The R&A - Working for Golf
Providing Rules Assistance to Players
Committee Procedures
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Section 6B
Section 6D
6C
Providing Rules Assistance to Players

A Committee may appoint referees to assist with the administration of a competition. A referee is an official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules.

(1)
Referees in Match Play

In match play, a referee's duties and authority depend on his or her assigned role:

  • When Assigned to One Match for Entire Round. As the referee is with the match throughout the round, he or she is responsible for acting on any breach of the Rules that he or she sees or is told about (see Rule 20-1b(1) and the definition of "referee").
  • When Assigned to Multiple Matches or to Certain Holes or Sections of the Course. As the referee is not assigned to accompany the match throughout the round, he or she should avoid becoming involved in a match unless:
    • A player in a match asks for help with the Rules or requests a ruling (see Rule 20.1b(2)). When making a ruling at the request of a player, the referee should always confirm that the request for the ruling was made in time (see Rules 20.1b(2) and 20.1b(3)).
    • A player or players in a match may be in breach of Rule 1.2b (Code of Conduct), Rule 1.3b(1) (Two or More Players Deliberately Agreeing to Ignore any Rule or Penalty they Know Applies), Rule 5.6a (Unreasonable Delay of Play) or Rule 5.6b (Prompt Pace of Play).
    • A player arrives late to his or her first tee (see Rule 5.3).
    • A player's search for a ball reaches three minutes (see Rule 5.6a and definition of "lost").
(2)
Referees in Stroke Play

In stroke play:

  • A referee is responsible for acting on any breach of the Rules that he or she sees or is told about.
  • This applies whether the referee is assigned to one group for the entire round or to monitor multiple groups or certain holes or parts of the course.
(3)
Limiting Role of Committee Members and Referees

The Committee is the person or group in charge of the competition or the course, but within that Committee:

  • The role of some members may be limited.
  • Some decisions may require the agreement of specific members.
  • Some responsibilities may be delegated to people outside the Committee.

Examples include:

  • Specifying that only certain members of the Committee can enforce a Pace of Play Policy by monitoring and timing players or groups, and by deciding when to give warnings or penalties.
  • Stating that a minimum of three members of the Committee is required to decide that a player should be disqualified for a serious breach of misconduct under Rule 1.2.
  • Giving authority to the professional, manager or other designated person to make rulings on behalf of the Committee.
  • Authorizing the head of the maintenance staff to suspend play on behalf of the Committee.
  • Preventing a member of the Committee who is competing in a competition from making the decision to suspend play during that competition.
  • Limiting which referees have the authority to define an unmarked area to be ground under repair during a competition.

The Committee may limit a referee's duties in stroke play or match play (such as when it believes this will help make rulings consistent for all of the players) by identifying items that may be handled only by the Committee or by a particular set of referees.

Examples of such items are:

  • Declaring a part of the course to be ground under repair.
  • Enforcing a Pace of Play Policy by monitoring and timing players or groups, and deciding when to give warnings or penalties.
  • Disqualifying players for serious misconduct under Rule 1.2.
(4)
Referee Authorizes Player to Breach a Rule

A referee's decision is final and therefore if a referee authorizes a player to breach a Rule in error, the player will not be penalized. But see Rule 20.2d and Section 6C(10) or 6C(11) for situations where the error can be corrected.

(5)
Referee Warns Player About to Breach Rule

While a referee is not obliged to warn a player who is about to breach a Rule, it is strongly recommended that a referee should do so whenever possible in order to prevent a player from getting a penalty. A referee who acts in accordance with the recommendation by volunteering information on the Rules in order to prevent breaches of the Rules should do so uniformly to all players.

But, in match play where the referee has not been assigned to one match for the entire round, he or she has no authority to intervene. The referee should not warn the player unless asked, and if the player does breach the Rule, the referee should not apply the penalty without the opponent requesting a ruling.

(6)
Disagreement with Referee’s Decision

If a player disagrees with a referee's decision in match play or stroke play, the player is generally not entitled to a second opinion, whether from another referee or the Committee (see Rule 20.2a), but the referee whose decision is questioned may agree to obtain a second opinion.

