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Rules InformationRules Notebook: Amateur Championships

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1.  Referee’s Assignment and Equipment

It is the responsibility of the Referees to ensure the championship is fairly played in accordance with the Rules of Golf, Local Rules and Terms of the Competition (Entry Application, Hard Card and Notice to Players). Each morning, check in at the USGA Office before reporting to your assignment.

A. Referees should be sure to have the following items with them on the course:

  • Championship Scorecard
  • Evacuation Plan
  • Hole-by-Hole Notes
  • Notice to Players and USGA “Hard Card”
  • Pace of Play Time Chart
  • Pencil
  • Radio and Earpiece
  • Rules Assignment Sheet
  • Rules Notebook
  • The full Rules of Golf and/or Official Guide
  • Scoring Device (if applicable)
  • String
  • Tee Times/Match Play Draw
  • Umbrella and Rain Gear (if needed)
  • USGA Credential
  • Watch 


B. Check with the staff members in the USGA Office for announcements or messages.

C. Pick up a golf cart, if needed for assignment.

D. If assigned to a hole or zone, please become familiar with penalty areas, abnormal course conditions and any other potential Rules situations on your hole. Check bunkers and be certain rakes are placed outside of bunkers and out of play. The Referee is in charge of the hole. Introduce yourself to the marshals/spotters on your hole. Tell them where you will be positioned so that they can find you if they need assistance.

E.  If assigned to a group or match, plan to arrive on the first tee immediately after the group (match) in front of you has teed off. The starter will introduce you to the players in your group or match. You should walk in a position that avoids distracting players and fans. Please ensure that the walking scorer and standard bearer are in the same area. Keep up with your group/match and do not lag behind.

F.   In match play, briefly discuss your role as a Referee with your players. The Referee will keep the match scorecard and return it to USGA scoring upon completion of the match. Additionally, the Referee may be responsible for inputting the scores for each player into the scoring device at the completion of each hole.

G.  In match play, announce scores and the match score after every hole.

H.  Use the radio with discretion. Use the earpiece with the radio so that you can stay alert to what is happening on the course with all the players. Also, when rain or bad weather threatens, please keep the airwaves open.

I.   If a player is being disturbed by a reporter or a photographer, please notify the USGA Communications staff.

2.  Rules and Decisions

A. A Referee should make any decision or ruling about which they are certain. Be firm and positive, but take your time. If you have the slightest doubt, please use your radio to consult with a Rover.

In stroke play, a referee is responsible for acting on any breach of the Rules that they see or are told about.

In match play, unless a Referee has been assigned to accompany one match, they should avoid becoming involved in a match unless a player in a match asks for help with the Rules or requests a ruling or in relation to expiration of a three-minute search or Rules 1.2b, 1.3b(1), 5.3, 5.6 or 20.1b(2),

B. Any rulings that you are involved with in stroke play, or that are needed by your match, should be entered via the digital Rules Incident Form found on the Committee Website.  This should be done even if a Rover assists you with a ruling. Please enter the ruling as soon as reasonably possible.  

C. Remember that our goal is to prevent any Rules infractions that we can. However, it is not necessary to physically be in position to closely watch each player play every stroke. Although there is no formula to follow, always use tact and good judgment.

D. Deciding Questions of Fact:

  • On the tee, position yourself to ensure players tee off within the edges of the teeing area. Prior to any player making a stroke, inform the player if their ball is outside the teeing area.
  • If a player prepares to play a second ball without stating the purpose, the Referee should ask the player if it is their intention to play the ball provisionally.
  • Be alert for any potential breach of Rule 8.1a. When a player’s ball comes to rest in bushes or under trees, try to be in a position where you can observe and assist a player when requested.
  • Try to be in a position to observe the player’s actions in a bunker. If necessary, advise the player that their golf ball is in a bunker. Be alert for any breach of Rule 12.2b(1).
  • When a ball stops on the lip of the hole, the Referee may have to decide first, whether it overhangs the edge of the hole, and second, whether, after a reasonable amount of time for the player to reach the hole, the player has used the allowable “ten seconds” to determine whether the ball is at rest.
  • Remind players to replace the ball or ball-marker on its original spot if they have moved it to avoid another player’s line of play.
  • In match play, if a player removes ball from near the hole, make certain as to whether or not the putt has been conceded.

E.       Apply the Rules:

  • Frequently, in reaching a decision, the intention of the player can be of primary importance. Before any decision can be made, the first order of business often should be the determination of the player’s intent.
  • Assist the player with a relief procedure, if asked.
  • When a player is dropping a golf ball, ensure that the procedure is correct (e.g., ball dropped in the right way – Rule 14.3b).
  • Determine which player is away, if the players are in doubt.


3.  Ground Under Repair

No one is authorized to define an area as ground under repair without the approval of a Rover unless otherwise communicated by staff at a given championship.

4.  Pace of Play

Checkpoint Officials are expected to monitor pace of play and be familiar with the Pace of Play Policy (see Pace of Play Section).

Stroke Play

Every Referee is expected to be aware of the pace of play.  A Referee should time how long a ruling, a search for a lost ball or other legitimate delay takes in their group or on their hole and note any time of delay, reason and the player(s) involved in case the group is in breach of the Pace of Play Policy. No radio transmission is necessary. The Pace of Play Committee will contact you for this information, if needed.

