forms a box two club lengths deep. You have to tee your ball up in that box or you are violating another rule. Going back a few feet is not going to matter and you might find a better place to tee it up since everyone wants to get as close to the hole as possible on the tee for some reason.
4) Out-of-Bounds Option
If you hit your ball out of bounds, you must hit another one from the same spot as the original shot, or as near to it as possible. If on the tee, you can retee your ball. There are no other options. Out-of-Bounds markers are generally white posts or stakes and you can’t move them if they interfere with your swing.
If you aren’t sure originally, your ball is OB, then you can hit a provisional which I will cover later.
5) Lose Your Ball
If you lose your ball you can refer to the Out-of-Bounds rule. The penalty and options are the same. If you hit one so far off line that Lassie couldn’t find it if it was wrapped in bacon (as David Feherty says), then it is probably a good idea to hit a provisional ball.
6) Regular Water Hazards
This and the next rule are probably the most forgotten and misunderstood of all. A regular water hazard is defined by yellow lines and/or stakes. If your ball goes in one, it costs a stroke to take it out at the point it last crossed the margin and go back on that line as far as you want to, or you can go back and play from the original spot which is always an option under any rule. If your ball clears the hazard and rolls back in, you cannot go to the other side to play it because you can’t keep that point between you and the hole.
7) Lateral Water Hazard
A lateral hazard is exactly what it says – it is beside, not in front of you. There are a number of options for relief and you can check them all out here. The thing that is forgotten by most people is the term “last crossed the margin.”
The 15th hole at my club is a dogleg left around a very large pond. People invariably hit the ball in the pond and then go up to where it splashed and drop when, in fact, the balled crossed the margin 75 to 100 yards back closer to the tee.
8) Accept The Hand You Are Dealt
Also known as playing the ball as it lies. Golf is fundamentally a game where you hit the ball, find it, and hit it again. If you or your club causes the ball to move from its original position, you then incur a one stroke penalty.
It’s worth noting that the terms “fairway” and “rough” are not mentioned in the rule book.
9) Clearing a Path
Is there a twig or branch in your way? At one time or another, all of us get in a position in where removing one small limb or sprig of a bush would give us a clear shot at the green. Guess what? You cannot break it, bend it, or stand on it. You cannot even break it by accident with a practice swing. Nice try, though.
10) Need a Little Advise
And finally, if you are not a partner or a caddie, it’s illegal to ask for or receive advice on the golf course. You can ask for public knowledge such as hazard locations and distance, but you can’t ask what someone hit. The one good side to this rule is when you have a Butch Harmon wannabe in the group, you can tell him that he’s violating the rules by offering swing advice.
Since it’s unlikely that most people are going to sit down and read the rules, at least read the sections on etiquette and definitions. If you know the definitions, it will make understanding the rules much more simple and it’s good to have a working understanding of the rules anyways since a lot of people are like me and believe that when there is money on the line, we play by the rules.