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 realize 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 A concession of a hole may be given at any time and cannot be declined or withdrawn (Rule 2-4).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.

3 Responses to Match Play Rules

  1. Steve March 18, 2018 at 8:56 pm #

    Number 11 above is confusing. When do you discuss the breach?

  2. Terry Pangallo March 30, 2018 at 2:52 pm #

    If one player is hurt and you go on with one player vs the other couple how do you score in Couples match play?

    • Barry Rhodes April 3, 2018 at 7:51 am #

      In a four-ball stroke play, the net scores of the remaining player for each hole played are compared with the better net scores of the opponents to see who wins the holes, or if they are halved. Obviously, in foursomes (alternate shot) format, the match cannot continue and the side missing a player loses. There was a notable occasion in 2016, when the English pair of Mel Reid and Charlie Hull were due to play together again in a match against the Japanese pair, Mika Miyazato and Haru Nomura. Illness caused Hull to withdraw at the last minute and Reid had to play against the Japanese pair on her own. Amazingly Reid took her opponents to the 18th hole before losing 1 up. It is Rule 30-3a that is relevant; “A side may be represented by one partner for all or any part of a match; all partners need not be present. An absent partner may join a match between holes, but not during play of a hole.”

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