Purpose of Rule: 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).
Central Elements of Every Competition
Form of Play: Match Play or Stroke Play
(1) Match Play or Regular Stroke Play. These are very different forms of play:
In match play (see Rule 3.2), a player and an opponent compete against each other based on holes won, lost or tied.
In the regular form of stroke play (see Rule 3.3), all players compete with one another based on the total score – that is, adding up each player’s total number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) on each hole in all rounds.
Most of the Rules apply in both forms of play, but certain Rules apply in only one or the other.See Committee Procedures, Section 6C(11) (considerations for the Committee if it runs a competition that combines the two forms of play in a single round).(2) Other Forms of Stroke Play. Rule 21 covers other forms of stroke play (Stableford, Maximum Score and Par/Bogey) that use a different scoring method. Rules 1-20 apply in these forms of play, as modified by Rule 21.
How Players Compete: Playing as an Individual or as Partners
Golf is played either by individual players competing on their own or by partners competing together as a side.Although Rules 1-20 and Rule 25 focus on individual play, they also apply:
In competitions involving partners (Foursomes and Four-Ball), as modified by Rules 22 and 23, and
(1) Scratch Competitions. In a scratch competition:
The player’s “gross score” for a hole or the round is their total number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes).
The player’s handicap is not applied.
(2) Handicap Competitions. In a handicap competition:
The player’s “net score” for a hole or the round is the gross score adjusted for the player’s handicap strokes.
This is done so that players of differing abilities can compete in a fair way.
Purpose of Rule: Match play has specific Rules (particularly about concessions and giving information about the number of strokes taken) because the player and opponent:
Compete solely against each other on every hole,
Can see each other’s play, and
Can protect their own interests.
Result of Hole and Match
(1) Winning a Hole. A player wins a hole when:
The player completes the hole in fewer strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) than the opponent,
The opponent concedes the hole, or
The opponent gets the general penalty (loss of hole).
If the opponent's ball in motion needs to be holed to tie the hole and the ball is deliberately deflected or stopped by any person at a time when there is no reasonable chance it can be holed (such as when the ball has rolled past the hole and will not roll back there), the result of the hole has been decided and the player wins the hole (see Rule 11.2a, Exception).(2) Tying a Hole. A hole is tied (also known as “halved”) when:
The player and opponent complete the hole in the same number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes), or
The player and opponent agree to treat the hole as tied (but this is allowed only after at least one of the players has made a stroke to begin the hole).
(3) Winning a Match. A player wins a match when:
The player leads the opponent by more holes than remain to be played,
The opponent concedes the match, or
The opponent is disqualified.
(4) Extending a Tied Match. If a match is tied after the final hole:
The match is extended one hole at a time until there is a winner. See Rule 5.1 (an extended match is a continuation of the same round, not a new round).
The holes are played in the same order as in the round, unless the Committee sets a different order.
But the Terms of the Competition may say that the match will end in a tie rather than be extended.(5) When Result Is Final. The result of a match becomes final in the way stated by the Committee (which should be set out in the Terms of the Competition), such as:
When the result is recorded on an official scoreboard or other identified place, or
When the result is reported to a person identified by the Committee.
See Committee Procedures, Section 5A(7) (recommendations on how the result of a match becomes final).
(1) Player May Concede Stroke, Hole or Match. A player may concede the opponent's next stroke, a hole or the match:
Conceding Next Stroke. This is allowed any time before the opponent's next stroke is made.
The opponent has then completed the hole with a score that includes that conceded stroke, and the ball may be removed by anyone.
A concession made while the opponent's ball is still in motion after the previous stroke applies to the opponent's next stroke, unless the ball is holed (in which case the concession does not matter).
The player may concede the opponent's next stroke by deflecting or stopping the opponent's ball in motion only if that is done specifically to concede the next stroke and only when there is no reasonable chance the ball can be holed.
Conceding a Hole. This is allowed any time before the hole is completed (see Rule 6.5), including before the players start the hole. A player and opponent are not allowed to agree to concede holes to each other for the purpose of shortening the match. If they do so knowing this is not allowed, they are disqualified.
Conceding the Match. This is allowed any time before the result of the match is decided (see Rules 3.2a(3) and (4)), including before the players start the match.
(2) How Concessions Are Made. A concession is made only when clearly communicated:
This can be done either verbally or by an action that clearly shows the player’s intent to concede the stroke, the hole or the match (such as making a gesture).
