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The Competition
Purpose: Rule 3 covers the three central elements of all golf competitions:
  • Playing either match play or stroke play,
  • Playing either as an individual or with a partner as part of a side, and
  • Scoring either by gross scores (no handicap strokes applied) or net scores (handicap strokes applied).
The Competition

Central Elements of Every Competition

Forms of Play. Match play and stroke play are very different forms of play:
  • In match play, you and your opponent compete against each other based on holes won, lost or tied.
  • In the regular form of stroke play, all players compete with one another based on each player's total score (Rule 21 covers other forms of stroke play that use a different scoring method).
You either play as an individual competing on your own or with a partner competing together as a side. Although Rules 1-20 focus on individual play, they also apply where partners and teams are included. Gross or Net Scores. In a scratch competition, your "gross score" for a hole or the round is your total number of strokes. In a handicap competition, your "net score" for a hole or the round is your gross score adjusted for your handicap strokes.

Match Play

Purpose: Match play has specific Rules (particularly about concessions and giving information about the number of strokes taken) because you and your opponent:
  • Compete solely against each other on every hole,
  • Can see each others play, and
  • Can protect your own interests.

Result of Hole and Match

In match play the result of the hole or match is decided as follows:
  • You win a hole when you complete the hole in fewer strokes than your opponent, your opponent concedes the hole, or your opponent gets the general penalty (loss of hole).
  • You tie a hole (also known as "halved") when you and your opponent complete the hole in the same number of strokes.
  • You win a match when you lead your opponent by more holes than remain to be played, your opponent concedes the match, or your opponent is disqualified.
  • If your match is tied after the final hole and you need to establish a winner, the match is extended one hole at a time until there is a winner.


You may concede your opponent's next stroke, a hole or the match, but a concession is only made when it is clearly communicated. A concession is final - you cannot withdraw it once made and your opponent cannot decline the concession. See Full Rules For more information on concessions, including how they are made.

Applying Handicaps in Handicap Match

You and your opponent should tell each other your handicaps before the match. If you declare a wrong handicap and don't correct the mistake before your opponent makes a stroke:
  • If the declared handicap is too high and this affects the number of strokes you get or give, you are disqualified.
  • If the declared handicap too low, there is no penalty and you must play off the lower handicap.
Handicap strokes are given by hole, and the lower net score wins the hole. If a tied match is extended, handicap strokes are given by hole in the same way as in the round. See Full Rules For more information on applying handicaps in a match.

Your Responsibilities in Match Play

You have a responsibility to:
  • Tell your opponent the right the number of strokes you have taken when asked,
  • Make your opponent aware as soon as reasonably possible after you get a penalty, and
  • Know the match score.
In a match you should protect your own rights and interests under the Rules:
  • If you know or believe that your opponent has breached a Rule that has a penalty, you may act on the breach or choose to ignore it.
  • But if you and your opponent deliberately agree to ignore a breach or penalty you both know applies, you are both disqualified.
  • If you and your opponent disagree whether one of you has breached a Rule, you may protect your rights by asking for a ruling.
See Full Rules For more information on responsibilities and when a penalty applies for giving the wrong number of strokes or failing to make your opponent aware of a penalty.

Stroke Play

Purpose: Stroke play has specific Rules (particularly for scorecards and holing out) because:
  • You compete against all the other players in the competition, and
  • All players need to be treated equally under the Rules.
After the round, you and your marker must certify that your score for each hole is right and you must return the scorecard to the Committee

Winner in Stroke Play

The player who completes all rounds in the fewest total strokes is the winner.

Scoring in Stroke Play

Marker's Responsibility. After each hole during the round, your marker should confirm the number of strokes you took on that hole and enter that gross score on your scorecard. When the round has ended, your marker must certify the hole scores on your scorecard. If you had more than one marker, each marker must certify the scores for those holes where he or she was your marker. Your Responsibility. When the round has ended, you:
  • Should carefully check the hole scores entered by your marker and raise any issues with the Committee,
  • Must make sure that your marker certifies the hole scores on the scorecard,
  • Must not change a hole score entered by your marker except with the marker's agreement or the Committee's approval, and
  • Must certify the hole scores on the scorecard and promptly return it to the Committee, after which you must not change your scorecard.
If you breach any of these requirements, you are disqualified. Wrong Score for a Hole. If you return a scorecard with a wrong score for any hole:
  • If your returned score for a hole is higher than your actual score, your higher returned score for the hole stands.
  • If your returned score for a hole is lower than your actual score or no score is returned for a hole, you are disqualified.
Scoring in Handicap Competition. You are responsible for making sure that your handicap is shown on your scorecard. If you return a scorecard without the right handicap:
  • If the handicap on your scorecard is too high and this affects the number of strokes you get, or no handicap is shown, you are disqualifiedfrom the handicap competition.
  • If the handicap on your scorecard is too low, there is no penalty and your net score stands using the lower handicap.
See Full Rules For information on the Exception for failure to include an unknown penalty on your scorecard.

Failure to Hole Out

You must hole out at each hole in a round. If you fail to do so, you must correct that mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning your scorecard. If you do not correct the mistake in that time, you are disqualified.
Rule 1The Game, Player Conduct and the Rules
Purpose: Rule 1 introduces these central principles of the game: Play the course as you find it and play your ball as it lies. Play by the Rules ...
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