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Organize a Successful Golf Tournament

8 Golf Tournament Rules to Remember

While the rules of golf largely depend on which playing format you are participating in, there are some overarching USGA rules that apply to all tournaments. Below we've outlined 8 basic guidelines that every tournament should follow. Read on to ensure a fun, fair game for your golfing event!

Club Count

According to USGA standards, each player is allowed a maximum of 14 clubs in their bag at one time. If carrying under 14 clubs per game, you are able to add clubs during the game. If the limit of 14 clubs is exceed, there is a penalty depending on the game format.

This difference is true for every rule violation explained in this article:

  • Stroke Play: If a player exceeds 14 clubs, the penalty is 2 strokes for each hole played in violation of the rules with a max of 4 strokes in total.
  • Match Play: During a match play, the penalty for having more than 14 clubs is a loss of hole for each hole playing in violations with a max of 2 holes lost.


If a player's ball falls off the tee during a tournament, there are no penalties for that player. However, there is a slight difference between the 2 main circumstances that re-tees are needed:

  • Golf ball falls off not in play: If a balls falls off when not in play, whether it is knocked off by the player or just falls off, the ball can be re-teed with no penalty.
  • Golf ball falls off during a stroke: If a ball falls off during a stroke whether you touched the ball or not, the stroke is counted, but there are no penalties.

No Assisting

According to the official rules of golf, it is not permitted to give or solicit advice on how to make a shot while on the field. If advice is given, the player is at risk for a 2 stroke penalty in stroke play or a loss of hole in match play. However, a player is allowed to inform a competing player of anything that is considered common knowledge.

Examples of this include:

  • Where the 150 yard marker is located
  • If it's a bunker or grassy hollow
  • If the water hazard runs along the entire fairway

As a general rule, as long as a player is not asking for advice that will help them make a specific shot, communicating is allowed. The only exception to this rule is during team play, which allows giving advice to team members on the course.

Practice Strokes VS Practice Swings

Practice stokes are not allowed during the play of a hole, and if violated, can result in a 2 stroke penalty for the player in stroke play or a lost hole in match play. A practice stroke, however, is different than a practice swing - which are allowed. The main difference is explained below:

  • Practice Stroke: A practice stroke is made with the aim of moving a ball forward
  • Practice Swing: A practice swing is made without the intention of moving a ball

Bunker Rules

When playing in the sand, golfers cannot ground their club into the sand or move any impediments from the hazard (the area of a golf course which provides a difficult obstacle). Any violation of this rule will result in either a 2 stroke penalty for stroke play or a loss of hole penalty for match play. However, some obstructions are allowed to be moved out of the way.

For Example:

  • Can be removed: rakes, man-made trash, dropped gloves, scorecards, etc.
  • Cannot be removed: branches, rocks, pinecones, twigs, leaves etc.

An exception to this rule is if a player loses balance or falls while entering a bunker and a club was used to catch the fall (therefore letting it touch the sand), there is no penalty.

Five Minutes to Find It

According to USGA rules, if a player hits their ball into the woods or another crowded space, they only have five minutes to search for the ball before it's considered lost. This five minutes starts after the search has started, not from the time the shot was made. If the ball is discovered a few seconds after passing the 5 minute mark, it is still considered "lost" according to the rules of golf.

Note: In 2019, the USGA will officially change the rules to a 3 minute search limit instead of 5.

Identifying a Ball

When a shot lands in the deep rough and a player is unable to identify if it's their ball or not, USGA rules state that the player is allowed to lift the ball to inspect.

However, they must first:

  • Declare to their competitors what they're doing
  • Mark the ball's location

Putting With the Flagstick

The excitement of finally making it to the green may unfortunately cause some players to forget procedure. Before putting, the rules require participants to remove the flag from the hole and position it out of the way of play (including play for their competitors). If they forget and accidentally hit the flag, they will be penalized - resulting in a 2 stroke penalty during stroke play or a 1 hole penalty for match play.

Remembering the Rules

When planning a golf tournament, it's important to remember the overarching rules of the game. No matter if it's scramble golf or match play, USGA rules allow for all aspects of play to remain fair and consistent for every game.

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