Match Play Rules and Information

Match Play is a very different form of play to stroke play in which a player (or a side) and an opponent compete against each other based on holes won, lost or halved.  

Most of the Rules of Golf apply in both forms of play but certain rules apply in only one or the other.  Some Match Play Rules are highlighted below.

In all forms of Match Play : Singles, Foursomes and Four-ball

  • There is no penalty for playing outside the teeing area or from the wrong teeing area but you may be asked to replay the stroke.  This request must be made immediately
  • There is no penalty for playing out of order but you may be asked to replay the stroke and again this request must be made immediately. Order of play is sacrosanct in match play so always check with your opponent if unsure whose turn it is to play.
  • When both balls are on the putting green and at rest there is no penalty if a ball in motion after a putt then hits another player’s ball.  The ball at rest that was moved is replaced and the other ball is played as it lies.  Rule 11.1a
  • Practice is allowed on the course before and between rounds unless there is a local rule saying otherwise
  • Make sure you have an identifying mark on your ball as it is loss of hole if you play a wrong ball.  Use a ball with different markings if playing a provisional ball and announce clearly that you are playing a provisional ball
  • Make concessions clear as they cannot be withdrawn or declined and are final.  If a player lifts a ball under the mistaken impression that the opponent has conceded their next stroke due to the opponent’s statement being misunderstood, the player may replace the ball without penalty. Rule 3.2b
  • It is your responsibility to know at which holes shots are given or received.  Make sure you are clear about the state of the match before you tee off at the next hole.
  • You must give correct information re the number of strokes you have taken when asked by your opponent and if you make a mistake it must be corrected before your opponent makes another stroke or takes a similar action like conceding a stroke or hole.  If you give wrong information to your opponent without correcting it before they play, the penalty is loss of hole as it could affect your opponent’s playing strategy for the hole.  Inform your opponent as soon as practicable any time you get a penalty.  Rule 3.2d
  • You have three minutes to search for a ball from when the player or the player’s caddie reach the spot where the ball may be.  Spectators may always help search for a ball.  Make sure one of you starts the timer on your phone or watch so that there are no rows if the ball is found after three minutes as it is then no longer in play and a lost ball.
  • If you have a caddie they are not allowed stand behind you to help in aiming unless you back away before you make the stroke and the caddie is no longer in this ‘restricted area’.    Rule 10.2b
  • If a rules issue arises during a match do not concede a hole unless you are absolutely certain that the penalty for the disputed point is loss of hole or indeed if any penalty applies.  If you cannot resolve the issue you may ask for a ruling (previously called make a claim).  You must continue with the match and get a later ruling. This is covered in Rule 20.1b
  • A one stroke penalty in stroke play is also a one stroke penalty in match play
  • Limit of 14 clubs – if more than 14, the state of the match is adjusted after play of the hole when the discovery is made, the match score is revised by deducting one hole for each hole where a breach occurred with a maximum deduction of 2 holes.  Rule 4.1b
  • You may overlook a breach of a rule by your opponent but you may not both agree to waive any rule or penalty that applies. Rule 3.2

Foursomes (Alternate Shot)           Rule 22

  • Two partners compete as a side by playing one ball in alternating order on each hole
  • Penalty for playing in the wrong order is loss of hole, that is the general penalty
  • If the side decides to play a provisional ball it must be played by the partner whose turn it is to play the side’s next stroke.  Player A’s tee shot may be lost or out of bounds so Player B plays the provisional ball.
  • Penalty strokes do not affect the order of play
  • Either player may take any action for the side before a stroke is made for example mark, lift, replace or drop a ball
  • A partner must not stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball while their partner is making a stroke to gain information for the side’s next stroke.

Four-ball                                              Rule 23

  • Four-ball is a form of play where two partners compete together as a side with each playing their own ball.  A side’s score for the hole is the lower score of the two partners on that hole.
  • Partners may play in the order they consider best so if it is a side’s turn to play either the player or partner may play next
  • As in foursomes either player may take any action for the side before a stroke is made such as to mark, lift, replace or drop a ball
  • One player may represent the side so if a player is running late the other player can start the match.  When the partner arrives they can give advice to the player if it is during play of a hole and can start their match at the next tee.
  • As in foursomes a player must not stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball while their partner  is making a stroke to gain information for their (the player’s) next stroke
  • If one of the players plays a wrong ball and loses a hole the partner may continue play of the hole as the penalty applies only to the player.
  • Normally a penalty applies only to the player but there are a few exceptions, for example both players in the side are penalised if either breaches the 14 club rule see Rule 23.9
  • A player must not continue play of a hole after the player’s  next stroke has been conceded if it would help the partner.

If the player does so their score for the hole stands without penalty but the partner’s score for the hole cannot count for the side.  An example would be if a short putt was conceded and it was on the same line of play as the partners.  If the player went ahead and took the putt it would help the partner.

Have the R&A Rules of Golf App downloaded on your phone and most questions can be answered in the Player’s Rule Finder

Why did Rory get a 2 stroke penalty in Pebble Beach for an incorrect drop?

SInce the most recent revision of the Rules of Golf in 2023, when taking back on the line penalty relief you must now drop the ball back ON the imaginary line from where your ball was at rest and the hole. Once dropped, the ball is in play as long as it stays within one clublength of the spot on the ground on this line in any direction, including within one clublength nearer the hole. The spot where the ball is dropped creates the relief area which now is circular in shape. See the video explaining this rule in the Rules of Golf App – click on Learn at the bottom of the main page and then on Unplayable Ball where all the options under the rule are described. This is the correct way to drop any time you take back on the line penalty relief. Rory dropped the ball a clublength away from the imaginary line and was penalised two strokes for playing from a wrong place.

