Casual Golf

The Reasonable Man's Rules Of Golf

Golf purists won't agree with taking liberties with the game's rules, and if you actually lay a club on the ground and mark the spot with a tee before taking a drop during your usual friendly foursome, this list probably isn't for you. But while we believe the rules of golf to be sacred and essential, sometimes bending them just a little, provided you aren't doing it in an official competition or without consent or knowledge of your playing partners, can make your round more fun. And isn't that what playing recreational golf is all about? Keep these ideas in mind the next time you're not teeing it up at the U.S. Open.

—Alex Myers


Play OB as a lateral hazard

Play OB as a lateral hazard
Hitting a ball out of bounds brings golf's worst punishment: loss of stroke and distance. By playing OB as a lateral hazard, you can cut down on people going through their whole pre-shot routine before hitting a provisional ball that's likely to suffer the same fate. You also remove the possibility of a real stickler for the rules insisting that the player walk all the way back to the tee to hit again after discovering his tee shot wound up out of bounds. Tell him instead to estimate where his ball crossed OB, take a drop in the rough (from shoulder height, from knee height, whatever you want) and hit his third shot from there. The people playing in the group behind will thank you.

Move Your Ball Out Of A Footprint

Move Your Ball Out Of A Footprint
A basic rule of golf is to play the ball as it lies, but why should you pay a penalty for someone else's carelessness? Move the ball onto a smoother surface, hit your shot, and then take care of the mess made by both you and Bigfoot.

Play Winter Rules When Applicable

Play Winter Rules When Applicable
The sticklers call this "lift, clean and cheat," but if even the pros do it from time to time, why shouldn't you? If a course is really wet, has just been aerated, or just has spots where it's in lousy condition, move your ball a few inches, no closer to the hole. And if there isn't a huge patch of mud on it, don't worry about going through the whole cleaning and dropping process. Just use your club to nudge it a few inches.

Move Your Ball Off Of A Root

Hitting a ball off a root can cause permanent damage to a golf club and the person swinging it (See: Rory McIlroy, 2011 PGA Championship). Is hitting your next shot really worth all that? Instead, nudge the ball away from the root, but keep everything else potentially impeding your next shot (tree trunk, branches, dirt, etc.) in play. Unless you actually are McIlory or one of his pro brethren, you're probably just punching out anyway.

Treat Yourself To A Mulligan

There are different variations of this rule, but as long as your group agrees to one on the first tee and you don't hold up the groups behind, then allow yourself to hit a bonus shot. Just don't get greedy—even if it isn't limited to your opening tee shot, keep it to one per round. And no, you can't have a do-over on that three-footer for par you geeked.

Adjust Handicaps Mid-Round

The handicap system is great because it allows people of different skill levels to have competitive matches. Unfortunately, it's not perfect and it becomes even less effective when people fudge how good/bad they are. To help keep things fair, set a time (maybe six or nine holes) when you'll reevaluate what the golfers in your group should be playing to. This will keep things more competitive and more importantly, keep that sandbagger you're playing with from taking all your money.

Drop On Other Side Of A Forced Carry

It's fun to challenge yourself, but losing one ball per shot is enough. If you find a hazard off the tee, drop in the rough on the other side. Your wallet won't complain.

Move Your Ball Out Of A Fairway Divot

You've finally hit your first good drive of the day, but when you arrive at your ball, you discover it's wedged nicely into a shallow hole in the ground. Can you ever get a break? Like with our bunker rule, we give you permission to give yourself a better lie. Go ahead and roll the ball onto the green turf it deserves to be on. Just remember, now you won't have an excuse for butchering that next shot.
The fall is a great time for sneaking in those last few rounds of the year, but it can also be frustrating. The flat light and countless leaves make it difficult to find even the balls you know landed safely. Save time by dropping where you think is fair, without taking a penalty. If you're playing a match, to avoid a potential conflict, make it so that you can't win a hole, but can only tie it, when you invoke this rule. The same practice can be put in place when a ball disappears into a muddy area. If you know roughly where it landed, but still can't find it, go ahead and drop another.

Don't Putt Everything Out

Giving close putts to opponents saves time and can keep someone from snapping their putter over their knee if they happen to miss a 15-inch putt. Just don't start raking anything withing a six-foot radius of the cup away. Be sensible and be consistent.

Play Ready Golf, Even On The Tee

This should be an obvious one, but there are still plenty of people who stand on the tee trying to figure out which guy who just made double bogey should tee off first. Unless you're playing match play in a semi-serious atmosphere, order shouldn't matter. Your group should agree on the first tee that for the rest of the round, the order should be based on whoever is ready. Don't be that guy standing around tapping his foot and saying, "OK, Mr. Birdie man, you're up!"

Don't penalize yourself if your ball moves by accident when you remove debris

The rules of golf state that the ball is allowed to oscillate, but not change position. Do your best to uphold this, but if it should shift slightly when you remove debris around it, don't worry about it as long as you don't gain a major advantage. Bobby Jones once said "You may as well praise someone for not robbing a bank," when he was lauded for calling a similar penalty on himself. Good for him, but last time we checked, you're not Bobby Jones.

Pick Up When You Max Out On A Hole

If you have a Handicap Index, you should know about the USGA's policy of equitable stroke control. For instance, if you're a 20-handicap, the max score you can record on any hole is an 8. If you are in a match, you should still play until someone wins the hole no matter what the score. But for the most part, once you've hit your number, just pick up and say "put me down for the max." No one wants to see you hit 14 shots on one hole and even worse, watch you go through the process of air counting them all out.

Borrow A Club When You Need To

The rules say the total number of clubs you can have at your disposal is 14. But suppose you're on the opposite side of the fairway from your clubs, and a 6-iron you need is right next to you in your buddy's hands? We say use that. If that's the club that's somehow going to result in the greatest shot of your life, well then those are the clubs you should have been using all along.