History of Golf Rules

Golf rules and etiquette follow three main tenets.

  • Play the ball as it lies
  • Play the course as you find it
  • Do what is fair

The refinement of these basic rules has been accomplished since the earliest days of golf nearly 800 years ago.  The rules apply to everyone. There are currently 34 Rules of Golf. They are administered by the United States Golf Association in America and elsewhere by the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews.  The USGA was founded in 1894, the R&A in 1754.  These two groups work together to constantly refine and improve the rules of golf.

Things have not always been this cooperative though.  In the very early days of golf, each golf club in Scotland produced their own and unique rules.  All of them were somewhat different…which made traveling competitions very interesting.  Eventually, the disagreements became suffocating and the clubs requested that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club promulgate one set of rules.  The golfers at St. Andrews were so honored because almost all Scots recognize St. Andrews as the birthplace of golf. 

The first known published rules of golf were thirteen in number and ordained by the Honourable Company of Golfers of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1744.  These rules were adopted and ratified nearly ten years later by the R & A.

As golf migrated to the Americas, similar rules fluctuation began to ensue.  It wasn’t until 1951 that the USGA and the R & A resolved all of their differences and agreed on the same set of rules. 

A complete copy of the Rules of Golf and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf may be obtained from the United States Golf Association, Rules of Golf.