Golf Players

Entering a golf tournament, from a local club championship to prestigious events like U.S. Open qualifiers, means adhering to the absolute law of the USGA rule book. The rules are updated every few years so monitor any changes before participating in a golf tournament.

What is Match Play?

Match play is a competitive format where a player or team competes directly against an opponent or opposing team in head-to-head matches consisting of one or more rounds.

In match play, a hole is won by the player or team that completes the hole in fewer strokes, including any penalty strokes incurred. The match itself is won when one player or team leads their opponent by more holes than there are remaining to be played.

Match play can take various forms, including:

  • Singles match: One player faces off against one opponent.
  • Three-Ball match: Three players compete against each other.
  • Foursomes match: Teams of two partners alternate hitting the same ball until it is holed.
  • Four-Ball match: Teams of two partners each play their own ball, and the team’s lowest score for each hole is counted.

There are several different formats for golf matches. Whichever format you choose to play it needs to be agreed upon before the match by all the players.

The Rules of Golf

For newcomers, navigating through the multitude of golf rules can be daunting. However, understanding key regulations is crucial for tournament play. As previously mentioned, even veterans of the sport need to stay up to date with rule changes.

So, here’s a breakdown of essential golf rules you must know when competing in a tournament (for the full complicated set of rules, visit the USGA rule page or The R&A rules page):

Club Counting

Before teeing off, ensure you have no more than 14 clubs in your bag to avoid a two-stroke penalty.

Read our blog for a more detailed explanation of how many golf clubs you can have in your bag.

Ball Falling off Tee

If your ball falls off the tee before your first shot, you can re-tee without penalty. However, if you’ve already taken a swing and then the ball falls, you must play it as it lies.

But, it should be noted that if you hit the ball with your practice swing you can re-tee. The action needs to be seen as deliberate to incur any penalties.

Giving Advice

Unlike casual rounds, offering or receiving advice during competitive play incurs a two-stroke penalty, except in team matches where strategy discussions are allowed.

Differentiating Penalty Areas

Understanding the distinctions between yellow and red penalty areas is crucial for taking a correct drop under penalty. Yellow areas offer two relief options, while red areas allow lateral movement within two club lengths.

It is a complicated aspect of golfing so we recommend that you visit Rule 17 on the USGA website.

Improving Lie or Position

You’re not permitted to alter the lie or position of your ball by moving growing or fixed objects, even if they interfere with your shot. This includes moving a branch of a tree or bushes, you have to play the course as it appears.

Tapping Down Putts on Line of Play

While generally prohibited, players can now press down spike marks on the green on their line of play, as per the 2019 rule change.

Bunker Etiquette

Recent rule changes permit incidental contact with sand in bunkers, except when deliberately testing conditions using either their hand or club.

Players can also move loose impediments within the bunker, including rakes, when their ball comes to rest against the obstruction.

Lost Ball Time Limit

The search time for a lost ball is three minutes, starting from when you begin searching, not after you hit your shot.

It may cause confusion amongst players due to another rule change as the time to search has been reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.

Announcing Provisionals

Properly announce hitting a provisional ball to competitors to avoid confusion about which ball is in play. So, announce “I am hitting a provisional” to other players rather than any other term.

Relief Procedures

Understanding relief procedures from various obstructions such as cart paths and immovable objects is essential.

Ensure the new spot offers relief from interference. The new spot needs to be free of any obstruction in the stance, the swing and the line of play.

Unplayable Lie

When facing an unplayable lie, you have three options for dropping the ball, each with one penalty stroke:

  1. Go back to the spot of your previous stroke and play again (stroke and distance relief).
  2. Go back as far as you’d like and drop on the line from the hole through the spot where the ball lies (back-on-the-line relief).
  3. Your third option is to drop anywhere within two club lengths of where your ball lies, no closer to the hole (lateral relief).

Order of Play

In match play, the player farthest from the hole plays first. However, breaking this order may result in the shot being cancelled and replayed.

Handling Sprinkler Heads

Relief from sprinkler heads is granted only if they interfere with the ball, stance, or swing, not the line of play.

Identifying Your Ball

You’re allowed to lift your ball for identification purposes if it’s buried in the rough, but ensure you announce and mark its position before lifting. Other players need to get the opportunity to watch you lift and mark the ball.

Playing at Your Local Golf Course

Mastering these essential golf rules for match play ensures a smoother and fairer tournament experience, helping you stay within the bounds of the game’s regulations.

At West Essex Golf Club we regularly hold tournaments at our golf course near London. Whether you are part of a society, a corporation or a charity we help organise your tournament but it is up to you to let your players know the rules to play by!

We have our Festival of Golf 2024 with tournaments taking place between the 5th-9th August 2024 with everyone welcome.

Contact our team to discuss booking an event or to become a member of our club.