The Committee can adopt a policy of always allowing all players a second opinion where they disagree with a referee's decision.

(7)
How to Resolve Questions of Fact

Resolving questions of fact is among the most difficult actions required of a referee or the Committee.

  • In all situations involving questions of fact, resolution of the doubt should be made in light of all the relevant circumstances and evaluation of the weight of the evidence, including the balance of probabilities where applicable. When the Committee is unable to determine the facts to its satisfaction, it should treat the situation in a way that is reasonable, fair and consistent with how similar situations are treated under the Rules.
  • Testimony of the players involved is important and should be given due consideration.
    • In some situations where the facts are not decisive, the doubt should be resolved in favour of the player whose ball is involved.
    • In others, the doubt should be resolved against the player whose ball is involved.
  • There is no set process for evaluating the testimony of the players or for assigning the weight to be given to such testimony and each situation should be treated on its own merits. The proper action depends on the circumstances in each case and should be left to the judgment of the referee, or the Committee.
  • When a player has been required to determine a spot, point, line, area or location under the Rules, the Committee should determine if the player used reasonable judgment in doing so. If so that decision will be accepted even if, after the stroke is made, the determination is shown to be wrong (see Rule 1.3b(2)).
  • Testimony of those who are not a part of the competition, including spectators, should be considered and evaluated. It is also appropriate to use television footage and the like to assist in resolving doubt, although the naked eye standard should be applied when using such evidence (see Rule 20.2c).
  • It is important that any questions of fact be resolved in a timely manner such that the competition may proceed in an orderly way. Thus, the referee may be limited to evaluating the evidence available to him or her in a timely manner. Any such ruling may be further reviewed by the referee, or the Committee if additional evidence becomes available after the initial ruling.

If a judgment is made by a referee, the player is entitled to proceed on the basis of that ruling whether it is an interpretation of the Rules of Golf or a resolution of a question of fact. In situations arising in both circumstances, if the ruling is found to be incorrect, the Committee may have the authority to make a correction (see Rule 20.2d and Section 6C(10) or 6C(11)). However, in all circumstances, including both match play and stroke play, the referee or Committee is limited in its ability to make corrections by the guidance contained in Rule 20.2d.

Where there is a question relating to the Rules where it is one player's word against another's and the weight of evidence does not favour either player, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the player who made the stroke or whose score is involved.

(8)
True State of the Match Not Determinable

If two players complete their match but do not agree on the result, they should refer the matter to the Committee.

The Committee should gather all available evidence and attempt to ascertain the true state of the match. If, after doing so, it is unable to determine the true state of the match, the Committee should resolve the situation in the fairest way, which could mean ruling that the match should be replayed if possible.

(9)
Handling Ruling When Player Proceeds Under Inapplicable Rule

When a player proceeds under a Rule that does not apply to his or her situation and then makes a stroke, the Committee is responsible for determining the Rule to apply in order to give a ruling based on the player's actions.

For example:

  • A player took relief away from a boundary object under Rule 16.1b. He or she has proceeded under an inapplicable Rule. As Rule 19.1 (Unplayable Ball) requires the player to have decided to proceed under it before taking relief, the Committee may not apply Rule 19 to the player's actions. As there was no Rule that allowed the player to lift his or her ball in such a situation, the Committee should determine that Rule 9.4 applies and none of the Exceptions save the player from penalty.
  • A player decided that his or her ball was unplayable in a penalty area, dropped it according to the procedure of option b or c of Rule 19.2 and played it from within the penalty area. As Rule 17.1 is the only Rule that allows the player to lift his or her ball for relief in a penalty area, the Committee should determine that Rule 17 applies and rule accordingly. As a result, the player is considered to have played from a wrong place (see Rule 14.7) and, in addition, gets the one-stroke penalty under Rule 17.1.
  • A player’s ball lay in temporary water that he or she mistook for a penalty area. The player dropped and played a ball according to the procedure in Rule 17.1d(2). As Rule 16.1b was the only Rule that allowed the player to lift his or her ball for relief in that situation, the Committee should determine that Rule 16.1b applies and rule accordingly. As a result, assuming that the player did not drop a ball in and play from an area that satisfied Rule 16.1b, the player is considered to have played from a wrong place (see Rule 14.7).
  • A player did not know the location of his or her original ball but assumed, without knowledge or virtual certainty, that it was in ground under repair. The player dropped and played another ball under Rules 16.1e and 16.1b. As the player did not know the location of his or her original ball, in these circumstances, Rule 18.1 was the only Rule that the player could have proceeded under. Therefore, the Committee should determine that Rule 18.1 applies and rule accordingly. As a result, the player is considered to have put a ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance and to have played from a wrong place (see Rule 14.7) and, in addition, gets the stroke-and-distance penalty under Rule 18.1.
(10)
Handling Wrong Rulings in Match Play

