fbpx
Rules of Golf Level 3

How you should sort out a Rules dispute on the course

We all try to play to the laws of the game but occasionally there can be disagreements. How do you sort them out? Our expert marks your card

 

I’ve seen all sorts. Players who have almost come to blows over how to take relief from a staked tree. Conflabs which seemed to go on for an eternity over whether the ball that was found was the original or the provisional.

Sometimes golfers implied that players were cheating. Other times there was genuine confusion about what the rules were in a particular situation.

While we all try to play to the laws of the game, occasionally there are disagreements but the rules recognise this and Rule 20 in the Rules of Golf gives you the tools they need to resolve a golf rules dispute.

What happens depends on whether you are playing match play or stroke play. There’s plenty to go at and we’re going to take it in two parts. The second article will look at ruling requests, their timing, and when you need to involve your club committee.

But first we’re going to consider how you can sort it out among yourselves on the course.

Golf rules dispute: Rules issues in match play

golf match play rules

In match play, you can basically sort out a rules issue among yourselves. Any outcome you decide is “conclusive” – even if it turns out to be wrong.

But you can’t agree to ignore any rule or penalty you knew applied. If you do that, and you’ve started the round, everyone who made the agreement is disqualified (even if they haven’t yet acted upon it).

In stroke play, there is a situation – we’ll come to it in a minute – where you can play two balls if you’re uncertain about what to do. That’s not the case in match play. If you do so, a clarification to Rule 20.1b (4) reveals that the score with the original ball will always count if your opponent has not objected to you playing a second ball.

If they do take issue with it, you play two balls anyway, and a ruling request is made in time, then you’ll lose the hole for playing a wrong ball.

Golf rules dispute: Rules issues in stroke play

2023 Rules of Golf rules dispute

No agreement is allowed here. If you can’t find a referee or a committee member to help in a reasonable time then you are encouraged to help your playing partners in applying the rules.

But whatever you decide is not binding on any player, a referee, or the committee. If you’ve got a rules issue, make sure you raise it with your competition committee before returning your scorecard.

In stroke play, you also need to protect the interests of other players in the competition. What does that mean? Simply, if you see someone breaching a rule, or you think they might have done so, you should tell that player, their marker, a referee or the committee.

Don’t hang about letting them know. Do it promptly and certainly no later than before they return their card “unless it is not possible to do so”.

This isn’t an option, by the way. Don’t feel like you can ignore someone breaching the rules in stroke play. If you do, and you’re discovered, you could also be disqualified if your competition committee decides that your inaction constitutes serious misconduct.

If you’re at loggerheads in stroke play, and are uncertain about what to do, then you can decide to play two balls.

You’ve got to decide this after the “uncertain situation arises and before making a stroke”. You then choose which ball will count if the rules allow it and announce that to your marker or another player. Again, you do this before making a stroke.

If you don’t choose in time, the ball you played first is treated automatically as the chosen ball. When you get back into the clubhouse, you must tell the committee what you’ve done before you return your scorecard.

You must do that even if you made the same score with both balls. If you don’t, you will be disqualified.

What if you had made a stroke before deciding you wanted to play a second ball? Well, that second ball doesn’t count but you won’t get a penalty for having played out the hole with two balls.

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 ever had to discuss a rules issue or sort out a golf rules dispute on the course? Let me know how it went 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.

Latest Posts

2023 Rules of Golf changes replacing golf ball on spot

Rules of Golf

England Golf extend period for preferred lies

By

Read full article about England Golf extend period for preferred lies
rules beginner

Rules of Golf

What are the key rules beginner golfers should know?

By

Read full article about What are the key rules beginner golfers should know?
Want to play the same game as the pros? That means playing the same Rules!

Rules of Golf

Want to play the same game as the pros? That means playing the same Rules!

By

Read full article about Want to play the same game as the pros? That means playing the same Rules!
gary woodland

Rules of Golf

Can you look into a player’s bag to see what club they’re using?

By

Read full article about Can you look into a player’s bag to see what club they’re using?
winter rules

Rules of Golf

5 Winter Rules Golfers Break!

By

Read full article about 5 Winter Rules Golfers Break!
golf divot

Rules of Golf

My ball has landed on a divot – can I move it?

By

Read full article about My ball has landed on a divot – can I move it?
animal scrapings

Rules of Golf

Do I get free relief from animal scrapings?

By

Read full article about Do I get free relief from animal scrapings?
rule changes

Rules of Golf

5 Rule Changes You Need To Know!

By

Read full article about 5 Rule Changes You Need To Know!
Golf club committee

Rules of Golf

The prizes were handed out but the committee got my score wrong – should the results be changed?

By

Read full article about The prizes were handed out but the committee got my score wrong – should the results be changed?