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Is it legal to take a “breakfast ball” on the first tee? Here’s what the Rules of Golf say

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A mulligan is allowed at the first hole. That is a fact…at least according to a participant at a recent rules evening I conducted. Let me tell you what happened, because, shockingly, he might be right.

As always, I explained to the participants what a mulligan is. I have done this for many years, and it is probably the one “rule” most people tend to know. This is surprising, since it is the only rule we talk about that is not found in the rule book!

When I told the participants that evening that a mulligan is never allowed, a person raised his hand. I think there were around 100 of us. He told me very calmly about a recent episode he was involved in.

Person: “Brian, that was not what I did.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Person: “I did not take a free ‘reload.”‘

Me (with a smile): “OK. So then what did you do?”

Person: “Brian this is what happened. Listen carefully. I played a very poor shot from the teeing ground on the first tee. It made me really sad. I therefore decided to stop the round. I didn’t want to play anymore. But you know what? 10 seconds later I realized I wanted to play again! I love golf! So therefore I placed a ball on a tee, and I started a new round of golf . I then played my first stroke in that new round of golf. Therefore, it was not a mulligan, rather it was a completely new round of golf!”

How would you answer this person? Any idea? Well let me tell you what my answer was:

“Well…ehh…you cannot…I mean…it is not fair…eeeeh…if you really want to play…eeh…“

Not really a great answer! Of course, I desperately began to read the rules book to find out what it says about when you are allowed to stop a round. But it does not say. So, as far as I’ve seen in the rules book, there is no answer.

The only help seems to be in Rule 1-4, that states

“If any point a dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision should be made in accordance with equity”.

Well that does not give you much help. Maybe you could argue, that under Rule 1-4 it would be most fair, that — in the situation mentioned above — the player was playing under stroke and distance, and therefore was playing his third stroke from the teeing ground.

But I don’t know for sure.

What do you think?

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I am founder of "The Oswald Academy", which has only one purpose: To teach in the Rules of Golf. My hope is to make the Rules of Golf interesting and easy to understand. I am publishing Rules Books, conducting seminars, letterboxes, writing blogs, publishing "The Oswald Rules School" (videos) and much more. I live in New York, but I was born in Denmark. I am a former lawyer, and have two kids - and one wife.

58 Comments

58 Comments

  1. mark

    Oct 15, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    A Mulligan is only an issue if you are competing for score or plaing for money. A Mulligan is a free stroke. I am not inclined to play a Mulligan, but I don’t begrudge a playing partner or opponent his, as long as he is willing to give me one in my pocket. So the way I prefer to play is: 4 players hit their balls off the first tee. Anyone can take a first tee Mulligan, but if anyone takes a Mulligan, everyone who doesn’t take a Mulligan on the first tee has one in his pocket, which can be used anytime during the round, but only on a tee box. If no one takes a Mulligan on the first tee box, then that ends use of Mulligans by anyone. On the other hand, if we are not competing or betting, then you can re-hit whenever you want, take gimmes or re-putt whenever you want and card any score you want, as long as you aren’t slowing anyone down.

  2. pete

    Oct 1, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    I can see the logic of taking a mulligan on the first hole. For most of us, we show up to the course 10 minutes before a tee time, barely have a chance to get loose, before they announce us to be on the tee 5 minutes early. Theres a reason why professionals spend 30 minutes on the range before they tee off. Not that I’m in any way comparing myself to a professional golfer, but it is very unfair to ones body to walk up to the first tee, without first having eased into your full swing during a warmup and expect to pipe one down the middle without either a. injuring yourself, or b. hitting a very poor shot. And for many of us, the first tee jitters are too much to overcome and we need to get that awful shot out of the way before we can relax. I havent taken a mulligan since I was a kid, but I can see why people do it. If I didn’t have another group waiting behind me, I would consider it, on the first tee only.

  3. brett

    Sep 29, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Men love golf….. women hate men….

  4. Shep

    Sep 24, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Why is the value of a tee shot on the first hole different than any other hole? Either take a mulligan on any hole or don’t take one at all. Personally, I don’t like mulligans. It’s no different than getting an extra strike in baseball or an extra shot in basketball. I’m not sure why a bad shot on the first hole warrants a redo but not other holes. Just play golf. It’s fun regardless of whether you hit a good shot on the first tee.