Under Rule 20.2a, a player has no right to appeal a referee's ruling. But, if a ruling by a referee or the Committee is later found to be wrong, the ruling should be corrected if possible under the Rules (see Rule 20.2d). This section clarifies when an incorrect ruling should be corrected in match play.

Correction of Incorrect Ruling by a Referee During Match

  • A referee should not correct an incorrect ruling after either player makes another stroke on a hole.
  • If no more strokes are made on a hole after a ruling has been made, a referee should not correct an incorrect ruling once either player makes a stroke from the next teeing area.
  • Otherwise, an incorrect ruling by a referee should be corrected.
  • In a situation where an incorrect ruling can be corrected, if the incorrect ruling has resulted in one or more players lifting his or her ball, the referee is responsible for directing the players to replace their balls and complete the hole, with the correct ruling applied.
  • The principles above also apply where a referee fails to penalize a player for a breach of a Rule due to misunderstanding the result of a hole.
    • For example, a referee fails to advise a player of a loss of hole penalty for a breach of the pace of play policy as he or she believed the player had already lost the hole. On the next hole, the referee learns that the player had not lost the hole. If the player or the opponent has made a stroke from the teeing area of that next hole, the referee can no longer correct the error.

Correction of Incorrect Ruling Made on Final Hole of Match Before Result Is Final

Where a referee makes an incorrect ruling on the final hole of a match, it should be corrected at any time up until the result of the match is final, or if the match goes to extra holes, until either player makes a stroke from the next teeing area.

Incorrect Ruling by Referee in Match Results in Player Making Stroke from Wrong Place

If a player in match play proceeds on the basis of a ruling from a referee, which involves dropping a ball and playing from a wrong place and the Committee then learns of the incorrect ruling, the following principles apply:

  • Unless a serious breach is involved, or the player has been seriously disadvantaged due to playing from a wrong place, it is too late to correct the ruling once the player has made a stroke from the wrong place. The strokes made after the incorrect ruling stand with no penalty for playing from the wrong place.
  • If a serious breach is involved or the player has been seriously disadvantaged due to playing from a wrong place, the Committee should correct the error if the opponent has not yet made his or her next stroke on the hole concerned. Otherwise it is too late to correct the ruling.
  • If a serious breach is involved and the opponent does not make a stroke on the hole after the ruling was given, the Committee should correct the ruling if neither player has made a stroke from the next teeing area or, in the case of the final hole of the match, before the result of the match is final. Otherwise it is too late to correct the ruling.
  • If a serious breach is involved and it is too late to correct the ruling, the strokes made after the incorrect ruling stand with no penalty.
(11)
Handling Wrong Rulings in Stroke Play

A player has no right to appeal a referee's ruling (see Rule 20.2a). But if a ruling by a referee or the Committee is later found to be wrong, the ruling should be corrected if possible under the Rules (see Rule 20.2d). This section clarifies when an incorrect ruling should be corrected in stroke play.

Correction of Incorrect Ruling by Referee in Stroke Play

When possible, a referee should correct an incorrect ruling in stroke play that involves the incorrect application of a penalty or failure to apply a penalty, provided the competition has not closed (see Rule 20.2e).

