Rules of Golf

Integrity is one of the main reasons we play this game...


Yes, the Rules of Golf may be a dry read; but they are an important part of playing the game.

Each player is responsible for knowing the Rules.  In fact, that is one of the Rules (specifically Rule 6-1).  

GTA AM Tour Players are strongly encouraged to take the Level 1 Rules of Golf offered by Golf Canada. 


In the late 19th century, each country had its own set of Rules established by their own governing body of Rules.  In Great Britain and all countries in the British Empire the playing of the game of golf came under the jurisdiction of the R&A, with an exception in Canada as the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now called Golf Canada) governed play of the game.  In the United States and Mexico, the USGA governed play of the game.  While the R&A was established over 250 years ago, both the RCGA and USGA were each formed in 1895.  These 3 are referred to as the ‘governing bodies of golf’.  The professional golf associations and Tours throughout the world work with these governing bodies of golf.  Everyone around the world plays using the same rules of golf.

In the early 20th century, players had to understand the differences in Rules when playing in other countries with the availability of different sizes of golf balls, different restrictions on number and design of clubs, different procedures, penalties, etc.

Recognizing that different rules being used throughout the world was making play complicated, in 1952, representatives from the R&A, RCGA and USGA (the governing bodies) met to discuss Rules issues.:

  • Decided to meet every 4 years thereafter and started to publish ‘similar’ Rule books;
  • In 1984, there was a major re-write of the order and content of the rules and reduction from 41 rules to the present 34 rules;
  • In 1996, almost the same Rules throughout the world with some exceptions in the suggested local rules;
  • In 2000, all Rule books published throughout the world were almost identical;
  • In 2012, all Rule books published throughout the world WERE identical including the cover; and
  • The 2016 publication followed the same pattern, and was designed, published and presented jointly by golf’s governing bodies.  It is reproduced in 36 official languages and distributed to millions of golfers around the world.  Golf Canada has the exclusive right to govern, publish and distribute the Rules of Golf throughout Canada.  As the National Sport Federation, Golf Canada produces a French edition of the Rules of Golf.
  • Effective in 2019, following another major re-write, a new rule book will be issued.  Instead of the present 34 rules, there will be 24 rules.  Much of the information, procedure, methods, etc., in existing rules will be carried forward, but there will be some consolidation and re-writing of many aspects. 


         Play the course as you find it

Play the Ball as it lies

And, if you cannot do either

Do what is fair.

But to do what is fair, you need to know the Rules of Golf.


Most games are played with officials required to monitor and enforce the rules. 

Golf is a game of honour and integrity:

  • The players monitor their own play and call penalties on themselves;
  • Rules are written presuming players will play by them; and,
  • Rules assume the players are not trying to get “away with something” by not following them.  In other games, players try to break the rules without anyone seeing the infraction.

Most games are team games with both sides on the same playing field at the same time:

  • Those team sports have well-defined playing fields with the same dimensions – such as standard-size football fields, basketball courts, tennis courts and even hockey rinks (depending upon the tournament of NHL versus International games);
  • There are the same number of players on each side (except in penalty situations in certain sports); and the
  • Conditions pretty much duplicated from game to game and those same conditions apply for both sides.
  • The method of play or format is the same for both sides in each game.  Whereas golf has different forms of Match and Stroke Play, and formats of Stableford, Alternate Shot, etc.

On the other hand, golf is often an individual game but with many other players in the same event with a longer duration and on a much larger and extremely varied playing area.  The playing field for golf is a wide expanse of several hundred acres of land and with only a few constants:

  • Dimensions of the hole (at 4 ¼ inches) with a flagstick are always the same;
  • Same number of golf holes (i.e., 18)

The Rules for the game of golf reflect these unique features.

Golf has a simple objective to hit the ball from the teeing area down the fairway, onto the putting green and finally, get the ball into the hole.  But, there is more than what first meets the eye. What if I don’t go down the middle of the fairway? What if I can’t find my ball? What if I find my ball, but I can’t play it?  


In March 2017, Golf Canada, in conjunction with the R&A and the USGA, unveiled a preview of the proposed new Rules of Golf that would be introduced in 2019.  This joint initiative was designed to modernize the Rules and make them easier to understand and apply by players who use the rules. 

This massive undertaking will see the reduction in the number of rules to 24 from the present 34.  While there are changes in many parts and much simplification of procedures on dropping, etc., there is much consolidation of existing aspects of the present rules into one location within the new book rather than forcing players to search in multiple locations. 

The ‘new’ 2019 Rule book will be produced in two forms – one for the players to carry which will include pictures/diagrams and another one for officials and administrators.  


For 2018, the existing 2016 Rule book is applicable to the GTA AM Tour and as supplemented by the Tour’s 2018 Conditions of Competition and Standard Local Rules (referred to as the “hard card”). 

In addition, there are specific Notices prepared and distributed for each day of tournament play to clarify certain applicable rules for the course being played. 

Every Tour player should have in their golf bag a copy of the 2016 Golf Canada Rule book along with the 2018 edition of the GTA hard card. 

There are different options available to tournament administrators, and the hard card sets out the options selected by and applicable to play on the GTA AM Tour.  The 2018 hard card is available at your first tournament of the year and can also be found online

Then for each tournament, please also carry with you a copy of the Notice to Players for that day (the hole locations are found on the reverse side).

With all the different situations, that’s why it becomes important to understand the rules in general, to be aware of the Standard Local Rules and have available the daily Notice to Players– you don’t have to memorize any of these, rather carry the Rule book in your golf bag and be aware of the content of the hard card in case you need to refer to it. 

Rules officials aren’t always at the spot where and when you most need their expertise; so, you should know your options and how to use the rules properly.  


Golf Canada offers several programs to learn the Rules of Golf. The Education Program is designed for all golfers wishing to improve their level of knowledge of the Rules of Golf including recreational and competitive golfers. 

The Golf Canada program is offered in levels with Level 1 introducing the basic concepts and language of the rules of golf. Included in Level 1 are videos, animations, and exercises to introduce the principals of the rules and how to use the rules book. Level 1 is free and a great introduction for golfers who have no previous experience with the rules. 

In addition to Golf Canada material, The USGA and the R&A have extensive online rules education material available. For each of these, you create a free online account and take the time to move through the rules at your own speed. For instance, the USGA has a series of twelve short videos about a variety of rules situations players commonly encounter. 

If you want to progress through, rule by rule, consider the USGA Rules of Golf Experience which is a way to interact with the rules of golf.