Is There a Penalty for Playing Out of Order in Golf?

When a group of golfers is playing a hole, "order of play" is ruled by the concept of "away": The golfer who is away — meaning her golf ball is farthest from the hole — plays first. For much of golf's history, this order of play was either enforced in the rules (for match play) or through the dictates of golf etiquette (stroke play). What about today? Is it a penalty to play out of order — for a golfer to play out of turn — when playing a hole?

The short answer is no in stroke play, and maybe/maybe not in match play.

When the governing bodies of golf (the R&A and USGA) issued a new rule book in 2019, they did a lot of updating and some simplifying. Pace of play (how fast or slow a golfer plays) had become an issue in the game.

And so the new Rules of Golf allow golfers to play out of order in stroke play for the sake of speeding up the game. In the new rule book, this is covered under Rule 5.6b. Quoting from the condensed Player's Edition, under the heading of "Playing Out of Turn to Help Pace of Play," the rule states:

"In stroke play, play 'ready golf' in a safe and responsible way."

"Ready golf" means that golfers in a group playing stroke play can ignore the concept of "away" and the traditional, etiquette-driven order of play. Each golfer in the group can play his stroke when ready, rather than waiting to go in the traditional order.

So in stroke play, no, there is no penalty for playing out of order. However, you should never start playing ready golf on your own — make sure all members of your group are in agreement about doing so, and, if not, continue observing the traditional order of play.

What about in match play? In match play there has always been a penalty for playing out of order: Your opponent can recall your stroke and make you play it again.

But under the rules in effect since 2019, there is now an option for ready golf in match play, too. Again, quoting from Rule 5.6b under the heading, "Playing Out of Turn to Help Pace of Play":

"In match play, you and your opponent may agree that one of you will play out of turn to save time."

However, a golfer still has the option to recall his opponent's stroke if that opponent played out of order without such an agreement.

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