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2023 Rules of Golf rules disputes

Got a rules issue and need club chiefs to get involved? Here’s what you need to know

You’ve been unable to come to agreement with your partners and need some help from above. Our expert has some advice on how to help your club chiefs handle golf rules disputes

 

Rules disputes happen. They don’t all end up in quarrels and hurt feelings – a lot of the time players are just unsure about what the rule book says or how to interpret a situation.

We’ve already looked at what you can do with your playing partners to solve rules issues out on the course.

Occasionally, though, you’re going to need someone on the competition committee to step in give a definitive answer.

But it isn’t just as simple as popping into the pro shop and demanding a resolution. There are criteria you need to meet in the Rules of Golf, and these can change depending on whether the format is match play or stroke play.

So let’s take a look at when and how ruling requests can be made. Beware: some of this can get a bit wordy…

match play golf

Golf rules disputes: Solving a match play issue

It can depend on what the request is and when it is made. This generally falls into requests that are made before the result of the match is final, and those made after it is final.

When the request is made before the result of a match is final, and you can’t quickly get hold of a referee or committee member, you can tell your opponent that you’ll be seeking a ruling when they are available.

You have got to make a request “in time” and that depends on when you became aware of whatever facts created a rules issue.

If that happens “before either player starts the final hole of the match”, the request needs to be made before any of you make a stroke to begin another hole.

If it’s during, or after you’ve completed, the final hole of the match, you need to make it before the result becomes final.

A request that’s not made in time will see the result of the hole stand – even if the rules were applied wrongly.

What if you’ve only just realised there’s a problem and now you’re several holes on from when the alleged incident happened? In that case, three things need to apply for a ruling to be given.

These are: your opponent gave you the wrong number of strokes, or failed to tell you about a penalty; the request is made on facts you were not aware of before either of you made a stroke to begin the hole being played and, after learning this, you made a request for a ruling in time.

What if the result of the match is final? In that case, you will only get a committee to give you a ruling if two factors apply – and both must apply.

These are: if the request is based on facts you were not aware of before the result became final, and your opponent gave you wrong information about the number of strokes taken, or failed to tell you about a penalty, and they knew they had breached the rule before the result became final.

If that’s the case then there is no time limit on giving such a ruling.

World Handicap System

Golf rules disputes: Solving a stroke play issue

You know in stroke play you’ve got the opportunity to play two balls if you’re uncertain about what to do. When you’ve done that, and informed the committee before returning your scorecard, they then decide your score for the hole.

Rule 20.1c (4) explains what they do and it depends on what the rules allowed in your situation. Firstly, if the rules allow it, then the score with the ball that’s chosen will count.

If that’s not the case, the score with the other ball counts if the rules allows that.

Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. If the rules did not allow the procedure used for either ball, the score with the chosen ball counts “unless there was a serious breach in playing that ball from a wrong place, in which case the score with the other ball counts”.

If there was a serious breach in playing each ball from a wrong place then you’re going to be disqualified.

What does “rules allow the procedure used” mean? Helpfully, this is clarified and it’s worth listing in full. It means “the original ball was played as it lies and play was allowed from there, or the ball that was played was put in play under the right procedure, in the right way and in the right place under the rules”.

If you’re still confused by all of this then relax, sit back, and let the competition committee sort it out for you!

But if you’re already down the rabbit hole, then the clarifications in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf provide answers to all kinds of complexities and situations that can arise when something happens on the course.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

Have you been involved in any golf rules disputes that needed committee help? How were they resolved? Let me know with a tweet.

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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