GUIDANCE TO RULES OFFICIALS CONCERNING
QUESTIONS ON THE CONFORMITY OF CLUBS AT COMPETITIONS
It is the player's responsibility to ensure that his clubs conform with the Rules. If in doubt, he should not carry any questionable club. However, such guidance is not always appropriate, particularly when a question arises during or after a competition, in which case a decision is required.
Notes on Terminology Used
"USGA Decision" is one which already exists in the USGA Equipment Standards database or "Decisions on the Rules of Golf" at the time the question arises, though it may be unknown to the player or official concerned.
"USGA Ruling" is one that the USGA Equipment Standards Committee or its authorized sub-Committee may make on the club which is the subject of the inquiry. It is made after the inquiry has been communicated to the appropriate Equipment Standards representative, whether before, during or after the competition.
"Duration of Competition Answer" is made by an official involved in running a stroke play competition and has no standing after the competition has closed. The player may use the club for the remainder of the 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 USGA for a formal ruling as soon as possible. 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 and has no standing after the player has completed that round. Duration of Round Answers have no standing beyond the end of the round and, therefore, the player should be advised to obtain a formal ruling or subsequent Duration of Round Answer from the official prior to the next round. Thereafter, the player should submit the club to the USGA for a formal ruling as soon as possible. The player should also be made aware that any subsequent ruling may be different from the Duration of Round Answer(s) given.
A. Questions Arising Before the Competition Begins
Officials should always ascertain why the player, fellow-competitor, opponent or third party is questioning the club.
A positive ruling should only be given at this stage if the official is absolutely certain he is correct. As a precautionary measure, always refer to the Rules of Golf and this Guide prior to giving the ruling.
If the official is not certain of the ruling, and time permits, help and guidance should be sought from the USGA. First, it should be determined whether the club has ever been formally submitted to the USGA for a decision.
If a USGA Decision exists, and the official finds out in time, the player should be informed accordingly.
If a USGA Decision does not exist, the official should provide the USGA with a detailed description of the club. If time permits and it is feasible, an e-mailed image or faxed drawing should be sent. The 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 guidance given by the USGA. That is, the official should provide a formal ruling that the club is conforming or non-conforming. If the club most likely conforms, the official should provide a Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answer that the player may use the club during the competition or round, but that the player must obtain an official conformance determination prior to using the club in subsequent competitions or rounds played under USGA Rules.
If there is a doubt regarding the conformance of the club and the player's starting time is close, the official should advise the player that he shouldn't carry the club until a determination is made and, should the player choose to carry the club, he is subject to penalty in accordance with Rule 4-1 if the club is ultimately deemed to be non-conforming. Any player who ignores an official's guidance and carries a doubtful club would be subject to penalty in the event of a subsequent non-conforming ruling. This would apply whether the competition was closed or not.
If the player chooses not to carry the club and it is later confirmed that the club conforms, the official should deliver the club to the player as soon as possible and provide a formal ruling to the player. If it is later determined that the club most likely conforms, the official should deliver the club to the player as soon as possible and provide permission to 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). In either case, the official should not deliver the club to the player during the round if the player started his round with 14 clubs.
B. Questions Arising During Stroke Play Competition
If the club has already been used, officials should only accept questions between rounds or at the conclusion of play before the competition is closed (but, see Field Procedures, section D below).
The official should ascertain why the competitor, fellow-competitor or third party is questioning the club.
If the official is absolutely certain of the correct decision, the competitor should be informed (see Field Procedures, A2).
If the official is unsure of the ruling, the player should be advised that he 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 question arising before the competition began (see Field Procedures, A3 - A6).
If no Duration of Competition Answer is given and it is later confirmed that the club does not conform, then the competitor should be penalized in accordance with Rule 4-1.
C. Questions Arising During Match-Play Competition
During a match play event, the above procedure may need to be modified.
If the question arises between rounds, it would be too late for a defeated opponent of the player with a suspect club to make a claim, but a question from him would be grounds for checking the club before the player starts his next round.
The procedure would be to consult with the player, opponent and/or third-party and obtain appropriate information similar to stroke play. There may be more urgency in this case as it would be desirable to know whether the club is non-conforming before the player starts his next round, which might be the same day.
If a formal ruling is obtained or a Duration of Round Answer is 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 carries the club in the next round, he would be subject to penalty in accordance with Rule 4-1.
If a player makes a claim during his match that his 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 of non-conformance, the official should almost always err toward 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 question arising between rounds (see Field Procedures, C1 and C2).
D. Questions Arising After Competition Closes
Once a competition has closed, there is plenty of time to contact the USGA to find out whether the club conforms and/or to submit the club. If it turns out that the club is non-conforming, the decision of whether to penalize the player depends on whether he knew the club was non-conforming prior to the close of competition (see Rule 34-1). 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. Therefore, equipment conformance questions are rare. However, questions 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 cannot shift this responsibility to the officials. For their part, officials should respond to such questions calmly and with due consideration to all parties involved. Appropriate consultations should be made (i.e., refer to Rules of Golf, this Guide, contact the USGA, etc.). If it is not possible to give a definitive ruling immediately, a Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answer should be given.
In giving Duration of Competition or Duration of Round Answers, officials in doubt should err toward 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.