Rules of golf

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The rules of golf consist of a standard set of regulations and procedures by which the sport of golf should be played and prescribe penalties for rule infractions. They are jointly written and administered by the R&A (spun off from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews) the governing body of golf worldwide except in the United States and Mexico, which are the responsibility of the United States Golf Association (USGA). The rule book, entitled Rules of Golf, is published on a regular basis and also includes rules governing amateur status.

A central principle, although not one of the numbered rules, is found in the R&A rule book’s inside front cover. “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair. But to do what is fair, you need to know the Rules of Golf.” In addition to the rules golf adheres to a code of conduct, known as etiquette, which generally means playing the game with due respect for the golf course and other players. Etiquette is often seen as being as important to the sport as the rules themselves.

Before the rules of golf were standardised golf clubs commonly had their own set of rules, which while broadly the same had subtle differences, such as allowing for the removal of loose impediments, e.g. leaves and small stones. In the late 19th century, most clubs began to align themselves with either the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, later the R&A, or the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The earliest surviving written rules of golf were produced by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith on March 7, 1744, for a tournament played on April 2. They were entitled “Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf” and consisted of 13 rules.

The Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status is published every four years by the governing bodies of golf (R&A/USGA) to define how the game is to be played. The Rules have been published jointly in this manner since 1952, although the code was not completely uniform until 2000 (with mostly minor revisions to Appendix I). Before 2012 the USGA and R&A presented the same content differently in separate editions. The same content is now published in a uniform fashion with similar formatting and covers — the only differences are now some spelling and their logos. The Rules Committee of The R&A, which was spun off from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 2004, has responsibility for upkeep and application of the rules worldwide except in the United States and Mexico, which are the responsibility of the United States Golf Association (USGA).

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