  5. Jalan

    Sep 21, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    I think that is one of the dumbest comments I’ve heard in golf. What happens if he doesn’t like the first shot on the second round? Quit and start a new round? Keep quitting and starting new rounds ’til he hits one he likes?

    What if he happens to hit another bad shot on the 2nd tee? Quit and go back to the first tee to start over. We’ll be here all day. Any civilized club would kill this idiot.

  6. Lovejoy

    Sep 20, 2018 at 10:59 am

    How can you teach golf rules when you display such shameful ignorance?

  7. Paul

    Sep 19, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    No range practice before? Yep, don’t care, hitting two shots.

  8. Stixman

    Sep 19, 2018 at 5:18 am

    Do you expect influence to operate from the public upwards, or from the ‘leadership’ downwards? The Rules of Golf should operate from the Players upwards and the Leadership should be reflecting what is acceptable and expected by the majority.
    What seems to be coming out of America generally is just this. The Public morality isn’t what it was and this is reflected in golf leadership and elsewhere. Shame, but ‘it is what it is’.

  9. ChipNRun

    Sep 17, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Strange occurrence.

    My group was playing a course with a difficult, watery Par 5 for the first hole.It was a semi-crowded Friday morning. I popped up a high, sub-200 yard drive that hit the center of the fairway. Partner 1 found the first cut of rough in the open. Two other guys, however, found trouble. Partner 2 sliced a ball deep into the treeline, and Partner 3 hit a low pull into the bullrushes near the water hazard.

    The starter jumped up and said, “You and you, hit again no penalty. And doan’ even look for those first shots… You need to get movin'”.

    Does golf have a special rule on Mulligans Against Your Will? Just wondering.

    • James

      Sep 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Funny. I just know those guys looked for their balls. Did you see if they followed the starter’s advice?

      • ChipNRun

        Sep 19, 2018 at 5:02 pm

        Sorry. I was so happy to be in the fairway I didn’t notice.

  10. A. Commoner

    Sep 17, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Legal? Are we in a court room?

    • James

      Sep 17, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      I can see this issue going before the Supreme Court. But what do they know? None of them play golf.

  11. Halu

    Sep 12, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    If you have some sort of match/stroke play game with your buddies it’s fine as long as it is discussed prior to the 1st person to tee off.

    At the end of the day…. “Johnny Short Ball” is still going to tee-up another ball on the 1st tee just because he ‘usually doesn’t do that’. If you’re out there to have fun and have a few pops, do whatever you want to do… just don’t hold me up.

  12. Arthy

    Sep 10, 2018 at 5:23 am

    Doesn’t meet the conditions of Rule 6.8.

  13. Mike

    Sep 9, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    As long as you don’t hold me up at all (& I’m serious…at all), I don’t care if you redo that 3 footer you missed. Or that drive in the woods. But please…enter your score w/ ALL the “muilligans / retries”. I’m a 16 index, & there’s NOTHING I love more than playing a $ match getting strokes from a 10 index who really a 16 (like me).

    However, the cool thing about golf is that among your buds you can adjust the rules any way you see fit. In my league there’s no OB (stroke & distance) but everyone plays by that same rule. But in our annual course championship, all USGA rules are applied & everything is putted out. That’s the beauty of the game, the flexibility.

  14. Travis

    Sep 9, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Who cares? All these people talking about going in and paying for another round… seriously? You people are in no way shape or form anyone I would want to play with. I bet you’d make him putt out that 6-inch putt too, right?

    It’s golf, it’s a GAME, none of us will every be Touring Professionals. Take a breakfast ball, I don’t care, just have fun and enjoy. As long as you’re keeping up with the pace of play then just enjoy yourself.

    People need to get their sticks out of their a**.

    • Tiger Noods

      Sep 10, 2018 at 3:23 am

      You’re missing the point. No one cares if they take a breakfast ball. It’s the idea that it’s somehow ok’d in the rulebook that’s asinine.

  15. Pete McGill

    Sep 7, 2018 at 1:18 am

    You want to start a new round? No worries. Just wait until the rest of finish this round…

    • Benny

      Sep 29, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Hahahahaha, awesome!
      Oh and BTW pay ip to for losing that first round…
      Now how about a press?

