Rules of Golf
As the governing body of golf in Canada, Golf Canada holds the exclusive right to publish and distribute the Rules of Golf in Canada.
The Rules are updated every four years through the work of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, Scotland and the United States Golf Association. A joint committee of these associations, on which the Rules Chairman of Golf Canada sits, is charged with revising, modernizing and improving the Rules of Golf and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf. These two documents form the complete Rules of Golf that are used universally throughout the world of golf. Golf Canada has the exclusive right to publish and distribute the Rules of Golf throughout Canada. All Rights Reserved.
In addition to publishing the Rules, Golf Canada has created a national Rules Education Program that leads to national certification as a Rules Official. The program description is contained on the Rules Education section of this website.
For clubs or committees in charge of competitions, the Conditions of Competition and Standard Local Rules Golf Canada implements at all championships is posted for your reference. In addition, a list of local rules that should be considered is available on this website. All you need to know about the Rules of Golf is available by clicking here.
Ask a Rules Expert
To ask a rules question, please email us at email@example.com.
If you have a rules question regarding a competition currently taking place (the competition has not closed), then you may wish to use the Competition Hotline. To contact Golf Canada for a ruling during a competition please call Adam Helmer, Director of Rules and Competitions at 416-450-6374.
If your call is not answered immediately, please leave a detailed message including your name, title (Rules Chair, Professional, etc.) phone number where you can be contacted and a description of the incident requiring a ruling. Your call will be returned as soon as possible.
Rules Education Pathway
Are you interested in learning about the Rules of Golf? Golf Canada offers several programs to learn the Rules of Golf. The Golf Canada Education Program is designed for all golfers wishing to improve their level of knowledge of the Rules of Golf including recreational golfers, competitive golfers, professionals and rules officials, or those wishing to become a rules official. Whether you have an interest in learning the basics or wish to pursue national certification as a rules official, Golf Canada offers the right program for you.
The Spirit of the Game
Unlike many sports, golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the Rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the game of golf.
Players should ensure no one is standing close by or in a position to be hit by the club, the ball or any stones, pebbles, twigs or the like when they make a stroke or practice swing. Players should not play until the players in front are out of range. Players should always alert greenstaff nearby or ahead when they are about to make a stroke that might endanger them. If a player plays a ball in a direction where there is a danger of hitting someone, he should immediately shout a warning. The traditional word of warning in such a situation is “fore.”
Consideration for Other Players
No disturbance or distraction. Players should always show consideration for other players on the course and should not disturb their play by moving, talking or making any unnecessary noise. Players should ensure any electronic device taken onto the course do not distract other players. On the teeing ground, a player should not tee his ball until it is his turn to play. Players should not stand close to or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is about to play.
On the putting green, players should not stand on another player’s line of putt or when he is making a stroke, cast a shadow over his line of putt. Players should remain on or close to the putting green until all other players in the group have holed out.
In stroke play, a player who is acting as a marker should, if necessary, on the way to the next tee, check the score with the player concerned and record it.
Pace of Play
Players should play at a good pace. The Committee may establish pace of play guidelines that all players should follow. It is a group’s responsibility to keep up with the group in front. If it loses a clear hole and it is delaying the group behind, it should invite the group behind to play through, irrespective of the number of players in that group.
Players should be ready to play as soon as it is their turn to play. When playing on or near the putting green, they should leave their bags or carts in such a position as will enable quick movement off the green and towards the next tee. When the play of a hole has been completed, players should immediately leave the putting green.
If a player believes his ball may be lost outside a water hazard or is out of bounds, to save time, he should play a provisional ball. Players searching for a ball should signal the players in the group behind them to play through as soon as it becomes apparent that the ball will not easily be found. They should not search for five minutes before doing so. Having allowed the group behind to play through, they should not continue play until that group has passed and is out of range.
Unless otherwise determined by the Committee, priority on the course is determined by a group’s pace of play. Any group playing a whole round is entitled to pass a group playing a shorter round.
