The Strangest Golf Rules

Golf Care, 18th July 2018


As of 1st January 2019, a modified set of golf’s rules will be put into force by the R&A and the USGA. These changes are designed to make the rules more understandable and the game more appealing to new players.

Proposed changes include:

  • Taking free and penalty drops from knee rather than shoulder height
  • Removing the penalty for a double hit
  • Reducing the time allowed to search for a lost ball from five to three minutes.

These rule changes should have a positive impact on the game, speed up play and make it fairer for all participants. However, golf is an exceptionally complicated sport and the possibility for so many eventualities on the course means certain rules must be pretty complex too.

Within the 34 principal rules of the game, there are a huge number of sub-rules. In fact, the USGA and R&A have produced a book called Decisions on the Rules of Golf to cover questions that have arisen pertaining to these rules over the years.

We consider some of the weirder things that those decisions cover. These are some of the strangest golf rules around.


No relief from an orange

strangest golf rules

Decision 23/10

Q – A ball is embedded in an orange lying under an orange tree. What is the ruling?

A – The player must play the ball as it lies or declare it unplayable. Since the orange was adhering to the ball, it was not a loose impediment.


Water bottle as a spirit level?

Decision 14-3/12.5

Q – A player places a bottled drink on the putting green to gauge the slope of the green. Is the player in breach of Rule 14-3?

A – Yes. The player is using equipment in an abnormal manner to assist them in their play. A two-shot penalty applies for the first offence, followed by disqualification if they do it again!


A log with legs is not a loose impediment

A log is a loose impediment and may be moved without penalty, if not in a hazard, and if you can lift it that is. If you can’t lift it, then bad luck.

But, if the log has been split and has had legs attached, it has been changed by construction into a bench and it is now an obstruction.

If you can lift it – it’s a movable obstruction and you can move it. If you can’t, it’s an immovable obstruction and you can take a free drop away from it.


Spitting is not always permitted

Decision 4-2/4

Q – A player spat on the face of their club and did not wipe the saliva off before playing their next stroke. Is this permissible?

A – If the purpose of doing this was to influence the movement of the ball (i.e. to reduce spin), the player is in breach of Rule 4-2b, as saliva is “foreign material.” This will result in a two shot penalty.


Snake’s alive!

strangest golf rules

Decision 23/6.5

Q – What is the status of a snake?

A – A live snake is an outside agency. A dead snake is both an outside agency and a loose impediment. It is possible for an item or a person to fall under more than one definition.

If a ball is moved by an “outside agency”, it must be replaced without penalty. If the outside agency doesn’t move (like a live snake might not) you can’t move it, so you would take a drop at the nearest point of relief.

In the event that the ball is impeded by a loose impediment (a dead snake), it may be moved (outside a hazard) without penalty, as long as the ball doesn’t move during the action.


Pinball wizard

Decision 19-2/7

Q – A player’s ball strikes his golf bag lying on the ground and then bounces off it and hits his caddy. Is the penalty one or two strokes?

A – Just one stroke – Rule 19.2 (player has accidentally deflected or stopped his ball in motion). As a single act resulted in one Rule being breached more than once, a single penalty applies.


Nice parking

strangest golf rules

Decision 24-8

Q – A player’s ball lies under a parked car. What is the procedure?

A – If the car is readily movable (i.e. if someone is there to drive it away), it should be treated as a movable obstruction and moved.

If the car is not readily movable (driver not around, handbrake on, broken down etc), it should be treated as an immovable obstruction and the player would be entitled to a free drop.


As Decision 19-2/7 shows, there is always a risk you could injure someone else on the golf course. That’s why, if you play golf, you need Public Liability insurance to protect your legal liability if a claim is made against you for injury to another person or property damage.

Are any of the strangest golf rules missing from this list? Let us know either in the comments section or by Tweeting us @golfcareUK. 

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