  16. Dave r

    Sep 6, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Whole lot of nothing about nothing.

  17. DIG

    Sep 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Practice on the course before the game is allowed in match-play, so the first drive could be called a practice shot, and the mulligan the first shot of the match. No practice during the round of course. So only applicable on the first tee. And this would not apply in stroke play.
    Just a thought.

    • JP

      Sep 6, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Shouldn’t it be announced prior to hitting the ball if it’s going to be a practice shot?

      If not, you can end your round, that’s fine. Go pay for your next round and get the next available tee time. And hopefully, it’s not with my group.

    • Nigel Kent

      Sep 6, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      In Matchplay , a poor tee-shot towards trouble ( water or O/B )can either be allowed to stand , or cancelled . Both by the opponent , not the player who hit the shot .

  18. Darrin

    Sep 6, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Playing with buddies. No warm up at range prior to round. We all look at each other on first tee. Low ball/low total? Sure. Indiviual games? Skins? sure/yes. Greenies, sandys? Yep.. Two off of #1. Yep. Is that a new driver? yeah it’s awesome. Did your wife pick out those shorts? “F” you.

    Good luck.

  19. CG

    Sep 5, 2018 at 6:39 am

    I’m sure this has nothing to do with a golf tournament using the official rules of golf to govern play so, this is much ado about nothing. All groups agree to their own set of rules.

  20. Julio da Cal

    Sep 5, 2018 at 4:19 am

    I didnt read all coments but here is mine.

    I would accept that… if he would pay another fee.

    • JP

      Sep 6, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      And go back to the pro shop and get the next available tee time.

      • kevin

        Sep 10, 2018 at 3:38 pm

        so if the tee sheet is open and you are playing at the club where you are a member….

        the entire point of the article is to point out the rules don’t specify how to handle this situation for handicap reporting purposes.

    • namthanh

      Sep 12, 2018 at 2:52 am

      Well, this might be one of those clubs that does not fit for everyone, I might be lucky enough to be in the general targeted audience. Although it may not be the greatest club, but it’s not too bad either.

  21. CJ

    Sep 5, 2018 at 12:55 am

    Abandon the round after one shot? Sure, just pay off the Nasau then start the next round, same wager.

  22. MF

    Sep 5, 2018 at 12:26 am

    If you are going to use the 1st tee as your warm up then make sure you announce whether or not the next shot will count or not before you hit it. You don’t get to hit the shot and then decide. If you want to make up excuses to cheat then you are only hurting yourself. You might sound like a better golfer but you’re not and everyone knows it.

  23. Tommy

    Sep 4, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    This is really great news for me!

  24. Law Prof

    Sep 4, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    I have a friend who’s a former D1 tennis player and still competes in pro-ams, he has a rule he calls “First one in” for tennis; that is, the first service at the start of the game, the server gets to keep trying until he/she gets the ball in, then play has begun. While it may not technically be legal in golf, I think that’s a great rule–multiple mulligans on the first tee until you get one you like, then the round commences. That seems in keeping with “equity” in Rule 1-4, taking into consideration you’re usually going cold off the first tee. And for those prigs who say “Well that’s what driving ranges are for, warm up there!”, I say, for those of us who have families and jobs and wives who start looking mighty hard at you for taking time off to play even 9 holes in the first place, you can stick that driving range in your ear, I don’t have time .

    • Iain Laing

      Sep 5, 2018 at 2:33 am

      That really is going to speed up play,,, for goodness sake imagine the backlog

      • Harry

        Sep 6, 2018 at 3:22 pm

        How many shots are we talking about? One? Or all of them? No difference in time than hitting a provisional. If the group agrees then who cares?

  25. John

    Sep 4, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    If he didn’t leave the course then can’t see how he can stop his round on the first tee…..then restart it again.
    (By his standards, he could stop his round after every bad shot, then restart a new round…) I.e. 2 or 20 rounds into one…
    What then is the definition of stopping and/or leaving a course..?
    The plot thickens ..

    • Joe

      Sep 6, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Just playing the other side. But if you “quit” on say hole 6 then to restart you would need to go back and start at the first tee. So by this “ruling” it really only works on the first tee ball. As stated above from others I’m fine with it if you pay off any bets from the first match you just forfeited.

