Who can claim a Rules of Golf violation?

Contributing Columnist

One of the major differences between stroke play and match play is that in stroke play, anyone can point out a Rules of Golf violation, and they can do it at any time until the competition has closed. The committee in charge of the event can, and should, take action. In match play, unless a referee is assigned to your match, it is left up to you to “call” your opponent on perceived violations. When it comes to calling penalties in match play, I often compare it to pick-up basketball. It is not a foul until you call it.

In match play, if the dispute arises between the players, a player may make a claim. If a timely claim is lodged, the committee should make a decision as soon as possible. If no one on the committee is available, the player must continue the match without delay.

According to Rule 2-5, the committee may consider a claim only if the player making notifies his opponent: (i) that he is making a claim; (ii) of the facts of the situation; and (iii) that he wants a ruling. In addition, the claim must be made before any player in the match plays from the next tee, or in the case of the last hole of the match, before all players in the match leave the putting green.

Here is an example: While playing the fourth hole, your opponent’s ball ends up on an area of hardpan just off the fairway. He insists that he is entitled to free relief and you disagree. Since no one is around to make an immediate ruling, the Rules require you to continue play. So your opponent takes relief by lifting and dropping his ball within one club length from the nearest point of relief, no nearer the hole — proceeding as if the hardpan were ground under repair. You are now faced with the decision to accept the fact that he got to move his ball off the bad lie, or make a claim.

In order to make a valid claim, you must inform your opponent that you want a ruling. You must spell out what you are claiming (free relief from hardpan in the rough is not permitted) and announce that you would like the Rules of Golf applied. Simply saying, “that doesn’t seem fair” or asking, “are you sure?” doesn’t constitute a claim.

A timely claim must be made before either of you hits from the fifth tee. It is too late to make a valid claim at “the turn” or later on when your opponent denies you relief from a similar situation.

Any later claim should not be considered unless it is based on facts you were previously unaware of and you had been given wrong information by your opponent. Back to our example: Let’s say that you were unaware your opponent took relief from the hardpan because you were looking for your own ball. And, when he announced his score for the hole, he did not include a penalty for having moved his ball. If, before the results of the match were officially announced, you became aware that he simply took relief without your knowledge and told you he made a 3 on the hole, you could still make a valid claim.

Once the results of the match have been officially announced, a later claim may be considered unless the committee is satisfied that your opponent knew he was giving you wrong information. By the way, it is considered the player’s responsibility to know the Rules and a player is deemed to have given wrong information if it is due to the failure to include a penalty that he did not know he incurred.

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