Match Play

In match play, the Referee may notify the players when they are approaching being out of position. A Referee should time how long a ruling, search for a lost ball or other legitimate delay takes and inform the Rovers.

5.  Gallery

Every Referee should be alert to ensure proper gallery control. Remember that fans can walk in the fairway unless communicated otherwise. However, please encourage fans to stay with their group so as not to slow down play of the group behind.

6.  USGA Tents

Starting and scoring tents are for use only by official(s) assigned there. Please do not linger near them at any time during play.

7.  Rovers

A. Will be in carts and should ensure they have a Rover Box with supplies.

B. Use air horns when advised.

C. Assist Referees with rulings.

D. Are responsible for timing groups/players according to the Pace of Play Policy.

E. May define areas of ground under repair.

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Preliminary considerations:

  • Before play begins from the first tee, determine from the Referee via the radio the type of ball and markings used by the players.
  • Assist the Referee in any way requested.
  • Notify the Referee if a Rules infraction is observed.
  • Communicate only with the Referee and let the Referee communicate directly with the players.
  • Principal duties of an Observer:
  • Know the location of the players’ balls at all times. If any balls would be difficult for the players to find, re- main at the location of the ball(s) until the player(s), their caddies or a forecaddie arrives.
  • Coordinate ball location efforts with forecaddies or marshals, if available.
  • If both balls are in difficult areas, be available if the Referee might want you to assist with one of the players and wait until both situations are resolved.
  • Notify the Referee as soon as possible over the radio of potential rulings (e.g., possible interference with sprinkler head, embedded ball, ball in penalty area, possible need for provisional ball when original ball might be lost outside a penalty area or O.B.).
  • Mark the point on the penalty area line where the ball last crossed the edge with a tee.
  • Determine and notify the Referee via radio which player/side is away if there is a question.
  • Do not go onto the putting greens unless required to determine which ball is away or to assist with a ruling. When on the putting green, do not walk on any player’s line of play.
  • Assist the Referee with three-minute timing procedure if there is a ball search.
  • If the superintendent needs to syringe or blow debris off the putting green, remove the flagstick so that the players will not hit onto the putting green. Replace the flagstick in the hole when the job is completed.
  • Reposition bunker rakes if needed and time allows.


Positions on course:

  • Must be positioned in the traditional forward location; that is, in the landing zone of the stroke being played (e.g., to the side of the drive zone when players are on the tee on a par 4, and by the putting green as approach shots are being played).
  • May be positioned alongside a Referee only in the following two situations: 
    • New Referees who are “in training” or
    • Those persons observing in a ceremonial capacity.
  • Be in a position to see flights of players’ balls, be able to determine where a ball comes to rest and whether it cleared or is in a penalty area, bunker, high rough, etc.
  • If there are two Observers working a match, one should be on one side of the landing zone, and the other should be on the other side of the landing zone.
  • On blind shots, if the landing zone is not clear and marshals are unavailable, the Observer should stand in the middle of the fairway to hold up play. If necessary, the Observer will wave the group forward and move to the side when the landing zone is clear.
  • Anticipate the worst place a ball might end up (e.g., if ball is in greenside bunker, anticipate the ball being skulled over green and be in position to see where the ball comes to rest).
  • Move to the next hole’s landing zone when all balls are on the putting green.
  • Stay out of the way of the players so they can maintain the proper pace of play.
  • Attempt to prevent any interference with play or disturbances by fans in landing zones, particularly those watching the group/match ahead who may lag behind that group/match. Keep landing zones clear of fans. Notify Rovers if there are any issues with fans.


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A person should be assigned to give the following review about match play to the players of each match before they tee off in the first round of match play. It is usually done on the practice putting green or at the first tee before the players’ tee time. The match’s Referee should be included in this discussion. The discussion should take only 2-3 minutes.

1.  Referee – appointed by Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules

A. Responsible for acting on any breach but be in preventative mode.

B. Position of Referee – be in a position to observe but not be overbearing. We are not the show.

C. Monitor Pace of Play Policy.

2.  Order of Play (6.4)

A. Teeing Area – Draw dictates honor at 1st teeing area; result of holes thereafter.

B. Other than Teeing Area – farthest from hole. Ask Referee if not sure who is away.

C. No continuous putting; no penalty but opponent may immediately cancel the player’s stroke, requiring him or her to replay (unless they agreed to play out of turn to save time).

D. Four-Ball Competition: balls belonging to the same side may be played in the order the side considers best.

3.  Request for Ruling (20.1b)

A. Must be made in time, which depends when the player becomes aware of facts creating the Rules issue – see Rules 20.1b(2) and 20.1b(3).

B. Lodge with Referee.

4.  Concessions (3.2b)

A. Loud and clear for opponent and Referee.

B. Cannot be declined or withdrawn.

C. Four-Ball Competition: if a player holes out after a concession and this act helps their partner, the partner’s score for the hole cannot count for the side (Rule 23.6).

5.  Match Score

A. Announcement of the match score will occur after each hole.

B. No official scorecard will be provided to the players.

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