Don’t worry, you’re not the only person who has questions about mini golf rules.
I ran a mini golf course for 7 years, so I’ve been asked virtually every question under the sun.
I thought it would be helpful to put my experience to work and create a basic guide for playing mini golf.
So before you hit the greens for a friendly gathering (or a hot date), let’s delve into a few specific rules that you’ll need to keep in mind for a successful game.
The Goal of a Miniature Golf Round
Before I start talking about specific rules, you should understand the ultimate objective: Destroy your opponents.
[I’m kidding…unless you’re playing against a sworn enemy.]
The goal of every mini golf round is to complete each hole using the least number of strokes hits possible to get the ball into the cup.
Each hit or shot is called a stroke.
If someone gets the golf ball in the cup in 2 strokes, and you get the ball into the cup in 5 strokes, they did better than you on that hole.
Your goal is to finish your mini golf game with the fewest strokes.
The same is true in regular golf, by the way. The person with the fewest strokes is the winner.
Mini Golf Rules
Now that you understand the goal of mini golf, it’s time to hone in on the rules.
The Equipment (What You Need)
In order to play the course, you will need 3 things:
- A putter (choose a golf club that’s about waist high)
- A scorecard (only 1 member of your group should take a scorecard)
- A mini golf ball
Typically you get to choose the color of your golf ball. Choose any color but green.
[I lost an important match with a green ball so I’m out on that color forever.]
Once you have all the gear you need, proceed to hole #1.
Navigating the Miniature Golf Course
Most miniature golf courses have 18 holes. Play each hole in order.
Each of the holes has a par. This number represents the how many strokes (putts, hits, shots, etc.) a skilled player should take to complete the hole.
If the par for a hole is 3, shooting a 3 is good. Shooting a 2 is great. Shooting a 5 is bad.
As I mentioned earlier, the less strokes you take to complete a hole, the better.
Unwritten golf rule: If your group is slow and there is a faster group waiting behind you, step aside and let them play through.
Each player will putt from the beginning of the hole. This is typically called the tee area.
After each player has “teed” off, the person whose first putt was closest to the hole goes next. They will continue to putt until the golf ball is in the hole.
One trustworthy member of your group should keep track of everyone’s score.
At the end of each hole, players should check with the scorekeeper to make sure the recorded scores are accurate.
Nobody wants a controversial ending, especially when pride (or money) is on the line.
Who goes first?
On the first hole, it doesn’t matter.
On every hole after that, whoever has the lowest score goes first. This allows the other players to watch their putt and develop a strategy for that hole.
What happens if the golf ball goes off the course or gets stuck in an obstacle?
When a golf ball goes off the course, the player finds the ball and places it back on the course at the spot where it left the course. They are then given a penalty stroke (+1 is added to their score for that hole).
Many mini golf courses have ponds or a sand trap to heighten the experience. Try to keep your golf ball away from those hazards so you don’t get a stroke penalty.
When the ball gets stuck in an obstacle and is unplayable, the player can free the ball and play it from that spot, but they can’t move it closer to the hole. In this case, they are also given a penalty stroke (+1 is added to their score for that hole).
What happens if the golf ball is too close to the wall?
Most mini golf courses have a simple rule for this situation: You can move your ball one putter head length away from the wall.
Some courses are more generous and allow you to move the ball 6 inches from the wall.
Either way, the goal is to allow you to make a normal putting motion. There is no penalty for this adjustment.
Some courses will have a stroke limit. Check your scorecard to see if there is a rule in place.
If so, the course may specify the maximum number of strokes a player can be given on a hole (typically a 6).
That means if you’ve already hit the ball 6 times, you can pick it up your ball and move on. You are given a 6 for that hole.
Finalizing the Score
At the end of the round, the scores for each hole are added up.
The winner is the player with the lowest score.
In the example below, Josh is the winner (isn’t that convenient) because he has the lowest score.
Other Basic Rules Worth Noting
- Every time you touch the ball with the golf club, that counts as a stroke (even if its a small tap).
- You can’t move, stop, or interfere with the ball once it’s in motion.
- Wait for the group ahead of you to finish playing their hole before you start.
- Do not swing your putter too high or too close to other players.
There isn’t a dress code for playing the course, but I offer some tips on what to wear to mini golf.
Mini Golf Strategy Tips
Now that you know the basic rules, it’s time to develop a strategy.
The best thing about mini golf / putt putt is that you don’t need a pro skill level in order to compete. This is a leisurely sport where a golfer and a non-golfer can compete.
Even kids can play the game, so if you’re reading this article, you’re more than qualified.
For each mini golf hole, I’d offer two pieces of advice:
- Swing the putter lighter than you think you should. This will keep the ball on the course and help you avoid stroke penalties.
- Pay close attention to the putts of other players. This will help you predict how the ball will roll on each hole.