Common Golf Rules Simplified for Juniors

Unplayable ball rule diagram

In this post we will add common golf rules that we come across regularly in junior golf tournaments and that juniors should know about. We endeavor to explain them in simplified terms or diagrams that juniors can easily understand and explain some tips for juniors on how the rules can be their best friend in certain circumstances.

The Teeing Area

All holes begin in the "teeing area" which is defined as an area two club lengths extending from the outside of the tee markers. It is a pretty basic rule but there are some considerations for juniors in tournament play:

  • Only the ball has to be in the tee area. So a player stand outside the tee "box" and set the ball up all the way on one side. This is often helpful if there are obstructions such as trees close in on one side.
  • Grass for teeing or more stable footing is often better slightly further back (especially in junior tournaments where courses are not pristine and there is a large volume of play traffic). In these cases, the junior does not have to tee the ball up right at the front of the tee box and can take advantage of better conditions slightly further back. We almost never see juniors taking advantage of this.

Note that there is a two stroke penalty (in stroke play) for playing from the wrong area (e.g. in front of the tee markers or from a incorrect tee marker), and if not corrected before the next hole (or handing in their score if on the last hole), the player is disqualified. For more details see USGA Rule 6.

Teeing area - rule for junior golfers

Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions)

Golfers are generally allowed free relief from “abnormal course conditions” which include cart paths, GUR, animals holes, other immovable obstructions (these include concession stands, toilets, ball cleaners etc, but do not boundary walls and fences). 

It is amazing how many juniors we see who do not know how to take a drop from a cart path. The key point is a players has to take complete relief, so take a golf stance with complete relief from the path/object, then mark a point one club length not closer to the hole and drop from knee height within that point. For more details see USGA Rule 16.

Relief from abnormal conditions for junior golfers

Unplayable Ball Options

USGA Rule 19 sets out that a player has 3 options for taking relief from an unplayable lie. The diagram below sets out these 3 options in an easy to understand way. For more details see the USGA Rule 19.  

Tip for your juniors, if they have played a provisional ball and it is in a good position, it is sometimes preferable to not find the first ball in the event that there is a good chance the relief options under 2 and 3 will not be available (e.g. the first ball is in deep bushes with not lateral or backwards drop options). 

Unplayable ball rule diagram 19.2

Unplayable Ball in a Bunker

Many juniors are unaware that under Rule 19 they can take an unplayable drop in or from a bunker. This can be especially helpful if they are up against the bunker lip or in a very severe and deep bunker. Dropping within the bunker will incur a one stroke penalty. Juniors can also opt to drop outside the bunker for a 2 stroke penalty.

Unplayable ball in a bunker rule diagram 19.3

Is a Golf Ball Out of Bounds if it is on the Boundary Line?

Is a golf ball "on the line" in or out of bounds? Unlike other sports such as tennis, a golf ball that is touching the line is not necessarily "in", or "out"! The golf rules are very specific that a ball is only out of bounds if all of the ball lies outside the course side of the boundary line. So even if the ball is on the line, if any part of it lies on the course side of the line, it is in bounds. The diagram below shows when a ball is in or out of bounds. For more details see USGA Rule 18.

Out of bounds line junior golf

Lost Ball and Provisional Ball Rules

There are some very specific and unique lost ball and provisional ball rules that juniors needs to know. If a golfer thinks a ball may be lost it is always advisable to play a provisional ball before leaving the playing area to avoid having to come back and therefore delaying play.

The basic rules around a lost ball and provisional ball are as follows: 

  • If the original ball is not found within 3 minutes of either the player or their caddie starting to look for it, the ball is deemed lost and the provisional ball is in play. Note, spectators (including a parent or coach) may start searching earlier, the 3 minute time limit only starts once the player or caddie starts looking for the ball.
  • If the ball is almost certainly in a "bad" area that is unplayable and the unplayable ball options (e.g. 2 club lengths or dropping back on the line) are not good, and the player already has a provisional ball in a good spot (e.g. on the fairway), the player can elect to not look for the original ball and play the provisional. Note that the player can ask their playing partner/competitor or anyone else to not look for the ball, but they do not have to comply and may look for it anyway!
  • A provisional ball may be played more than once before becoming the ball "in play" as long as it is further back than where the original ball is estimated to be. So for example the junior golfer could play 3 shots with the provisional ball and then still find and play their original ball, abandoning the provisional ball with no penalty. The diagram below explains this further.

For more details see USGA Rule 18.

Rule 18.3 provisional ball


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