Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Tips on Match Play Rules

I regularly receive requests for rulings relating to match play situations after a player has lost a hole, or the match, due to a Rules incident that they were not sure about. Most golfers play far more rounds of stroke play golf than match play golf and do not realise that there are several important differences in the Rules of these formats. Below are my 12 tips that every player should understand and remember before commencing a match.

1. You may practice on the course on the day of a match (Rule 7-1).

2. You must not touch your opponent’s ball in play, unless you are helping to search for it (Rule 18-3).
Do not mark an opponent’s ball on the putting green, unless they ask you to.

3. A concession of a hole may be given at any time and cannot be declined or withdrawn (Rule 2-4).
You may putt out after receiving the concession, providing the action is not of assistance to your partner in in a four-ball or best-ball match.

4. Incorrect information (Rule 9-2).
If you give your opponent wrong information about your score you must correct it before they make their next stroke, or you lose the hole. Similarly, if they give you wrong information.

5. Order of Play (Rule 10-1).
If your opponent plays out of turn you may let their stroke stand, or require that they cancel the stroke and play again in the correct order. In four-ball match play, balls belonging to the same side may be played in the order that the side considers best.

6. After a stroke your ball hits your opponent, or their equipment (Rule 19-3).
You may choose to replay the stroke, or accept it and play your next shot from where the ball had come to rest.

7. Putt from the putting green hits a ball at rest on the putting green (Rule 19-5).
There is no penalty in match play, the other ball must be replaced and your ball played from where it comes to rest.

8. Four-ball match play – representation of side (Rule 30-3a).
One partner may play for any part, or all of a match, but if and when their partner arrives they must wait until the start of the next hole to join the match.

9. Four-ball match play – wrong ball (Rule 30-3c).
If a player makes a stroke at a wrong ball their partner may continue play of the hole without penalty. If it was the partner's ball that was played they must place a ball where it was wrongly played from.

10. Asking for and giving advice (Rule 8-1).
If a third party gives unsolicited advice no penalty is incurred, but you must request that they do not do so again. You may not give advice to any team member other than your partner.

11. Ignoring an opponent’s breach of Rule (Rule 1-3). In match play, you do not have to call a penalty on your opponent if you witness a breach of Rule by them.
But don’t discuss the breach with the opponent before teeing off at the next hole, or you could both be disqualified for agreeing to waive a Rule.

12. If you are unsure of a Rule or procedure try and resolve it with your opponent immediately (Rule 2-5).
But if you cannot agree, a claim has to be made before teeing-off at the next hole. You must notify your opponent that you are making a claim, agree the facts and ask the Committee for a ruling.

This last point is important. I receive several communications where a player was ‘bullied’ into accepting a ruling by their opponent, which was subsequently found to be incorrect - too late to affect the result. Opponents should not to get into an argument on the course, but should agree on the facts of the situation and seek an authoritative ruling from a Committee member, or someone else whose knowledge of the Rules can be trusted. If a timely official ruling is not received, the match should be continued and played to a conclusion whereby there is a definitive result, depending on whether the eventual ruling for the disputed hole was won by either side, or was halved.

Good golfing,


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Anonymous said...

First of all thank you for your excellent columns again and again.
A question regarding item 11 of the above. Why do you write that discussing a breach after teeing off at the next hole, but during a round obviously, is allowed? I can't find that in the rule, nor in the decisons.
Thanks in advance for your response.
Henk Leliveld

Barry Rhodes said...


Rule 2-5 states that no claim may be made after any player has played from the next teeing ground. In match play a player may ignore a breach of Rule by their opponent. However, during play of a hole, if a player tells an opponent that they have just breached a Rule, but they are not going to apply the penalty, both players are guilty of agreeing to waive a Rule of Golf if the penalty is not then included.


terryw said...

Barry, thanks again.

Regarding item 12, I assume this means that, in the absence of a ruling, the match should be continued until a definitive result is known regardless of the outcome of the ruling. Is this correct? In an extreme case it could mean that a match is won 6&5 given one ruling, and lost at the 21st given the other. It must be very difficult to continue to play out a match in that circumstance.

regards, Terry

Barry Rhodes said...


Yes, that is exactly the point that I made in my last sentence; "If a timely official ruling is not received, the match should be continued and played to a conclusion whereby there is a definitive result, depending on whether the eventual ruling for the disputed hole was won by either side, or was halved." Of course one of the players could always concede the hole, or the players could agree to halve it, if they did not wish to continue playing to a definitive result in the absence of an official ruling. Your 6&5 or playing to the 21st hole scenario is extremely unlikely, but possible.


terryw said...

Thanks, Barry, as usual you explained these obscure interpretations in a way that I could understand them!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer, Barry. To make sure that I understand it well.

In a match A, when playing his ball out of a bunker, touches the sand in his backswing. His opponent B tells him immediately thereafter that he ignores this fault for now, but will claim the hole the next time it happens. Both should be disqualified. But if B would say this after both have teed off on the next hole, there is no penalty.
Is this understanding correct? Haven’t they agreed to waive a penalty, in the latter case too?

Regerds, Henk Leliveld

Barry Rhodes said...


Your understanding is correct in the two circumstances you describe

In the second scenario, there was no 'agreement' to waive a Rule; one player was informing their opponent that they had chosen to ignore a breach on a previous hole, which is their right in match play.


Beverly Cranford Janik said...

This came a the most perfect time. As I was creating a list of Match play strategies and rules for our B and C teams since there have been problems with 'bullies' during play as well as having some of these rules explained through examples. Thanks for putting this together!

Fiona Johnston said...

Would it be OK for me to add another matchplay 'rule/tactic' (I hope I didn't miss it in the list' - that the player furthest away from the hole MUST play first even if s/he is on the green and the opponent is through the green, and that a player can not tap in out of turn... Love the blog and bought the book - compelling reading. Thanks

Barry Rhodes said...


I did cover playing out of turn in point 5. Also You are not right in saying that the player farthest from the hole MUST play first. In tap-in situations, or where a player is nearer the hole but off the green, e.g. in a bunker, the player often asks their opponent if they may make their stroke out of turn and may do so once they have received authorisation. Also, where no such authorisation is sought the opponent may still choose to ignore the order of play breach, should they choose to do so, e.g. when the other player has made a bad stroke.


Fiona Johnston said...

Thanks for that clarification Barry, I was convinced (reinforced by numerous measurements and pacings) that under no circumstances could a player - in match play - play first if closer to the pin. The reason given by the local rules official that it would give unnecessary advantage to the other player (speed of the green etc. Good to know. Thans again for the wonderful blog. I really enjoy it.