Rule 20 - Resolving Rules Issues During Round; Rulings by Referee and Committee

Purpose of Rule: Rule 20 covers what players should do when they have questions about the Rules during a round, including the procedures (which differ in match play and stroke play) allowing a player to protect the right to get a ruling at a later time.

The Rule also covers the role of referees who are authorized to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. Rulings from a referee or the Committee are binding on all players.

20.1  Resolving Rules Issues During Round

a. Players Must Avoid Unreasonable Delay

Players must not unreasonably delay play when seeking help with the Rules during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee.:

b. Rules Issues in Match Play

(1) Deciding Issues by Agreement. During a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee., the players in a match may agree how to decide a Rules issue:

In the absence of a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules., if the players do not agree or have doubt about how the Rules apply, either player may request a ruling under Rule 20.1b(2).

(2) Ruling Request Made Before Result of Match Is Final. When a player wants a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. to decide how to apply the Rules to his or her own play or the opponent’sOpponent: The person a player competes against in a match. The term opponent applies only in match play. play, the player may make a request for a ruling.

If a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. is not available in a reasonable time, the player may make the request for a ruling by notifying the opponentOpponent: The person a player competes against in a match. The term opponent applies only in match play. that a later ruling will be sought when a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. becomes available.

If a player makes a request for a ruling before the result of the match is final:

If the player requests a ruling about an earlier hole, a ruling will be given only if all three of these apply:

(3) Ruling Request Made After Result of Match Is Final. When a player makes a request for a ruling after the result of the match is final:

(4) No Right to Play Two Balls. A player who is uncertain about the right procedure in a match is not allowed to play out the hole with two balls. That procedure applies only in stroke playStroke Play: A form of play where a player or side competes against all other players or sides in the competition. (see Rule 20.1c).

c. Rules Issues in Stroke Play

(1) No Right to Decide Rules Issues by Agreement. If a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. is not available in a reasonable time to help with a Rules issue:

(2) Players Should Protect Other Players in the Competition. To protect the interests of all other players:

If the player fails to do so, the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. may disqualify the player under Rule 1.2a if it decides that this was serious misconduct contrary to the spirit of the game.

(3) Playing Two Balls When Uncertain What to Do. A player who is uncertain about the right procedure while playing a hole may complete the hole with two balls without penalty:

A second ball played under this Rule is not the same as a provisional ballProvisional Ball: Another ball played in case the ball just played by the player may be: under Rule 18.3.

(4) Committee Decision on Score for Hole. When a player plays two balls under (3), the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. will decide the player’s score for the hole in this way:

“Rules allow the procedure used” means that either: (a) the original ball was played as it lies and play was allowed from there, or (b) the ball that was played was put in playIn Play: The status of a player’s ball when it lies on the course and is being used in the play of a hole: under the right procedure, in the right way and in the right place under the Rules.

20.2  Rulings on Issues Under the Rules

a. Rulings by Referee

A refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. is an official named by the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules.

A referee’sReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. ruling on the facts or how the Rules apply must be followed by the player.

See Committee Procedures, Section 6C  (explaining the scope of a referee’sReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. authority).

b. Rulings by Committee

When there is no refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. to give a ruling or when a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. refers a ruling to the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course.:

If the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. cannot reach a decision, it may refer the issue to the Rules of Golf Committee of the USGA, whose decision is final.

c. Applying “Naked Eye” Standard When Using Video Evidence

When the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. is deciding questions of fact in making a ruling, the use of video evidence is limited by the “naked eye” standard:

d. When Wrong Rulings Will Be Corrected

If a ruling by a refereeReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. is later found to be wrong:

If a player takes an action in breach of a Rule based on a reasonable misunderstanding of a referee’sReferee: An official named by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. or Committee’sCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. instruction during a roundRound: 18 or fewer holes played in the order set by the Committee. or while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a (such as lifting a ball in playIn Play: The status of a player’s ball when it lies on the course and is being used in the play of a hole: when not allowed under the Rules), there is no penalty and the instruction is treated like a wrong ruling.

See Committee Procedures, Section 6C  (what the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. should do when there has been a wrong ruling).

e. Disqualifying Players After Result of Match or Competition Is Final

(1) Match Play. There is no time limit on disqualifying a player under Rule 1.2 (serious misconduct) or Rule 1.3b(1) (deliberately ignoring a known breach or penalty, or agreeing with another player to ignore any Rule or penalty they know applies).

This may be done even after the result of the match is final (see Rule 3.2a(5)).

For when the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. will give a ruling when a request is made after the result of the match is final, see Rule 20.1b(3).

(2) Stroke Play. Normally, a penalty must not be added or corrected after a stroke-playStroke Play: A form of play where a player or side competes against all other players or sides in the competition. competition has closed, which is:

But a player must be disqualified even after the competition is closed if he or she:

  • Returned a score for any hole lower than actually taken for any reason other than failing to include one or more penalty strokes that, before the competition closed, the player did not know about (see Rule 3.3b(3)),

  • Knew before the competition had closed that the returned scorecardScorecard: The document where a player’s score for each hole is entered in stroke play. showed a handicap that was higher than the actual handicap, and this affected the number of handicap strokes used to adjust the player’s score (see Rule 3.3b(4)),

  • Knew before the competition had closed that he or she was in breach of any other Rule with a penalty of disqualification, or

  • Deliberately agreed with another player to ignore any Rule or penalty they knew applied (see Rule 1.3b(1)).

The CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course. may also disqualify a player under Rule 1.2 (serious misconduct) after the competition has closed.

20.3  Situations Not Covered by the Rules

Any situation not covered by the Rules should be decided by the CommitteeCommittee: The person or group in charge of the competition or the course.: