Advice to Rules Officials Concerning Queries on the Conformity of Clubs at Competitions
It is the player’s responsibility to ensure that his clubs conform with the Rules and if in doubt about a particular club, he would be well advised not to carry it. However, such advice is not always appropriate, particularly when a query arises during or after a competition, in which case a decision is required.
Notes on Terminology Used
“R&A or USGA Decision” is one which already exists in The R&A or USGA Equipment Standards database or Official Guide to the Rules of Golf at the time the query arises, though maybe unknown to the player or Official concerned.
“R&A or USGA Ruling” is one that The R&A or USGA Equipment Standards Committee or its authorized sub-Committee may make on the club which is the subject of the query. It is made after the query has been communicated to the appropriate Equipment Standards representative, whether it be before, during or after the competition.
“Duration of Competition Answer” is made by an Official involved in running a stroke-play competition. “Duration of Competition Answers” have no standing beyond the end of the competition and, therefore, the player should be advised to submit the club to The R&A or USGA for an official conformance determination prior to using the club in subsequent competitions. The player should also be made aware that any subsequent ruling may be different from the Duration of Competition Answer which was given.
“Duration of Round Answer” is usually made by an Official involved in running a match play competition. “Duration of Round Answers” have no standing beyond the end of the round and, therefore, the player should be advised to submit the club to The R&A or USGA for an official conformance determination prior to using the club in subsequent rounds. The player should also be made aware that any subsequent ruling may be different from the Duration of Round Answer which was given.
A. Queries Arising Before the Competition Begins
Officials should always ascertain why the player, fellow-competitor, opponent or third party is querying the club.
A positive ruling should only be given at this stage if the Official is absolutely certain he or she is correct. As a precautionary measure, always refer to the Equipment Rules, the Rules of Golf, and the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf before giving the ruling.
If the Official is not certain of the ruling, and time permits, advice should be sought from The R&A or USGA. First, it should be determined whether the club has ever been formally submitted for a decision.
If an R&A or USGA decision exists, and the Official is made aware of that decision in time, the player should be informed accordingly.
If there is no R&A or USGA decision on record, the Official should provide The R&A or USGA with a detailed description of the club. If time permits and appropriate facilities exist, an e-mailed or texted image should be sent. The R&A or USGA will then offer as much guidance as possible based on the information given – and in most cases, offer a recommended ruling.
The Official should make a ruling on the club based on the advice given by The R&A or USGA. If the club is clearly either ‘conforming’ or ‘non-conforming’, the Official should provide a ruling to that effect. However, if there is even a small amount of uncertainty, the Official should only offer a Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answer.
If, due to the close proximity of a player’s starting time, the Official cannot reasonably seek advice, or is unable to contact The R&A or USGA, then he or she should advise the player not to carry the club for that round.
If later advice confirms that the club does conform and the player has already started his or her round without the club, then the player should be given a formal ruling as soon as possible. This would mean that the player could add the club to his or her bag during the round (provided the player had started with less than 14) or could carry the club in the next round. If later advice confirms that the club probably conforms and the player has already started his or her round without the club, then the player should be advised as soon as possible that he or she can use the club for the duration of the competition in stroke play (Duration of Competition Answer) or for the duration of the round in match play (Duration of Round Answer). This would also mean that the player could add the club to his or her bag during that round (provided the player had started with less than 14).
Any player who ignores an Official’s advice and carries a doubtful club would be subject to penalty under Rule 4.1 of the Rules of Golf in the event of a subsequent non-conforming Duration of Competition, Duration of Round Answer, or formal ruling. This would apply whether the competition was closed or not.
B. Queries Arising During Stroke Play Competition
If the club has already been used, Officials should only accept queries between rounds, or at the conclusion of play before the competition is closed.
The Official should ascertain why the player, fellow-competitor or third party is querying the club.
If the Official is absolutely certain of the correct decision, then the player should be informed (see A2 above).
If the Official is unsure of the ruling, the player should be advised that he or she will receive either a formal ruling or a Duration of Competition Answer before the close of the competition. The procedure is the same as for a query arising before the competition began (see A3 – A6 above).
If no Duration of Competition Answer is given and later advice confirms that the club does not conform, then the player should be penalized under Rule 4.1 of the Rules of Golf.
C. Queries Arising During Match Play Competition
During a match play event the above procedure may need to be modified.
If the query arises between rounds, then it would be too late for a defeated opponent of the player with a suspect club to make a claim, but a query from him or her would be grounds for checking the club before the player starts his or her next round.
The procedure would be to consult with the player, opponent or third party and obtain all available information before making a determination. While the main procedures would be the same as for stroke play competitions (see A3 – A6 above), there may be more urgency in match play as it would be desirable to know whether the club is non-conforming before the player starts his or her next round, which might be the same day.
If a formal ruling is obtained or a Duration of Round Answer reached, the player should be told as soon as possible. If the decision is that the club does not conform, the official would warn the player that if he or she carries the club in the next round, the player would be subject to penalty under Rule 4.1 of the Rules of Golf.
If a player makes a claim during a match that his or her opponent is carrying a non-conforming club, the Official will have to make a ruling under even greater time constraints. Ideally, a ruling should be made before the match is finished. In that event, if there is no clear evidence that the club does not conform, the Official should almost always err towards ruling the club to conform. However, such a ruling would be considered to be a Duration of Round Answer and a more formal decision should be made prior to the next round.
Thereafter, if the opponent wins, the procedure is the same as for a query arising between rounds (see C3 and C4 above).
D. Queries Arising After Competition Closed
Once a competition has closed, there is plenty of time to contact The R&A or USGA to find out whether the club conforms or not and/or to submit the club. If it turns out that the club is non-conforming, the decision whether to disqualify the player or not depends on whether he or she knew the club was non-conforming (see Rule 20.2e(2)). This is a question of fact, but in determining the facts, the Committee may wish to consider other evidence as well as the player’s own statement.
The vast majority of golf clubs conform to the Rules and, therefore, equipment conformance queries of this kind are rare. However, queries do arise from time to time and Officials need to know how to deal with them. It is important to remember that it is a player’s responsibility to play with conforming clubs. He or she cannot shift this responsibility to the Official. For their part, Officials should respond to such queries with due consideration to all parties involved. Appropriate consultations should be made (i.e. referencing the Equipment Rules, the Rules of Golf, and the Interpretation of the Rules of Golfs, contacting The R&A or USGA, etc.). If it is not possible to give a definitive ruling straight away, a Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answer should be given (but see A7).In giving Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answers, Officials in doubt should err towards deeming clubs to conform. Penalizing a player for carrying or using a club that later turns out to be conforming is a more serious error than allowing use of a club which later turns out to be non-conforming.