  26. Paul

    Sep 4, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    I always say “2 off the 1st.” As has been mentioned, most of the time I show up with zero time to spare before the tee time. Therefore I can’t hit balls on the range, and many of the courses I play don’t even have a range (small munis). So if your first tee shot sucks, tee it up and go again. I don’t play for $, just for fun.

  27. nyguy

    Sep 4, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    unless your playing a tournament, who cares… you probably just showed up with no range time, or days of playing the course. I’d like to see pros or anyone playing a tournament, show up and have there first swing be at the 1 tee box…

    • Nihonsei

      Sep 6, 2018 at 11:46 am

      John Daly has often, according to legend…straight from the bar to the first tee!

  28. Al

    Sep 4, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Dont put money on the outcome, and then who cares, give putts fron 3 feet give mulligans, move balls from under trees bushes, shrubs, etc. however, put money, something, on the outcome,and that all changes. If you quit after your 1st bad tee shot you lose the round and pay up. You can still play, but dont expect to win, when you quit earlier.

  29. Malcolm MacLaren

    Sep 4, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    As long as you declare the first ball a “breakfast ball” prior to hitting it. If not, your second off the tee should be your second shot provided the first ball didn’t go out of bounds. This should only apply to the first tee though and not later in the round.

  30. Iutodd

    Sep 4, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    If there is no range for a proper warmup I don’t see what the big deal is as long as it’s agreed upon by your group and you don’t make a big deal out of it or take a long time.

    Also if there is no warmup – club down and move up a tee on the first one.

  31. jt

    Sep 4, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    There are times I’d like to play a “Lunch ball” and a “Dinner ball”. Anyone up for a “Dessert ball”?

    • od

      Sep 4, 2018 at 7:42 pm

      No but I’d be up for a highball!

      • Benny

        Sep 29, 2018 at 11:26 am

        I ised to be up for an 8 ball…. then most times another after a long night…. but those days are well behind me. Lets play golf!

  32. Rich

    Sep 4, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    It’s a very unsportsmanlike move. 1-4 should cover it, along with “The Spirit of the Game” in the Etiquette section.

  33. Matt

    Sep 4, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    So did the guy go and pay another greens fee?

  34. JT

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Yeah, I once saw Phil Mickelson take a breakfast ball on the first hole at Pebble Beach.

  35. TwoLegsMcManus

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I believe the PGA Tour has a condition of competition that a player can’t play a round of golf on the same day as a competition round. (Not positive, but I think I read that somewhere).

    If any competition had that rule, the first hole mulligan / abandoned round would be easily ruled upon.

    Aside from competition, first-hole mulligans are understandable. We presume competitors visit the range before a round. With busy schedules, we can’t always do that before recreational rounds and hit the first tee cold – often after a long drive in traffic…

  36. Acemandrake

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    “Spirit of the game”, anyone? Or how about “intent”?

    “If it feels like cheating then it probably is”?

    • Relaxalittle

      Sep 12, 2018 at 10:53 am

      “Maybe not everyone plays strict to the rules because in the end it doesn’t really matter”
      “Spend more time playing golf and less time dictating how others should play golf”

      • SelahVi

        Sep 12, 2018 at 7:08 pm

        He is answering a question about the rules. If someone doesn’t care what the rules say about this scenario, I am not sure why they would care about the contents of this article or the comments.

  37. JS

    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I think your participant should read the rules again:

    2-1. General
    A match consists of one side playing against another over a stipulated
    round unless otherwise decreed by the Committee.

    3-1. General; Winner
    A stroke-play competition consists of competitors completing each
    hole of a stipulated round or rounds and, for each round, returning
    a score card on which there is a gross score for each hole. Each
    competitor is playing against every other competitor in the competition.

    Stipulated Round
    The “stipulated round’’ consists of playing the holes of the course in their
    correct sequence, unless otherwise authorized by the Committee. The
    number of holes in a stipulated round is 18 unless a smaller number is
    authorized by the Committee. As to extension of stipulated round in match
    play, see Rule 2-3.

    33-1. Conditions; Waiving Rule
    The Committee must establish the conditions under which a
    competition is to be played.
    The Committee has no power to waive a Rule of Golf.
    The number of holes of a stipulated round must not be reduced once
    play has commenced for that round.

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