Penalty or No Penalty?

Rules of Golf Review: Can you pass our 10-question pop quiz?


Tom Shaw/R&A

March 27, 2024

Cue the soft sounds of the piano and guitar. While you're at it, pipe in some birds chirping. Maybe even a little trickling water of a gently flowing creek to round things out. The Masters (April 11-14) and its familiar soundtrack is rapidly approaching, and so is golf season for most of the United States.

As a reminder, you need to begin posting your handicap rounds in most states on April 1 and in Maine, Vermont and some parts of New York on April 15. So unless you want to see your index drop by a couple of points at the start of the season, get those "go low" rounds out of your system now.

With all that in mind, we're ready to make some birdies, play some three-hour rounds, have a pint or two (or three) at the 19th hole and, oh yeah, navigate you through what are often confusing rules situations. We'll be around all year to assist.

But before we do that, let's give everybody the benefit of the doubt and appreciate you might be well versed in the Rules of Golf. (Apologies for any suggestion of condescension.) If you think you know the book well, however, let's find out. Take this quiz and see if you know how to resolve some tricky rules situations (answers on the bottom):


1. You and your opponent are using the same type of ball in a match and inadvertently play each other's ball into the green. You're not sure who played a shot with the wrong ball first, so you finish out the hole as if nothing happened. Penalty or no penalty?

2. You hit a tee shot into a penalty area. Before leaving the tee, you announce a provisional ball and hit again. Penalty or no penalty?

3. Your opponent hits a ball into a dry creek bed marked as a penalty area. Because it rained the night before, his ball is sitting in a puddle. He takes relief from the temporary water before playing a shot out of the bed. Penalty or no penalty?

4. You're playing foursomes (alternate shot) and you hit a terrible drive that might be lost. Your partner is a much better player, so you tell her to go ahead and hit the provisional to make sure you've got something in play. She goes ahead and puts one in the fairway. Penalty or no penalty?

5. Good news: After an impressive drive, your ball came to rest outside of a pretty sizeable divot hole. Bad news: To hit the shot you want, you have to stand with one of your feet partially in the hole. You see its divot pelt nearby and decide to fix the hole with the divot before playing your shot. Penalty or no penalty?


Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour

6. Your opponent shows up with a long putter and hits his first putt of the day with the shaft away from his body but anchored against the inside of his upper arm. Penalty or no penalty?

7. You're about to take a drop in a relief area but you notice there are some stones all around you that might interfere with your next shot. Before you drop, you sweep away as many as you can. You then drop and play your next shot. Penalty or no penalty?

8. To keep things interesting in a threesomes group, you decide to play individual matches against both players. On the first hole, one of your opponents concedes your two-foot putt and you pick up the ball without marking it. Your other opponent says he wanted you to putt that out. Penalty or no penalty?

9. Your opponent misses a critical putt and then slams her putter in anger, bending the shaft. She then straightens it back out and makes the ensuing putt. Penalty or no penalty?

10. You shank a shot that ricochets off your golf cart and hits your foot on the rebound. Penalty or no penalty?


1. No penalty (Rule 6.3c(1)). If you knew who played first, that golfer would lose the hole. But if you're not sure, you're supposed to finish the hole with the wrong ball as if you were playing your own.

2. Penalty (18.3a). You can't play a provisional ball if you're certain your ball is in a penalty area. The second ball you struck (the one you said was the provisional) from the tee is actually now in play and the original ball must be abandoned. Also, you incur a one-stroke penalty as part of your options for proceeding when a ball is in a penalty area, so you're now lying 3.

3. Penalty (17.3). You don't get relief from any abnormal course conditions in a penalty area. That includes immovable obstructions, animal holes, ground under repair and temporary water. The general penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes) would be assessed.

4. No penalty (22.3). When a side elects to play a provisional ball, it must be played by the partner whose turn it is to play the side's next stroke.

5. Penalty (8.1a(3)). You could repair a divot hole if it didn't improve conditions affecting your next stroke. But this clearly would help you as it improves your stance. The general penalty (loss of hole in match play or two shots in stroke play) would be assessed.



6. Penalty (10.1b). He can't rest it against his upper arm. However, he could have rested the shaft against his forearm without being assessed the general penalty.

7. No penalty (15.1a/1). When a ball is to be dropped or placed, the ball is not being put back in a specific spot and therefore removing loose impediments before dropping or placing a ball is allowed.

8. Penalty (14.1 and 21.4/1). A concession in one match does not automatically mean a concession in the other match. You are penalized one stroke in the match where your putt was not conceded because you lifted your ball without marking it.

9. No penalty (4.1). She also could have used the putter with the bent shaft.

10. No penalty (11.1). Doesn't matter who the ball hits. In most cases, you'll now play the next shot as it lies.