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Golf, with its intricate rules, is both a challenge and a delight to play. Understanding these rules, especially the penalties, is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the game and ensuring fair play. 

Individual golf clubs will enforce penalties in different ways due to their course style or difficulty, so before starting a tournament or competition make sure you understand the rules of match play and penalties for certain actions.

Also, novice players may not be subject to certain penalties with the shot simply retaken.

This comprehensive guide covers the most common golf penalties, helping you avoid unnecessary strokes during your next round.

What is a Golf Penalty?

A golf penalty is imposed when a player violates the rules established by the USGA or the R&A. Penalties can also be voluntarily incurred if a player deems a ball unplayable and takes relief. The goal of these penalties is to uphold fair play and the spirit of competition. They can range from a stroke penalty for minor infractions to disqualification for serious breaches.

Golf is a self-regulating sport, meaning players are responsible for knowing and following the rules. Understanding these penalties will help you play fairly and enjoy the game.


Some rules have the potential to be disqualified from tournaments. These rules may be up to the discretion of the players or judges whether the breaking of the rules requires a disqualification or a stroke penalty. 

Wrong Score (Rule 3)

Incorrectly recording your score can lead to penalties. If you submit a scorecard with a lower score than what you actually achieved, the penalty is the higher of the actual penalty strokes taken or two strokes for each hole misreported. Omitting a hole score can result in disqualification, though exceptions exist for omitted penalty strokes.

Improving the Lie (Rule 8)

Altering the conditions around your ball to improve its lie is prohibited and usually results in a two-stroke penalty. This includes moving obstacles, smoothing bunkers, or pressing down grass. In official tournaments, such actions can lead to disqualification.

Playing from the Wrong Place (Rule 14)

Playing from the wrong place can incur penalties ranging from one stroke to disqualification, depending on the severity and context of the error. Correcting the mistake before starting another hole can avoid penalties.

Stroke Penalties

If you break some of the above rules it could be a stroke penalty. A stroke penalty is simply adding points to your score on the particular hole you are playing on. 

Playing with More Than 14 Clubs (Rule 4)

Players are allowed a maximum of 14 clubs. Exceeding this limit incurs a two-stroke penalty per hole for each hole where the excess clubs were used. Rectify the situation immediately to minimise penalties.

Read More: How Many Golf Clubs Can You Carry?

Playing from the Wrong Teeing Area (Rule 6)

Tees off from a teeing area ahead of the designated one incur a two-stroke penalty, and the player must replay the shot from the correct teeing area. No penalty applies if the ball is teed from behind the correct area.

Ball Moves After Address (Rule 9)

If you cause the ball to move after addressing it, a one-stroke penalty is applied, and the ball must be replaced. If natural forces cause the ball to move or you hit the ball on a practice swing, no penalty is incurred.

Anchoring the Club (Rule 10)

Anchoring the club against your body during a stroke is prohibited and results in a two-stroke penalty. This rule was revised in 2019 to maintain the integrity of the putting technique.

Grounding the Club in a Bunker (Rule 12)

Touching the sand with your club before making a stroke in a bunker incurs a two-stroke penalty. Exceptions exist for incidental contact that does not improve the lie or test the sand’s condition.

Failure to Mark Ball (Rule 14)

Failing to mark your ball before lifting it results in a one-stroke penalty. This applies to various situations, including on the putting green, lifting for identification, and lifting for relief.

Ball Moves After Removal of Loose Impediment (Rule 15)

Removing a loose impediment that causes the ball to move more than a club length incurs a one-stroke penalty. The ball must be returned to its original spot.

Relief for Abnormal Course Conditions (Rule 16)

Abnormal course conditions like temporary water, animal holes, and ground under repair allow for penalty-free relief. Ensure you drop the ball within one club length from the reference point without getting closer to the hole.

Hazards & Penalty Areas (Rule 17)

When your ball is in a hazard, several relief options are available, each with a one-stroke penalty. These include dropping the ball behind the hazard, playing from the last spot it crossed, or dropping within two club lengths of the hazard’s margin.

Out of Bounds (Rule 18)

If your ball goes out of bounds, marked by white stakes or lines, a one-stroke penalty is incurred, and you must replay from the original spot. Playing a provisional ball can save time if the original is lost.

Lost Ball (Rule 18)

A lost ball, not found within three minutes, incurs a one-stroke penalty and must be replayed from the previous spot. A provisional ball can be played if a lost ball is suspected.

Unplayable Lie (Rule 19)

For an unplayable lie, you have three relief options: stroke and distance, dropping within two club lengths, or dropping back on a line from the hole through the ball’s spot. Each incurs a one-stroke penalty.

Enjoy Playing Golf

Understanding and adhering to these rules will help you avoid penalties and enjoy a smoother game. Golf is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors and bond with friends, so don’t let the rules intimidate you. Instead, use them to enhance your play and sportsmanship. And, if you want to play a round with different rules, try different golf formats, at the end of the day, the game is to be enjoyed. 

The best way to enjoy a round of golf is on one of the best golf courses near London, West Essex Golf Club. 

Our memberships give access to our stunning golf course and several other key benefits. 

Speak to our team today to get on the course and play a round of golf!