Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

Rules Review

Rules of Golf Review: What happens in a match when no one knows how to apply a rule?

December 13, 2023

Sino Images

While we like to think we "know" the Rules of Golf, there are times during a match when how to proceed becomes a head-scratcher for all parties involved. And when that happens, what should you do about it?

Here's an example: You're playing a four-ball match (think best ball of your team) and you realize you and your opponent are playing the same type of golf ball, down to the number. You reach the spot where both balls are, and now you're not sure whose ball is whose. What would you do in that situation?

In most cases, it's not practical to call for a ruling from a rules official. Maybe there is no rules official if you're just playing a friendly round with your buddies. Can you just come to a mutual agreement among the sides and play on? That seems too easy, right?

Actually, you can. Rule 20.1b says players in a match are allowed to agree on how to decide a rules issue/dispute. Furthermore, if the agreement turns out to be an incorrect application of a rule, so long as the players didn't agree to ignore a rule or penalty they knew applied, then the agreement stands.

To be clear on this, you can't play dumb and pretend you don't know a rule if the agreement turns out to be an advantage for you or your side. But say neither side is sure where to drop when a ball is found in a penalty area, you can make a decision among the foursome and then play on, which is a great time saver.

One last thing to remember: If there's confusion about applying a rule in match play, you CANNOT play two balls on a hole and then bring the issue up to a committee (or the head pro) after the round to resolve the dispute. The two-ball procedure only applies in stroke play. If you were to play two balls, the score with the original always counts and the other is irrelevant.