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With golf returning to the Summer Olympics in 2016, the rules of the game have been globally standardized for the first time in history.

Late last year, the sport’s governing bodies, the R&A and the US Golf Association, joined forces to ensure that the 2012 to 2015 rulebook, the Rules of Golf, would read the same for every country and in every language.

For instance, here are a few rule changes that will now apply to tournaments worldwide:

  • Arriving after a game’s starting time formerly resulted in disqualification, but now the rules on tardiness have been relaxed. Arriving within five minutes results in the loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play.
  • A player can now search for his or her ball anywhere on the course if he or she believes it is covered by sand; moving the ball under this circumstance does not incur a penalty.
  • However, if the ball is covered by loose impediments and a player moves it in a hazard, or obstacle area, a penalty of one stroke applies.

While the Rules of Golf govern professional golfers and lay out stipulations for amateurs, travellers visiting golf clubs around the world are still likely to encounter variations in cultural conventions and local etiquette. Here are a few of the most helpful country-specific tips to keep in mind:

On many golf courses in Scotland and in Sweden, newbies who are not completely familiar with the sport’s rules and etiquette are not allowed to play. Some courses require proof of experience (often via demonstrated ability or via confirmation from another course). 

Also in Scotland, championship golf courses, such as the Carnoustie Golf Links, usually do not allow electric golf carts, but do rent out hand trolleys.

In the United States, most public golf courses do not have dress codes. (But most private golf courses and clubs do, usually requiring collared shirts and prohibiting denim. Upscale courses may even ban shorts.) 

Many golf courses in Malaysia use cowgrass, a thick-blade grass, for their turf. For foreigners, this can make the game a tad more challenging, as Tim McDonald, contributor for the Golf Channel website Travel Golf, describes comically: “[Cowgrass] didn’t so much swallow your ball as chew it up and digest it. I’d swear I could hear it burp with satisfaction. To hit your tee shot in cowgrass is to say, ‘I think I’ll just take a drop.’”

In France, instead of shouting “Fore!” when a ball looks like it might accidentally hit someone, players yell “Balle!” Fore means ahead or in front in English, while balle simply means ball.

In wildlife-rich areas, special rules may apply. In Alaska, for instance, the Muskeg Meadows Golf Course implements the Raven Rule, which says that if a raven steals your ball you will not incur a penalty, as long as someone else witnessed the act.

Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.

 

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