Imagine the game without any rules, if you can. A bunch of bearded guys, probably drunk, running around in a field wielding gunpowder powered clubs twenty feet long. They use every contraption they can get to make sure that they get the ball in the hole, even if that means kicking it 150 feet down the fairway, whether someone is looking or not. The ball goes in the water? No penalty! The shot goes into the woods? Free drop, no penalty! It’s fair to say that without the rules we would all be a bunch of hillbillies going to war on the course. While that could be fun, until most of us become permanently disabled from it, golf rules are necessary to maintain an even playing feel and to standardize the game.

If you enjoy learning about golf rules, or maybe you are new to the game, please read our many articles on the subject that are scattered throughout the site. The easiest way to find them is to use the search bar at the top of the screen. Then again, you can continue reading here as we discuss the earliest golf rules that were made during the infancy of the game.


“The First Rules of Golf”

The concept is simple. A guy, or woman, walks around a field with a stick (club) and a round orb (ball). His mission is to hit the orb into a small hole that is located on a smooth surface (the green). He can only use the stick to hit the orb towards the hole. This simple premise is likely the earliest rule that was created. From that simple premise though, there have literally been hundreds of parameters created to further define what you can, and can’t, do. From the size and weight of the ball to the placement of a missing ball, there are rules that cover everything.

The first official golfing rules were created in the year 1744, as far as we know. They were drafted in the city of Edinburgh for the very first open competition That competition was held by The Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh. In short, they wanted to hold an open tournament, but they needed some written rues so that everybody was on the same playing field. They got together and came up with the following conditions that every tournament player had to abide by (translated to modern/easy reading):

  • You have to tee your ball up within a club’s length of the hole.
  • Your tee has to be on the ground.
  • Once you hit a ball, you can’t change it.
  • You can’t remove any stones or debris that is blocking your shot, unless that debris is near the hole itself.
  • If you hit it into the water, you can remove the ball and place it behind the water. You lose one stroke as a penalty.
  • If two golf balls are touching each other, lift the first one and play the last one.
  • Hit your own ball, and don’t try to hit your opponent’s.
  • If you lose your ball, get another one and hit it again from where you first hit. You lose a penalty stroke.
  • You can’t use anything to line up your putt.
  • You have to play where your ball lies.
  • If you swing at your ball, that’s a stroke.
  • Whoever is the furthest away from the hole plays first.

I’m sure that many of these conditions had been around for decades, if not centuries, but these were the first written golfing rules. What’s really interesting is that they were lost until 1937. A scholar happened to find them written down in the club’s minutes book.

Isn’t it amazing how many of these are still being used today? They basically laid out the entire game for us, for the most part, almost 300 years ago!