Player In Stroke Play Incorrectly Advised Stroke Does Not Count

Where a referee in stroke play incorrectly advises a player that his or her stroke does not count and to play again without penalty, the ruling stands and the player's score with the replayed stroke is the player's score for the hole.

Player in Stroke Play Makes Stroke from Wrong Place Due to Incorrect Ruling; Procedure for Player When Error Is Discovered

In stroke play when a player proceeds on the basis of a ruling from a referee, which involves dropping a ball and playing from a wrong place and the Committee then learns of the incorrect ruling by the referee, the following principles apply:

  • Unless a serious breach is involved, or the player has been seriously disadvantaged due to playing from a wrong place, it is too late to correct the ruling and the strokes made after the incorrect ruling stand with no penalty for playing from the wrong place.
  • If a serious breach is involved or the player has been seriously disadvantaged due to playing from a wrong place, and the player has not made a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning his or her scorecard, the Committee should correct the ruling. The Committee should direct the player to cancel the stroke made from the wrong place and any subsequent strokes and proceed correctly. The player incurs no penalty for playing from a wrong place. If it is too late to correct the ruling, the strokes made after the incorrect ruling stand with no penalty for playing from the wrong place.

Referee Gives Player Incorrect Information; Player Acts on Information in Subsequent Play

Players are expected to recognize when they have breached a Rule and to be honest in applying their own penalties (see Rule 1.3b). But if a referee provides the player with incorrect information on the Rules, the player is entitled to act on such information in his or her subsequent play.

Consequently, the Committee may be required to make a judgment as to both the duration of the player's entitlement and his or her proper score when, as a result of proceeding according to the incorrect information provided, the player is liable to a penalty under the Rules.

In these situations, the Committee should resolve the matter in whatever manner it considers most fair, in light of all the facts and with the objective of ensuring that no player receives an undue advantage or disadvantage. In cases where the incorrect information significantly affects the results of the competition, the Committee may have no option but to cancel the round. The following principles are applicable:

  • General guidance on the Rules
    When a member of the Committee or a referee provides incorrect information in the nature of general guidance about the Rules, the player should not be exempt from penalty.
  • Specific ruling
    When a referee makes a specific ruling that is contrary to the Rules in that particular situation, the player is exempt from penalty. The Committee should extend this exemption for the duration of the round in circumstances where the player proceeds incorrectly on his or her own in exactly the same manner as advised by a referee earlier in the round. However, that exemption ceases if, in that round, the player becomes aware of the proper procedure or has his or her actions questioned.
    For example, a player asks a referee for help in taking relief from a red penalty area and the referee incorrectly tells the player that he or she must drop again because his or her stance is in the penalty area. If the player drops again for that same reason when taking relief from a red penalty area three holes later the Committee should not penalise the player for playing from a wrong place.
  • Guidance on Local Rules or Terms of the Competition
    When a member of the Committee or a referee gives incorrect information on whether a Local Rule or Term of the Competition is in effect, the player should be exempt from penalty for acting on that information. This exemption applies for the duration of the round unless corrected earlier, in which case, the exemption should cease at that point.
    For example, if the player is told by a referee that distance-measuring devices that measure effective playing distance are permitted even though the Local Rule prohibiting their use is in effect, that player does not incur a penalty for measuring effective playing distance during the round. However, if the Committee learns of the incorrect ruling, the player should be informed of the mistake as soon as possible.
  • Equipment ruling
    When a member of the Committee or a referee rules that a non-conforming club is conforming, the player is exempt from penalty for using the club. This exemption applies for the duration of the competition unless corrected earlier, in which case, the exemption ceases at the completion of the round during which the correction was made.

Player Lifts Ball Without Authority Due to Misunderstanding Referee's Instructions

If a player lifts his or her ball when not permitted to do so as a result of a reasonable misunderstanding of a referee's instructions, there is no penalty, and the ball must be replaced unless the player proceeds under another Rule.

For example, a player's ball comes to rest against a movable obstruction and he or she asks for relief. A referee correctly advises the player that the obstruction may be removed under Rule 15.2 and that the spot of the ball should be marked in case it moves during the removal of the obstruction. The player marks the position of the ball and lifts it before the referee can stop him or her.

The player will normally be penalized one stroke under Rule 9.4 for lifting his or her ball where it is not allowed, but, provided the referee is satisfied that the player misunderstood the instruction, the ball is replaced without penalty.

Player Incorrectly Advised to Continue with Provisional Ball by Referee

A player had reason to play a provisional ball from the teeing area and finds his or her original ball in a penalty area. The player is then incorrectly told by a referee that he or she must continue with the provisional ball and completes the hole with the provisional ball. The player incurs no penalty for playing a wrong ball (the provisional ball, which the player was required to abandon under Rule 18.3c).

If the Committee then becomes aware of the wrong ruling, it should rule that the player's score for the hole consists of the tee shot with the original ball plus the number of strokes the player took to complete the hole with the provisional ball after the incorrect ruling, with the second stroke with the provisional ball being the player's second stroke on the hole. However, if it would have been clearly unreasonable for the player to have played the original ball from the penalty area, he or she must also add one penalty stroke under Rule 17.1 to the score for the hole.

Committee Makes Incorrect Ruling When Player Has Played Two Balls Under Rule 20.1c(3); When Ruling May Be Corrected

In stroke play, a player plays two balls under Rule 20.1c(3), reports the facts to the Committee, and the Committee tells the player to score with the incorrect ball. Such a mistake is an incorrect ruling and not an administrative error. Therefore Rule 20.2d applies and the answer depends on when the Committee learns of its incorrect ruling:

  • If the Committee learns of the incorrect ruling before the competition closes, it should correct the ruling by changing the score for the hole in question to that of the correct ball.
  • If the Committee learns of the incorrect ruling after the competition has closed, the score with the incorrect ball remains the player's score for the hole in question. Under Rule 20.2d, such a ruling is final once the competition has closed.

Disqualification Penalty Wrongly Applied to Winner of Event; Error Discovered After Two Other Players Play Off for First Place

If, as a result of an incorrect ruling by the Committee, the rightful winner of a competition is disqualified and two other players play-off for first place, the best procedure depends on when the Committee realizes its error. If the Committee learns of its incorrect ruling before the result of the competition is final, the Committee should correct the incorrect ruling by rescinding the disqualification penalty and declaring the player to be the winner. If the Committee learns of the incorrect ruling after the result of the competition is final, the result stands, with the player disqualified.

Application of Disqualification Penalty in Competition in Which Not All Scores Used to Determine Winner

In a scenario such as a multiple round stroke-play team competition when not all the player's scores count towards the team's score for a round, a player's score cannot count for the round when he or she is disqualified but could count for other rounds. For example, where two scores of three team members count, if a player is disqualified in the first of four rounds, the disqualification applies only to the first round and his or her scores for the remaining rounds could still be used.

This applies to all competitions in which not all scores are used to determine the winner (for example, an individual competition in which the player counts his or her three best scores from four rounds).

If a player is disqualified for a breach of Rule 1.3b or the Committee's Code of Conduct, it is up to the Committee to determine whether the disqualification should be for the round or the entire competition.

(12)
Combining Match Play and Stroke Play

The combining of match play and stroke play is discouraged as certain Rules are substantially different between the two formats. But there will be times when players either request to combine the two forms of play or, having done so on their own, request a ruling. The Committee should make its best efforts to support players at these times and should use the following guidelines in doing so.

When players request to combine match play and stroke play

If a Committee chooses to allow players to play a match while competing in a stroke-play competition, it is recommended that the players be advised that the Rules for stroke play apply throughout. For example, no concessions are allowed and if one player plays out of turn, the other does not have the option of recalling the stroke.

When players request a ruling having combined match play and stroke play

If the Committee is asked for a ruling when players have combined match play and stroke play, it should apply the Rules of Golf as they would apply to each of match play and stroke play separately. For example, if one player did not complete a hole for whatever reason then he or she is disqualified from the stroke-play competition for a breach of Rule 3.3c. But, for Stableford, Maximum Score and Par/Bogey see Rules 21.1c(2), 21.2c and 21.3c(2) respectively.