5 Lesser-Known Rules of Golf You Might Not Know

Date Published: 19/09/2023

Golf is a sport steeped in tradition, and with that tradition comes a complex set of rules. While most golfers are familiar with the basics, like keeping score and avoiding hazards.

However, there are some rules in the Official Rules of Golf, established by the R&A and the USGA, that are lesser-known but equally important.

In this blog post, we’ll explore five such rules that golfers may not be aware of.


1. The Embedded Ball Rule (Rule 16.3)

Have you ever hit a shot and found your ball mysteriously buried in the ground, seemingly swallowed by the earth? If so, you might not be aware of the embedded ball rule.

According to Rule 16.3, if your ball becomes embedded in its own pitch mark in the general area (fairway or rough), you are allowed relief. You can mark the spot, lift the ball, clean it, and drop it within one club length, no closer to the hole, without penalty.

This rule helps golfers get out of tricky situations caused by soft or wet conditions.


2. Ball at Rest Moved by an Outside Influence (Rule 9.3)

Sometimes, your ball can be moved by an outside influence like wind or gravity, even when you’re not addressing it.

Under Rule 9.3, if your ball is moved by an outside influence, such as a leaf or an animal, you must replace the ball without penalty to its original position.

However, if it’s uncertain whether the ball was moved by an outside influence, you play the ball as it lies.


3. Water Hazards vs. Lateral Water Hazards (Rule 17)

Water hazards are a common feature on golf courses, but not all water hazards are created equal. There are two types: water hazards and lateral water hazards, and the rules governing them differ. Water hazards are marked with yellow stakes or lines, while lateral water hazards are marked with red stakes or lines.

If your ball goes into a water hazard (yellow stakes or lines), you have the option to play the ball from where it entered the hazard, taking a penalty stroke, or you can take a drop within two club lengths from where the ball last crossed the hazard’s margin, no closer to the hole.

For a ball in a lateral water hazard (red stakes or lines), you have additional options. You can still use the two-club-length drop, or you can drop on the opposite side of the hazard equidistant from the point where the ball entered and the hole, with a one-stroke penalty.


4. Searching for a Lost Ball (Rule 7.4)

When searching for a lost ball, many golfers are unaware of Rule 7.4. You have three minutes to search for your ball before it’s considered lost.

Additionally, the clock starts ticking as soon as you begin searching for it. If you haven’t found your ball within three minutes, you must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.


5. Unplayable Ball (Rule 19)

Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where you simply can’t play your ball. In such cases, you can declare your ball unplayable and take relief under Rule 19 .

You have three options, in each case adding a one penalty stroke.:

  1. Go back to the spot where you last played from (stroke and distance).
  2. Drop a ball within two club lengths of the spot where the ball lies, not nearer the hole.
  3. Drop a ball on a line behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point and the hole in a straight line, with no limit on how far back you can go.


Understanding and applying the rules of golf can be a complex endeavour, but it’s an essential part of the game.

These lesser-known rules may not come into play every round, but when they do, having a good grasp of them can make a significant difference in your score and overall enjoyment of the game.

So, the next time you hit the links, keep these rules in mind, and you’ll be better prepared to navigate the challenges that golf can throw your way.