Care of the Course
Bunkers Before leaving a bunker, players should carefully fill up and smooth over all holes and footprints made by them and any nearby made by others. If a rake is within reasonable proximity of the bunker, the rake should be used for this purpose. View Bunker Etiquette Animation
Repair of Divots, Ball-Marks and Damage by Shoes Players should carefully repair any divot holes made by them and any damage to the putting green made by the impact of a ball (whether or not made by the player himself). On completion of the hole by all players in the group, damage to the putting green caused by golf shoes should be repaired.
Preventing Unnecessary Damage Players should avoid causing damage to the course by removing divots when taking practice swings or by hitting the head of a club into the ground, whether in anger or for any other reason. Players should ensure that no damage is done to the putting green when putting down bags or the flagstick. In order to avoid damaging the hole, players and caddies should not stand too close to the hole and should take care during the handling of the flagstick and the removal of a ball from the hole. The head of a club should not be used to remove a ball from the hole. Players should not lean on their clubs when on the putting green, particularly when removing the ball from the hole. The flagstick should be properly replaced in the hole before players leave the putting green. Local notices regulating the movement of golf carts should be strictly observed.
Conclusion; Penalties for Breach
If players follow the guidelines in this Section, it will make the game more enjoyable for everyone. If a player consistently disregards these guidelines during a round or over a period of time to the detriment of others, it is recommended that the Committee consider taking appropriate disciplinary action against the offending player. Such action may, for example, include prohibiting play for a limited time on the course or in a certain number of competitions. This is considered to be justifiable in terms of protecting the interest of the majority of golfers who wish to play in accordance with these guidelines. In the case of a serious breach of Etiquette, the Committee may disqualify a player under Rule 33-7.
Golf Canada is the authoritative body for the purposes of establishing and maintaining a uniform handicap system for golf clubs in Canada in co-operation with the provincial golf associations.
The purpose of the Golf Canada Handicap System is to make the game of golf more enjoyable for golfers by providing a means of measuring one’s performance and progress and to enable golfers of differing abilities to compete on an equitable basis.
Through this system, each golfer establishes an “Golf Canada Handicap Factor” which is a numerical measurement of a player’s potential (not actual) scoring ability on a course of standard difficulty.
The Handicap Factor is calculated using the best 10 of the player’s last 20 rounds and updated with each new round played. The Handicap Factor travels with the golfer from course to course and is adjusted up or down depending on the length and difficulty of the course played, resulting in a “Course Handicap”. The Course Handicap is the number of strokes a golfer receives from a specific set of tees at the course played and represents the number of strokes he would require to play equitably against a “scratch” golfer (a golfer with a Handicap Factor of “0.0′). The more difficult the golf course, the more strokes the golfer receives and vice versa.
The relative difficulty of a golf course is determined jointly by Golf Canada and the provincial golf association using the Golf Canada Course and Slope Rating System. Specially trained Course Rating Teams evaluate the difficulty of a golf course based on such variables as length and a number of obstacle factors (e.g. topography, bunkers, water hazards, severity of rough, etc).
Only Golf Canada member golf clubs are permitted to use the Golf Canada Handicap System and Golf Canada Course Rating System and related trademarks and service marks and must do so in a manner that preserves the integrity and reliability of these systems. All rights to use these systems and related trademarks and service marks terminate should the golf club cease to be a member in good standing with Golf Canada.
Golf Canada Handicap System Seminars
The Member Club Handicap License Agreement stipulates that every Alberta Golf / Golf Canada Member Club must have a representative attend a handicap seminar and complete the certification exam.
We host several Handicap System Certification Seminars each season in order to educate and help clubs and individuals achieve certification and compliance. These Seminars are a more in-depth look into Handicapping and Course Rating and will give attendees a thorough knowledge of the Golf Canada Handicap and Course Rating systems. The Handicap Seminars are beneficial for club members, Handicap Committee members, Golf Professionals, Superintendents, General Managers, and others interested in learning more about Handicapping in general.
These seminars are typically scheduled in the evenings and include a copy of the Golf Canada Handicap Manual and other relevant Handicap materials. Attendees who participate in the Seminars take a short exam to become Golf Canada Handicap System Certified. Upon successful completion of the Seminar and exam, a certificate of completion is sent to the newly certified Official.
