The Original Rules of Golf


The rules of modern golf, the way we see it being played today, date back to the mid 18th century. In fact, the oldest known document containing a list of  golf rules is said to have been written in 1744. The document was titled "The Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf" and written for the Company of Gentleman Golfers, more recently known as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The rules were said to have been written for a tournament that took place in Leith called the Edinburgh Silver Cup. The document lists thirteen rules and since it's the oldest surviving list of rules, it is often referred to as The Original Rules of Golf. Let's revisit the origins of the rules of golf and see how they relate to the rules today.

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The  13 Original Rules


  1. You must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole.
    This rules is still in use today but has been modified a bit. According to the USGA, the teeing ground is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth.

  2. Your tee must be in the ground: Coming from a time when players used sand, among other things, to tee up a ball, our tees are not to be longer that 4 inches and should not influence the movement of the ball

  3. You are not to change the ball which you strike off the tee.
    Today, this rule is referred to as the one ball rule. If you start with a Titleist 4, you should finish with a Titleist 4, unless your ball goes out of bounds or is lost in a hazard.

  4. You are not to remove stones, bones or any break club for the sake of playing your ball, except upon the fair green, and that only within a club's length of the ball.
    This covers the loose impediment rule which states that loose impediments can be removed without penalty if both the loose impediment and the ball are not touching the same hazard. 


  5. If your ball comes among watter, or any wattery filth, you are at liberty to take out your ball and 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.
    This rule explains the one-stroke penalty a player incurs when a ball is hit into a water hazard.

  6. If your balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball till you play the last.
    If two balls are touching, the player who is away is to play first. For non-winter rules, the player is not allowed to clean the ball before replacing it. The player is also advised to mark the spot where the ball is before lifting. This is also referred to as the lift and replace rule.

  7. At holling you are to play your ball honestly at the hole, and not to play upon your adversary's ball, not lying in your way to the hole.
    Play the ball directly to the hole. Do not try to hit your opponent's ball further away from the hole. In today's game, if you hit an opponent's ball (on the green), that player is allowed to replace his/her ball in it's original spot but your ball will have to be played from the spot at which it comes to rest.

  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 and drop another ball and allow your adversary a stroke for the misfortune.
    For the most part, this rule remains in tact today, with some modifications. One such modification is that if  a ball is not found because it was moved from an outside agency, the player does not incur a stroke but instead replaces a ball, as closely as possible, to the original spot that the ball came to rest.

  9. No man at holling his ball is to be allowed to mark his way to the hole with his club or anything else.
    Today, this rules results in a penalty of two strokes. As stated by the USGA, "a mark must not be placed anywhere to indicate a line for putting."

  10. If a ball be stopp'd by any person, horse, dog, or any thing else, the ball so stopp'd must be played where it lyes.
    This rule is still in effect today, and is probably the most quoted, "Play it as it lies." The exception to this rule is if the ball is deliberately stopped by an outside agency. At this point, the spot where the ball would have come to rest hast to be estimated.

  11. If you draw your club in order to strike and proceed so far in the stroke as to be bringing down your club, if then your club should break in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke.
     Today this rule is still in effect, but is only generally covered by the definition of a swing. Once a play has an intention of striking the ball and proceeds to follow though the downward motion, the result is counted as a stoke.

  12. He whose ball lyes farthest from the hole is obliged to play first. 
    This is still a fundamental rule of golf. Today we rephrase this as "the person that is Away plays first."

  13. Neither trench, ditch, or dyke made for the preservation of the links, nor the Scholars' Holes or the soldiers' lines shall be accounted a hazard but the ball is to be taken out, teed and play'd with any iron club.
    This is what we have now come to know as the ground under repair rule. In today's game, we actually get relief from these types of lies without incurring a penalty.
If you'd like to get a framed copy of the Original Rules of Golf, the guys and girls over at Steiner Sports are well ahead of you. Check out their collection of golf memorabilia.

These thirteen rules, most of which remain in tact today, has shaped the game of golf to the sport we all know and love. We see that many of the essential rules of the game has been there from the very beginning. If you have some further explanations of these rules, or if there is anything you think that is missing here, please drop a comment below.

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If you missed our previous post, please check out my clarification on Caddy vs Caddie.

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