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golf match play rules

Get this match play rule wrong and you won’t get off the 1st tee!

Get out of line with these match play golf rules and you’ll find yourselves in big trouble, as our Rules of Golf expert explains

 

It’s a ritual in match play as old as handicaps itself. Let’s call it ‘the revelation of the shots’. You meet on the first tee and work out who gets what.

We might be bit more carefree about this pre-match exchange than we probably should be – as there’s always been a stiff penalty in player-to-player combat for declaring an incorrect handicap.

But when the 2023 Rules of Golf came into effect, there was a subtle elucidation to this process that chiefs at the R&A and USGA say now “more accurately reflects handicap-related conversations during a match”.

What happened? It’s all revealed in a clarification to Rule 3.2c (1) found in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf has the ominous looking title of ‘Player Gives Opponent Incorrect Handicap Information Before Handicap Match’.

Match play golf rules: Declaring correct handicaps

Golfers check scorecard - golf match play rules

It says: “If a player gives the opponent incorrect information in relation to their handicap and this results in the player giving too few or getting too many strokes, the player is disqualified under Rule 3.2c (1).”

The clarification outlines an example where a player tells an opponent an incorrect handicap index, course handicap, or playing handicap that “they calculated incorrectly” and which is then used to determine how many strokes there will be in the match.

It goes on: “If this means the player will get too many or give too few handicap strokes because of the incorrect information, and this error is not corrected before the opponent makes their next stroke, the player is disqualified.”

So whether it’s poring over that handicap chart for a little longer, or double checking those allowances in the computer, make sure when you come together for your knockout that everyone’s clear on how shots are allocated for the match.

Otherwise, you might not make it past the first tee.

Now have your say

What do you think about these match play golf rules? Have you had to use it with an opponent, or have you been caught out? Let me know with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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