Kendall Dunovant, USGA Rules Department
you know that when the Rules of Golf differ for match play and stroke play,
they almost always refer to the Rules of match play first? That’s because match
play was the earliest form of golf played.
play is a format in which a player competes directly against an opponent on a
hole-by-hole basis. Most of the differences in how the Rules apply in match
play and stroke play are because of one fundamental difference between the two
formats: in match play, the players in the match can protect their own rights
and interests, whereas in stroke play, the Rules need to protect the interests
of all players in the field.
match play, the only two people who have an interest in how the Rules apply are
involved in the match and can advocate for themselves throughout the round.
play can be played in partner formats as well. For more information about how
this form of play functions in partner formats, see Rules
22 and 23.
play is the only form of play where the term “opponent” is used. An opponent is
the person the player is playing against in a match.
play can be thought of as a series of one-hole competitions, each resulting in
one of three possible outcomes: win, lose or tie. A player can win a hole by
completing the hole in fewer strokes than his or her opponent. If the player
and the opponent complete the hole in the same number of strokes, the players
have tied the hole (also known as halved). The match is won when a player is
winning by more holes than there are left to be played.
example, if the player is up by four holes, and there are only three holes left
to play, the player has won the match by the score of 4&3. The players in
this match do not have to play the remaining holes, as there is no way for the
opponent to win the match with only three holes left. Of course, match play can
also be played with handicaps where net scores would be compared on each hole.
the match is tied after the final hole, the match is extended one hole at a
time until it is won. However, the Committee in charge of the competition may
decide that a match will end in a tie rather than be extended. We see this
happen in competitions like the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup.
of the things that players may do in match pay is concede a stroke, hole or
even a match. In order to concede a stroke, the player must clearly communicate
to his or her opponent that this is the intent. A player can do this verbally
or with an action that clearly indicates the intention to concede. You often
hear phrases like, “that’s good,” or “you can pick that up,” to verbally
indicate a concession, or you may see an opponent simply pick up the player’s
Conceding a stroke: A player may concede a stroke to his
or her opponent any time before the opponent’s next stroke is made. When a
stroke is conceded, the opponent has completed the hole with a score that
includes the conceded stroke.
Conceding a hole: When a player wishes to concede a
hole, the player may do so any time before play of the hole is completed,
including before the players start the hole. Players may do this for many
different reasons; I once conceded a hole simply because I knew that the hole
was always difficult for me and that playing poorly would negatively impact me
for the rest of the round. In that match, I conceded the hole before playing it
and moved on to the next hole with my confidence still intact!
Conceding a match: If a player wishes to concede a match,
they may do so any time before the result of the match is decided. This may
even be done before the match begins, such as when one player knows that he or
she will not be able to compete on a given day.
is important to consider all options prior to conceding a stroke, hole, or
match, because once a concession has been made, that concession is final and
match play, knowing the status of the match is essential for players as they
make decisions about their play during the round. Therefore, players have a few
rights and responsibilities in match play that they do not in stroke play.
when asked, a player must tell the opponent the correct number of strokes that
he or she has taken during the hole. If a player tells his or her opponent the
wrong number of strokes or fails to answer the request, and the player does not
correct the mistake in time (which generally must be before the opponent makes
another stroke or makes a concession), the player loses the hole.
a player must inform the opponent when the player incurs a penalty, unless the
opponent is otherwise aware of the penalty (such as when they obviously watch a
player take relief from a penalty area). If the player does not inform the
opponent in time, the player gets the general penalty, which is loss of hole in
match play. Third, players are responsible for knowing how the match stands. If
the players mistakenly agree on the match score, they may correct the mistake
before either player makes a stroke to begin another hole, or if this happens
after the last hole of the match, they must correct before the result is final.
However, if the players do not correct the mistake in time, the agreed upon
score becomes the match score.
during a match, players are responsible for protecting their own rights and
interests. As such, if a player knows the opponent broke a Rule, the player may
act on that knowledge or choose to ignore the breach. However, the player and
the opponent may not deliberately agree to ignore a penalty or a breach – that
is, if both the player and opponent know that a Rule was breached, they cannot
decide together to overlook it. If players disagree on whether a Rule has been
breached, they may request a timely ruling from a referee or the Committee.
players may decide how to proceed by agreement in match play when they are
unsure of a Rule. For example, if player A wishes to take lateral relief from a
red penalty area and isn’t sure how big the relief area should be, Player A and
his opponent may agree that it should be three club-lengths, so long as neither
of them knows that it is only supposed to be two-clubs’ lengths. In match play,
players may not play two golf balls when unsure of how to proceed.
play allows players the freedom to protect their own rights and interests and
to always know where they stand in their competition. It is a fun way to play a
round with friends, or in a friendly competition.
time that you go out to play a casual round of golf, consider trying match