If the opponent lifts their ball in breach of a Rule because of a reasonable misunderstanding that the player’s statement or action was a concession of the next stroke or the hole or match, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2). A concession is final and cannot be declined or withdrawn.
Applying Handicaps in Handicap Match
(1) Declaring Handicaps. The player and opponent should tell each other their handicaps before the match.If a player declares a wrong handicap either before or during the match and does not correct the mistake before the opponent makes their next stroke:
Declared Handicap Too High. The player is disqualified if this affects the number of strokes the player gives or gets. If it does not, there is no penalty.
Declared Handicap Too Low. There is no penalty and the player must use the declared lower handicap to calculate the number of strokes the player gives or gets.
(2) Holes Where Handicap Strokes Applied.
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 (unless the Committee sets a different way of doing so).
Each player is responsible for knowing the holes where they give or get handicap strokes, based on the stroke index allocation set by the Committee (which is usually found on the scorecard).If the players fail to apply or mistakenly apply handicap strokes on a hole, the agreed result of the hole stands, unless the players correct that mistake in time (see Rule 3.2d(3)).
Responsibilities of Player and Opponent
(1) Telling Opponent About Number of Strokes Taken. At any time during play of a hole or after the hole is completed, the opponent may ask the player for the number of strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) the player has taken on the hole.This is to allow the opponent to decide how to play the next stroke and the rest of the hole, or to confirm the result of the hole just completed.When asked for the number of strokes taken, or when giving that information without being asked:
The player must give the right number of strokes taken.
A player who fails to respond to the opponent's request is treated as giving the wrong number of strokes taken.
The player gets the general penalty(loss of hole) if they give the opponent the wrong number of strokes taken, unless the player corrects that mistake in time:
Wrong Number of Strokes Given While Playing Hole. The player must give the right number of strokes taken before the opponent makes another stroke or takes a similar action (such as conceding the player’s next stroke or the hole).
Wrong Number of Strokes Given After Hole Completed. The player must give the right number of strokes taken:
Before either player makes a stroke to begin another hole or takes a similar action (such as conceding the next hole or the match), or
For the final hole of the match, before the result of the match is final (see Rule 3.2a(5)).
Exception – No Penalty If No Effect on Result of Hole: If the player gives the wrong number of strokes taken after a hole is completed but this does not affect the opponent's understanding of whether the hole was won, lost or tied, there is no penalty.(2) Telling Opponent about Penalty. When a player gets a penalty:
The player must tell the opponent about that penalty as soon as reasonably possible, taking into account how near the player is to the opponent and other practical factors. It may not always be possible to tell the opponent about the penalty before the opponent makes their next stroke.
This requirement applies even if the player does not know about the penalty (because players are expected to recognize when they have breached a Rule).
If the player fails to do so and does not correct that mistake before the opponent makes another stroke or takes a similar action (such as conceding the player’s next stroke or the hole), the player gets the general penalty(loss of hole).Exception – No Penalty When Opponent Knew of Player’s Penalty: If the opponent knew that the player had a penalty, such as when seeing the player obviously take penalty relief, the player gets no penalty for failing to tell the opponent about it.(3) Knowing Match Score. The players are expected to know the match score – that is, whether one of them leads by a certain number of holes (“holes up” in the match) or the match is tied (also known as “all square”).If the players mistakenly agree on a wrong match score:
They may correct the match score before either player makes a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole, before the result of the match is final (see Rule 3.2a(5)).
If not corrected in that time, that wrong match score becomes the actual match score.
Exception – When Player Requests Ruling in Time: If the player makes a timely request for a ruling (see Rule 20.1b), and it is found that the opponent either (1) gave the wrong number of strokes taken or (2) failed to tell the player about a penalty, the wrong match score must be corrected.(4) Protecting Own Rights and Interests. The players in a match should protect their own rights and interests under the Rules:
If the player knows or believes that the opponent has breached a Rule that has a penalty, the player may choose whether or not to act on the breach.
But if the player and opponent agree not to apply the Rules or a penalty they know applies, and either of those players has started the round, they are both disqualified under Rule 1.3b.
If the player and opponent disagree whether one of them has breached a Rule, either player may protect their rights by asking for a ruling under Rule 20.1b.
If a referee is assigned to one match for the entire round, the referee is responsible for acting on any breach of the Rules that they see or are told about (see Rule 20.1b(1)).