Golf Canada offers Online Handicap Seminars available to complete at any time. The seminar will take approximately four hours, but you are able to bookmark your place and come back to it at your own convenience.
Equitable Stroke Control
Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make Handicap Factors more representative of a player’s potential scoring ability. It sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap.
How it works:
- 9 or Less Course Handicap – Max of 2 over par
- 10-19 Course Handicap – Max Score of 7
- 20-29 Course Handicap – Max Score of 8
- 30-39 Course Handicap – Max Score of 9
- 40 + Course Handicap – Max Score of 10
The purpose of the Golf Canada Course Rating System is to measure and rate the relative difficulty of golf courses across Canada so that a player’s Handicap Factor is accurate and transportable from golf course to golf course. The Course Rating System takes into account factors that affect the playing difficulty of a golf course including yardage, effective playing length and number of obstacle factors such as topography, elevation, doglegs, prevailing wind, bunkering, etc.
After a thorough study of the Course and Slope Rating System developed by the United States Golf Association (USGA), Golf Canada approved and adopted the system for Canada in January 1995.
The Golf Canada Course Rating System consists of two basic elements:
Golf Canada Course Rating – the evaluation of the playing difficulty of a course for scratch golfers under normal course and weather conditions expressed as number of strokes (e.g. 72.5).
Golf Canada Slope Rating – the evaluation of the relative difficulty of a course for players who are not scratch golfers compared to the difficulty of the course for scratch golfers. The lowest Slope Rating is 55 and the highest 155. A course of standard playing difficulty will have a Slope Rating of 113.
Every member golf course should have an Golf Canada Course Rating and Slope Rating for each set of tees at the course. These ratings are used in the calculation of the Golf Canada Handicap Factor and for determining a player’s Course Handicap for a given round. Accuracy and consistency are the keys to effective course rating. Alberta Golf rates golf courses in accordance with the system and this ensures that Course Ratings are accurate and uniform from coast to coast. Only an Alberta Golf team of course raters may rate golf courses.
Improving Pace of Play
Pace of play has become a hot button issue facing the golf industry in Canada and abroad.
The fact is, golfers see and golfers do. The swing habits and on course routines we see each week on the professional tours are all too often mirrored at the recreational level. Count me among those who believe a few more slow play penalties assessed at the pro level would go a long way towards educating everyday golfers about the ready position.
But pace of play is not simply a Rules of Golf issue. It’s an entire industry issue rooted in the culture of golf. That culture is ultimately set by the golfing bodies, the clubs, the professionals, the superintendents and especially the golfers themselves.
So how do we promote change? It starts with educating golfers on simple ways to play faster: playing ready golf; continuous putting; moving quickly from greens to tees; and for a great many of us, playing from the skill-appropriate tees and distances for a most enjoyable golf experience.
It means encouraging alternative formats other than stroke play, such as match play, Stableford scoring, scrambles and alternate shot events that take less time yet still offer competitive elements to a round of golf. For Golf Canada members who track their Handicap Factor, following the guidelines of Equitable Stroke Control (ESC) goes a long way as well.
PGA of Canada members and club officials play a key front line role in educating golfers on how to play at a proper pace and select the most appropriate tees. The same is true for course starters and marshals as important golfer touch points. A friendly tip from an expert goes a long way.
Some courses encourage a good pace of play by promoting nine-hole rounds and nine-and-dines or offering incentives such as discounts in their pro shops or food and beverage facilities for rounds played under a set time. Other clubs may take a harder line approach with an expected time par strictly enforced and understood among the membership.
Not to be forgotten are the stewards of the playing field. Superintendents and greens staff need to ensure a course set-up that encourages a good pace by maintaining the rough at a reasonable height, manageable green speeds and fair hole locations. The same is true for properly marked and effectively spaced yardage markers or sprinkler heads.
The pace of play resource centre that the USGA had made available is a good start for those interested in finding out more about little things every golfer or industry stakeholder can do to improve overall pace of play. You can find links to many of those pace of play resources below.
There’s no silver bullet to improve pace of play or golfer awareness. But there’s something to be said for making the turn in two hours or less that’s good value and a lesson worth learning for any golfer.
Pace of Play Resources for Players: