Rule Tip of the Week: The USGA’s “Commandments”

You have probably heard of the “Ten Commandments.” You know, all of those “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” handed down by God to Moses on two tablets of stone. However, you have probably never heard of the USGA’s “commandments.” These are primarily all of the “musts” and “must nots” written into the Rules to keep the player from falling astray on the golf course. In the Rule book alone, i.e., not including the Appendices or the Decisions book, the word must” appears approximately 180 times, while the phrase must not” shows up about 60 times. Those are a lot of commandments for the player given that there are only 34 Rules!

In the introductory remarks of the Rule book, there is a brief section titled “Understand the Words” which reads, in part:

The Rule book is written in a very precise and deliberate fashion. You should be aware of and understand the following differences in word use:


  • may = optional
  • should = recommendation
  • must = instruction (and penalty if not carried out)

Here are just a few examples of the USGA’s commandments, with the words “must” and “must not” highlighted in bold face type for emphasis:

  • Rule 1-3 [Agreement to Waive Rules] states, “Players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred.”
  • Rule 4-1 [Form and Make of Clubs] directs that “The player’s clubs must conform with this Rule and the provisions, specifications and interpretations set forth in Appendix II.”
  • Rule 6-7 [Undue Delay; Slow Play] commands that “The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish. Between completion of a hole and playing from the next teeing ground, the player must not unduly delay play.”
  • Rule 14-1a [Fairly Striking the Ball] points out that, “The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.”
  • Rule 27-1b [Ball Out of Bounds] instructs, “If a ball is out of bounds, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played ….”

It should be noted that, in addition to these “musts” and “must nots,” there are other USGA commandments for the player in the Rule book that appear as straightforward statements. Consider the following examples:

  • Rule 3-2 [Failure to Hole Out] states, “If a competitor fails to hole out and does not correct his mistake before he makes a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, before he leaves the putting green, he is disqualified.
  • Rule 6-6d [Wrong Score for Hole] advises, “The competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified.”
  • Note 1 to Rule 22-2 [Ball Interfering with Play] points out, “Except on the putting green, a player may not lift his ball solely because he considers that it might interfere with the play of another player. If a player lifts his ball without being asked to do so, he incurs a penalty of one stroke for a breach of Rule 18-2 ….”
March 2017 Rules