Purpose of Rule: Stroke play has specific Rules (particularly for scorecards and holing out) because:
Each player competes against all the other players in the competition, and
All players need to be treated equally under the Rules.
After the round, the player and the marker (who keeps the player’s score) must certify that the player’s score for each hole is right and the player must return the scorecard to the Committee.
Winner in Stroke Play
The player who completes all rounds in the fewest total strokes (including strokes made and penalty strokes) is the winner.In a handicap competition, this means the fewest total net strokes.See Committee Procedures, Section 5A(6) (the Terms of the Competition should say how ties will be decided).
Scoring in Stroke Play
The player’s score is kept on their scorecard by the marker, who is either identified by the Committee or chosen by the player in a way approved by the Committee.The player must have the same marker for the entire round, unless the Committee approves a change either before or after it happens.(1) Marker’s Responsibility: Entering and Certifying Hole Scores on Scorecard. After each hole during the round, the marker should confirm with the player the number of strokes on that hole (including strokes made and penalty strokes) and enter that gross score on the scorecard.When the round has ended:
The marker must certify the hole scores on the scorecard.
If the player had more than one marker, each marker must certify the scores for those holes where they were the marker, but if one of the markers saw the player play all of the holes, that marker may certify the scores for all the holes.
A marker may refuse to certify a player’s hole score that the marker believes is wrong. In such a case, the Committee will need to consider the available evidence and make a decision on the player’s score on the hole. If the marker still refuses to certify the player’s score, the Committee may certify the hole score or accept certification from someone else who saw the player’s actions on the hole in question.If a marker, who is a player, knowingly certifies a wrong score for a hole, the marker should be disqualiﬁed under Rule 1.2a.
DIAGRAM 3.3b: SCORECARD RESPONSIBILITIES IN HANDICAP STROKE PLAY
(2) Player’s Responsibility: Certifying Hole Scores and Returning Scorecard. During the round, the player should keep track of their scores for each hole.When the round has ended, the player:
Should carefully check the hole scores entered by the marker and raise any issues with the Committee,
Must make sure that the marker certifies the hole scores on the scorecard,
Must not change a hole score entered by the markerexcept with the marker's agreement or the Committee's approval (but neither the player nor the marker is required to make any extra certification of the changed score), and
Must certify the hole scores on the scorecard and promptly return it to the Committee, after which the player must not change the scorecard.
If the player breaches any of these requirements in Rule 3.3b, the player is disqualified.Exception – No Penalty When Breach Due to Marker Failing to Carry Out Responsibilities: There is no penalty if the Committee finds that the player’s breach of Rule 3.3b(2) was caused by the marker's failure to carry out their responsibilities (such as the marker leaving with the player’s scorecard or without certifying the scorecard), so long as this was beyond the player’s control.See Committee Procedures, Section 5A(5) (recommendations on how to define when a scorecard has been returned).See Committee Procedures, Section 8; Model Local Rule L-1 (reducing penalty for returning a scorecard without hole scores being certified).(3) Wrong Score for a Hole. If the player returns a scorecard with a wrong score for any hole:
Returned Score Higher Than Actual Score. The higher returned score for the hole stands.
Returned Score Lower Than Actual Score or No Score Returned. The player is disqualified.
Exception – Failure to Include Unknown Penalty: If one or more of the player’s hole scores are lower than the actual scores because they excluded one or more penalty strokes that the player did not know about before returning the scorecard:
The player is not disqualified.
Instead, if the mistake is found before the close of the competition, the Committee will revise the player’s score for that hole or holes by adding the penalty stroke(s) that should have been included in the score for that hole or holes under the Rules.
This exception does not apply:
When the excluded penalty is disqualification, or
When the player was told that a penalty might apply or was uncertain whether a penalty applied and did not raise this with the Committee before returning the scorecard.
(4) Player Not Responsible for Showing Handicap on Scorecard or Adding Up Scores. There is no requirement for a player’s handicap to be shown on the scorecard or for players to add up their own scores. If the player returns a scorecard on which they have made a mistake in showing or applying a handicap, or on which they have made a mistake in adding up the scores, there is no penalty.Once the Committee receives the scorecard from the player at the end of their round, the Committee is responsible for:
Adding up the player’s scores, and
Calculating the player’s handicap strokes for the competition and using it to calculate the player’s net score.