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What do you have to tell your opponent in match play?

Getting a grilling from your nemesis in the club knockout? Here’s what your Rules of Golf responsibilities are in player-to-player combat

 

Who doesn’t love match play? You play the player as much as the course and there are all kinds of psychological tricks you can get into if you’re that way inclined.

But the Rules of Golf outline certain responsibilities that both a player and opponent need to follow and maybe a couple of these will surprise you.

It’s all covered in Rule 3.2d, so let’s dive in…

What information do I need to give my opponent in match play?

Handicaps

If you declare a wrong handicap either before the match starts, or during it and don’t correct the mistake before your opponent makes their next stroke then you could be in big trouble. You’re disqualified if that declared handicap is too high and it affects the number of strokes you give or get. If it’s too low, you’ll play off that mark for the entirety of the match.

A new clarification in the 2023 Rules of Golf went further in considering when a player gives an opponent incorrect handicap information before a handicap match.

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.”

The number of strokes taken in match play

Your opponent can ask you at any time, whether during the hole or once it’s finished, how many strokes you‘ve taken – and you must tell them.

Don’t get tricky here. If you give out the wrong number, or flat out refuse, you’ll get the general penalty (that’s loss of hole).

You can correct this mistake, but only if you’re in time. That’s classed as before your opponent takes another shot, or a similar action, when you’re playing a hole or, if you’ve already holed out, before either of you begin another hole.

If it happens on the final hole, it’s before the match result is final. Now, there are some exceptions to this for those of you thinking the above is a bit on the strict side.

If the wrong number doesn’t change whether the hole was won, or indeed lost or tied, you’ll not pick up a penalty.

golf match play rules

What if you’ve given out the wrong number of strokes after a hole is finished and it’s not discovered until later?

Easily done, and there’s a clarification in the rules that covers this. If the mistake affected the result of the hole, and you didn’t fix it in time, the general penalty is coming your way and you need to correct the match score.

This doesn’t last forever, though. If you realise you’ve unknowingly given the wrong number once the match is over and the result is final, as long as you haven’t done it deliberately, the “result of the match stands as played”.

Telling your opponent about penalties in match play

No surprises here. You must tell your opponent about the penalty as soon as is “reasonably possible”. That considers how near you are to your competitor so, as a clarification points out, that might not necessarily always be before they take their next stroke.

Did you also know that this exists even if you don’t know you’ve incurred a penalty? It’s because “players are expected to recognise when they have breached a Rule”.

If you pick up a penalty and don’t tell your opponent before they take another shot – or a similar action (this includes stuff like conceding a hole) then that loss of hole sanction is coming your way again.

But there is one exception to this. If your opponent knows you’ve incurred a penalty – the Rules give the example of when they see you taking penalty relief – then you’ll not be penalised for not telling them about it.

Knowing the match score

You and your opponent are expected to know where you stand in the match. But what if you both make a mistake?

There’s a limited window in which to correct it. If you both agree on a score and it turns out to be wrong, you have until either of you takes your tee shot to begin another hole or, if you’re on the final hole, before the result of the match becomes final.

If you don’t do this, the wrong match score becomes the actual match score.

As it seems with all of these things, there is another exception. That’s when you make a “timely request for a ruling” (see Rule 20.1b for more) and it’s found your opponent gave you the wrong number of strokes or didn’t tell you about a penalty.

If upheld, the match score is then corrected.

Now have your say

What do you make of these match play golf rules? Why not let me know by leaving 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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