Golf's Rule 5: Playing the Round

A golf ball in the first cut of rough
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In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 5 is titled "Playing the Round."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

Rule 5 covers how to play a round — such as where and when a player may practise on the course before or during a round, when a round starts and ends and what happens when play has to stop or resume. Players are expected to:
*Start each round on time, and
*Play continuously and at a prompt pace during each hole until the round is completed.
When it is a player’s turn to play, it is recommended that he or she make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds, and usually more quickly than that.

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 5 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Golf Rule 5 (Playing the Round)

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 5 as follows:

  • In stroke play, make sure your score for each hole is correct and sign your card before returning it.
  • Don’t unduly delay play – keep up with the group in front. Keep playing unless there is danger from lightning, you become ill, or an official tells you to stop.
  • You may not hit a practice shot while playing a hole. Normally, practice is not allowed on the course before a stroke event but is allowed before a match. However, a committee may alter this rule so always check the conditions of competition.

There are seven sections within Rule 5. Rule 5-1 is titled "Meaning of Round"; Rule 5-2 is "Practising on Course Before or Between Rounds"; Rule 5-3 is "Starting and Ending Round"; Rule 5-4 is "Playing in Groups"; Rule 5-5 addresses "Practising During Round or While Play Is Stopped"; Rule 5-6 goes over "Unreasonable Delay; Prompt Pace of Play"; and Rule 5-7 is titled "Stopping Play; Resuming Play."

According to the condensed Player's Edition of Rule 5-1, a round is "18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee." Play the holes in order and play to completion.

Rule 5-2 states that a golfer may practice on the course to be played before a round or between rounds in match play; but same-day practice on the course is not allowed in stroke play except after completing the round, or putting/chipping on or near the first teeing area or any practice area.

Rule 5-5 addresses practice strokes during your round: Don't make any! (Practice swings are OK, making a stroke and hitting a ball for practice is not.) Practice between holes is also prohibited, with the exception that putting or chipping is OK on the putting green just completed or the next teeing area (but never from a bunker).

Rule 5-6 includes these pace of play recommendations:

You should play at a prompt pace throughout the round, including the time taken to:
*Prepare for and make each stroke,
*Move from one place to another between strokes, and
*Move to the next teeing area after completing a hole.
You should prepare in advance for your next stroke and be ready to play when it is your turn.
When it is your turn to play:
*It is recommended that you make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds after you are (or should be) able to play without interference or distraction, and
*You should usually be able to play more quickly than that and are encouraged to do so.

The R&A and USGA also state in 5-6 that it is OK to play "ready golf" (and thus, sometimes play out of order) if all golfers in the group agree.

Be sure to read the full Rule 5, interpretations of Rule 5, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.