2023/24 Winter Rules Reminder

1.  When we have placing in the General Area as we do at the moment, mark the position of the ball – this is not compulsory but best practice – clean it and place it within 6 inches, no nearer the hole.  You may place it only once.

2.  The General Area is all areas of the course EXCEPT all Penalty Areas, Bunkers and the Green and Tee of the hole being played.  This means that you cannot place the ball inside a penalty area even is it on grass inside the stakes.  Play the ball as it lies or take penalty relief.  You have no free relief for an embedded or plugged ball inside a penalty area.

3.  The bunkers are now out of play so are treated as areas of GUR.  Drop a ball within one club length of the nearest point of complete relief, no nearer the hole.  

4.  When taking free relief from temporary water on the course, leave the ball where it is or mark its position as you decide where to drop so that you have a reference point while you try to find the nearest point of complete relief, no nearer the hole that is dry, then drop the ball within one club length of this point.

Make sure you correctly identify your ball before you play it

To avoid getting a penalty for playing a wrong ball always check that you correctly identify your ball before playing it. If your ball is in the rough or has gathered mud so that it is not easy to identify, mark its position first. pick it up and clean it only as much as is necessary to identify it and replace it. The rules do not allow you to touch and rotate the ball to identify it without first marking it. If you do the penalty is one stroke and the ball must be replaced. Put an identifying mark on your ball to avoid playing a wrong ball and follow the correct procedure to identify it. Rule 7.3 Lifting ball to identify it.

Foursomes and Four-Ball Rules Reminder

When playing Foursomes golf as both partners compete as one side playing only one ball either partner may take any action that is allowed before a stroke is made such as to mark the spot of the ball, lift and replace it and drop and place a ball no matter which partner’s turn it is to play next for the side. 

Penalty strokes do not affect the order of play.    Have a look at Rule 22 which covers all the rules to do with Foursomes (Also known as Alternate Shot)

In playing Four-Ball golf a player may likewise take any action concerning the partner’s ball that the partner is allowed to take before making a stroke, see Rule 23.5a

In both Foursomes and Four-ball a player must not stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball while their partner is making a stroke to gain information for their (the player’s) next stroke. Rules 22.6 and 23.8

Finally please use your putter head to lower the flagstick to the ground after removing it from the hole to avoid unnecessary damage to our greens by dropping the flagstick on it.

Your ball is unplayable in a bunker – what are your options?

You can declare your ball unplayable in a bunker and you options are the same as elsewhere in the general area ie under penalty of one stroke you can

  1. Go back from where you played into the bunker, stroke and distance
  2. Drop a ball within 2 club lengths of the ball, no nearer the hole, inside the bunker and
  3. Drop a ball back on the (imaginary) line from the flagstick to where the ball is at rest in the bunker, going back as far as you like but still in the bunker.

If you choose options 2 or 3 you may be very restricted in where you can drop the ball inside the bunker. When the rules were revised in 2019 an additional option was introduced and you may now take the ball out of the bunker altogether for two penalty strokes so you may drop a ball back on the line behind the bunker on line with where the ball is at rest and the flagstick. It is well worth knowing this option as it is in addition to the stroke and distance option which will only cost you one penalty stroke but you may not want to go all the way back to where you played the ball into the bunker. Rule 19.3

If you mark, lift and clean your ball in the rough accidentally when it is only permitted on the fairway, what is the ruling?

At the moment we can lift, clean and place within 6 inches on grass cut to fairway height but if you accidentally lift the ball anywhere else in the general area you must replace the ball on the exact spot and add one penalty stroke to your score for the hole for lifting your ball in play when it is not permitted. The same rule applies if you lift, clean and place your ball inside a penalty area. Hopefully this will no longer be an issue when we play the ball as it lies as the weather improves as that is how golf is meant to be played after all! It is no longer compulsory to mark the position of the ball before you lift it when the preferred lies (placing) local rule is in play but it is best practice to do so to make sure you put the ball back correctly.

Repairing plug marks near your ball

Conditions on the course are getting softer as we head into winter and a ball will often plug after a stroke then hop out of its plug mark before coming to rest. If this plug mark is near the ball you cannot repair it before you make a stroke as in doing so you are improving the conditions affecting the stroke by which is meant improving the area of intended stance or swing, lie of the ball and line of play so resist the temptation to press it down with your foot! By all means repair the plug mark afterwards. The rules do allow us to repair plug marks on the green and it is good etiquette to repair any marks you see whether or not you were responsible for making them either before or after you putt.

Winter Golf – Points to Remember

1.  You have 3 minutes to search for a ball so time the search from when you get to where you think your ball may be.  It can be difficult to find a ball in the soft ground after all the rain we have had.

2.  If a crow takes your ball replace it or another ball on the original spot, which if not known can be estimated. No penalty.   It must be known or virtually certain that the bird took the ball otherwise the ball is lost.

3.  When you place the ball during the preferred lie period you can play either the original ball or a substituted ball under the new rules.


You can go back and play a provisional ball during the 3 minute ball search

If a ball may be lost or out of bounds always play a provisional ball to save time.  Ideally you should play the provisional ball before going forward to search but you may also go back during the 3 minute search period and play a provisional ball while others keep searching for you.  If your original ball is found within the 3 minutes it is still your ball in play and a provisional ball played has to be abandoned.  If after 3 minutes your original ball is not found then continue playing with the provisional ball which is now the ball in play, under penalty.  It is important that someone in the group clocks the time that the player begins a ball search as 3 minutes goes by very quickly!  The search time starts when the player him or herself get to where the original ball is thought to be.