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.