Basic Golf Rules Simplified — Golf Instructor’s Tips

Basic Golf Rules Simplified and Explained by Our Golf Instructors Here at Tell Me More Golf

I’m the head golf instructor at Tell Me More Golf, and in this article, I will cover the basic golf rules every golfer should know.

The rules of golf are many, and they can sometimes be quite complicated. However, it’s crucial to know most of them, as you otherwise risk playing the game incorrectly, which can lead to many different kinds of consequences. 

Basic Rules of Golf Simplified

To help you beginners out there understand the most important golf rules, we’ve made a simplified list of the rules we believe you need to have a clear understanding of. 

Tee Off from Within the Designated Area

The teeing area is usually marked by tee markers or colored stakes, and you must tee off from within this area.

You must tee your ball between or behind the colored markers you choose.

It’s important to play the correct tee for your golf game, but you’re allowed to play any tee you want. When very simplified, beginners should play the front tees, and vice versa.

Play the Golf Ball as It Lies

You are not allowed to move or improve the position of the ball, except when taking a penalty or relief. If you accidentally move your golf ball when making a practice swing, you won’t receive a penalty.

Respect the Golf Course and Other Golfers

Repair divots, rake bunkers, and follow course etiquette.

Be quiet when other players are hitting and do not disturb their game.

Most importantly, yell “fore” if there’s any risk of somebody getting hit by a stray golf ball. 

Count Your Strokes

Each time you hit the ball, it counts as one stroke. The goal is to complete the course in as few strokes as possible. If you don’t count your number of strokes as a beginner, there’s a risk of you not trying enough. 


Avoid Penalties

There are several penalties in golf, such as hitting the ball out of bounds or into a hazard. You will receive a penalty stroke or may need to take a drop, depending on the situation. A penalty is also received when hitting into red or yellow-marked penalty areas. 

Maintain Pace of Play 

Golf is generally a leisurely game, but it’s important to keep up with the group in front of you. If you fall behind, allow faster players to play through. If you don’t maintain pace of play, other golfers are bound to get annoyed. 

Golf Rules for Beginners: What You Should Know

There are many golf rules you need to know, but as a beginner, some may have an extra effect on you. We think it’s crucial for beginners to know about the out of bounds, lost ball, and water hazard rules. 

Out of Bounds Simplified 

As a beginner, it’s very normal not to always hit golf shots where you intended. On many holes, this can result in hitting the ball out of bounds.

Your golf ball is out of bounds if it lies outside the white markers on the course.

If you do this, you receive a penalty stroke and need to replay the shot where you last hit it. 

Lost Ball Simplified 

For beginners, it’s also normal to hit the ball into the woods or rough. If this happens and you can’t find the ball, you receive a penalty and need to replay the shot where you last hit it. To avoid having to walk back to the tee box, we suggest playing a provisional ball if there’s any uncertainty at the beginning of the hole. 


Water Hazard Simplified 

Water hazards are, unfortunately, often placed where golfers have a risk of hitting them in. If you hit into a water hazard, you can either play the ball as it lies, or you can take a drop behind the hazard, with a one-stroke penalty. 

Golf Scoring Explained

Golf scoring is based on the number of strokes it takes a player to finish the course. The fewer strokes a player takes, the better their score.

Each hole has a par, which is the “ideal” number of strokes it should take to complete the hole. 

The par is calculated by taking the expected number of shots to get to the green plus two strokes for putting. If a golfer takes fewer strokes than the par, they make a “birdie” or “eagle,” while if they take more, they make a “bogey,” “double bogey,” “triple bogey,” etc. 

At the end of the round, the player’s total number of strokes is added up to determine their final score. The player with the lowest score wins. The golfer’s handicap also impacts the score, as the par becomes adjusted accordingly. 


Teeing Ground/Tee Box Rules

The tee box is the designated area where a golfer must hit their first shot on any given hole. The rules about the tee box are that the golfer must tee their ball up, or simply place it, within two club lengths behind the markers. 

You can tee up your golf ball anywhere in between the markers, both to the left and right, which can be helpful on some holes.

You’re never allowed to change the position of the markers, and it’s important not to hit your shot before the group in front is at a safe distance. 

