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The Rules of Golf are standardized procedures according to which the game of golf should be played.
A central principle, although not one of the numbered rules, is found on the R&A rule book's 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.
A few examples are:
* Every player is entitled and obliged to play the ball from the position where it has come to rest after a stroke, unless a rule allows or demands otherwise (Rule 13-1).
* A player must not accept assistance in making a stroke (Rule 14-2)
* The condition of the ground or other parts of the course may not be altered to gain an advantage, except in some cases defined in the rules
* A ball may only be replaced by another during play of a hole if it is destroyed (Rule 5-3), lost (Rule 27-1), or unplayable (Rule 28), or at some other time permitted by the Rules. The player may always substitute balls between the play of two holes.
* If a ball is in a bunker, the player can play the ball as it lies within the bunker without incurring any penalty strokes. The player can also, under penalty of one stroke, deem the ball unplayable, and drop the ball inside the bunker (Rule 28). The player cannot test the condition of the bunker, nor can he/she touch the ground within the bunker with his/her hand or a club. The penalty for grounding is two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play (Rule 13-4).
* If a ball is in a water hazard, the player may play the ball as it lies or, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball from where it was originally hit; or, under penalty of one stroke, drop a ball at any point, as far back as the player chooses, on a line that keeps the last point at which the ball entered the hazard between the player, and the hole. (Rule 26-1). If a ball is in a lateral water hazard, in addition to the options for a ball in a water hazard, the player may under penalty of one stroke, drop a ball within two club lengths of the point of entry into the hazard; or, under penalty of one stroke, drop a ball on the opposite side of the hazard no closer to the hole (Rule 26-1).
The Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status is published every two 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). 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).
The term "Rules" can be said to include the following:
* Decisions on the Rules of Golf, a book published every 2 years by the USGA and R&A to clarify questions and queries raised by the Rules.
* Local rules set by the Committee of a golf club, for example to denote the method used to define the boundaries of the course, ball drops, environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs), etc.
* Rules of golf etiquette, covered by the main book, define the proper behaviour of those playing the game.
* Rules often adopted in competitions, for example the prohibition on using automotive transportation during a round and Rules related to Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIOs).
* Rules governing the size, shape and performance of golf equipment (clubs and balls) as defined by the R&A/USGA (Appendices I and II).
* Rules governing golfers with disabilities who play in accordance with A Modification of the Rules of Golf for Golfers with Disabilities as published by the R&A and USGA.
Note that while the USGA defines its own handicapping and course rating system, the R&A defers this responsibility to each respective national governing body.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is a private golf club run for the benefit of its members. As such, since 2004 it has passed responsibility of publishing the rules to a private company, R&A Rules Ltd, operating under the stewardship of the golf club.
In 2004, the University of Chicago Press published a plain-language translation of this book. It was entitled The Rules of Golf in Plain English, by the lexicographer Bryan A. Garner and USGA rules official Jeffrey S. Kuhn. The purpose was to make the rules more accessible than the official version, which is pervasively legalistic and opaque.
The current rules booklet, the 31st edition, is valid from 1 January 2008 to the end of 2011. The big change that has come with this edition is a new rule about Club Heads not having too much 'spring' effect. This has led to the publishing of The List of Conforming Driver Heads and The List of Non-Conforming Drivers
Also as of 2010 irons can not have deep grooves. This rule was made in order to decrease the amount of back spin that players can put on the ball by using equipment, though some clubs have been "grandfathered" in. This led to a controversy in the early stages of the 2010 season when Phil Mickelson used such irons.
The first rules of golf compiled by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, drafted on March 1744, for a tournament played on April were:
1. You must Tee your Ball within a Club's length of the Hole.
2. Your Tee must be upon the Ground.
3. You are not to change the Ball which you Strike off the Tee.
4. You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for the sake of playing your Ball, Except upon the fair Green within a Club's length of your Ball.
5. If your Ball comes among water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it, you may play it with any Club and allow your Adversary a Stroke for so getting out your Ball.
6. If your Balls be found any where touching one another, You are to lift the first Ball, till you play the last.
7. At Holing, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and not to play upon your Adversary’s Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.
8. If you should lose your Ball, by its being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the Spot, where you struck last, & drop another Ball, And allow your adversary a Stroke for the misfortune.
9. No man at Holing his Ball, is to be allowed, to mark his way to the Hole with his Club, or anything else.
10. If a Ball be stopp’d by any Person, Horse, Dog or anything else, The Ball so stop’d must be play’d where it lies.
11. If you draw your Club in Order to Strike, & proceed so far in the Stroke as to be bringing down your Club; If then, your Club shall break, in any way, it is to be Accounted a Stroke.
12. He whose Ball lies farthest from the Hole is obliged to play first.
13. Neither Trench, Ditch or Dyke, made for the preservation of the Links, nor the Scholar's Holes, or the Soldier's Lines, Shall be accounted a Hazard; But the Ball is to be taken out and play’d with any Iron Club.