Can You Take Practice Shots?

In golf, you can never take actual practice shots on the golf course. Instead, you can take practice swings and get a feel of the turf, as long as you’re not in the sand. Practice shots sure would come in handy sometimes, but you’re never allowed to. 


Rules on the Greens Simplified

The greens have the shortest and smoothest grass on the golf course, and here is where you typically use your putter. On the green, you’re allowed to remove any loose impediment that could impact your putt, such as leaves or sticks. 

You need to be careful on the green, and it’s crucial that you fix your ball marks. However, you’re allowed to use a wedge on it if you feel that it’s necessary, but we advise you not to. 

When playing with other golfers, the one who’s farthest away from the hole typically putts first. 

However, the official guidelines are that anyone who’s ready should hit their putt to maintain pace of play. This is called “Ready Golf”.

Types of Hazards Explained

There are many types of hazards in golf that you need to be aware of to play well, as these hazards can affect your score and can make the game significantly more challenging. Here are some of the most common golf hazards and what happens when you hit your golf ball into them:

Water Hazards

Water hazards are areas of water on the golf course, such as ponds or lakes. If you hit your ball into a water hazard, you must take a penalty stroke and drop the ball within two club lengths of the point where it last crossed the hazard, or drop it anywhere behind the water. 

Penalty Areas

Penalty areas are a form of hazard. These are marked with red or yellow stakes, and they can often be dessert or another part of the golf course you can’t play from. The same rules apply with these as with water hazards


Bunkers and Sand Traps

Bunkers are holes filled with sand that are placed strategically around the golf course to make it more challenging. If a golfer’s ball lands in a bunker, they must hit the ball out of the sand. You can never ground your golf club in the bunker or take a practice swing that touches the sand, unless you want to receive a penalty.

Trees and Bushes 

Trees and bushes can be considered hazards if they obstruct a player’s shot or make it difficult to hit the ball. In this case, the player may have to take an unplayable lie, drop the ball behind the hazard, and receive a penalty stroke.

Severe Rough or Very Tall Grass 

Rough or tall grass can make it difficult to hit the ball well, and you may have to use more club and adjust your swing because of the different surface. If the grass is very tall and thick, and you can barely see the ball, the main objective should be getting the ball in play. An unplayable lie might also need to be taken. 


Out of Bounds Explained

Out of bounds (OB) is a designated area on a golf course where if your ball lands, it’s considered to be outside the bounds of play. This means that you can’t play the ball under any circumstances, resulting in a penalty stroke and forcing you to replay the shot you just hit. 

OB is marked by white stakes, and you can always see it on the hole-by-hole course guide. It’s crucial not to hit balls OB, as it significantly impacts your score.

Also, many times OB is simply somewhere you’re not supposed to hit, such as outside the bounds of the golf course, making it extra essential to yell fore if necessary.

Golf Penalty Rules 

Hitting the ball in certain places can result in a penalty. Following the rules is also crucial in golf, which is why many wrong actions can lead to severe penalties. Generally speaking, you either get a one-stroke penalty or a two-stroke penalty.

One-Stroke Penalties 

A one-stroke penalty is received if you hit your ball out of bounds, into some hazards, or a penalty area, such as water or areas marked with red stakes. It can also happen by taking an improper drop.

Two-Stroke Penalties 

Two-stroke penalties are less common, and are typically about breaking the rules. Examples of when a two-stroke penalty is imposed are playing the wrong ball and hitting somebody else’s ball on the putting green.  



In this article, we’ve covered many of the most important golf rules we believe all golfers should know. Hopefully, you now know much more about the rules of golf, whether it’s about playing golf correctly or knowing how many penalty strokes a water hazard means.


Patrick Corley Tell Me More Golf Instructor and Coach
Patrick Corley
From a golf scholarship to a Southern California University, to a private golf coaching career and an instructor position at a nonprofit organization, I’m here to help you get better at golf! With my 50+ years of golf experience; I bring you Tell Me More Golf. A golf coaching website that helps your game with instructional golfing content that’s ultimately geared toward making you a better golfer and having more fun!
Our golf instructor team brings it all to you, so enjoy!

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