Rules: Resolving a dispute on the course

Dispute resolution

In match play, you can ask a Referee or the Committee to resolve a dispute by lodging a claim under Rule 2-5.  The claim must be considered if the requirements for a valid claim have been met. For a claim to be valid, you must notify your opponent (i) that you are making a claim or want a ruling and, (ii) the facts of the situation. This must be done within the required timeframe which varies depending on when the player and opponent became aware of the potential breach. See Rule 2-5 for details. Generally speaking a player wishing to make a claim should always do so as soon as they become aware of their opponents potential breach.

In stroke play, if, before making a stroke, there is disagreement as to the course of action you are about to take, you may invoke Rule 3-3 and play two balls if you have some doubt as to whether the course of action complies with the Rules. For example, if you feel you may be entitled to free relief from a damaged area not marked as ground under repair, you may invoke Rule 3-3 and proceed accordingly. Note that you must report the facts to the Committee in all cases when this Rule is invoked, even if your score with both balls is the same.

If a doubt or dispute arises during play in stroke play about the breach of a Rule or the correct score for a hole, the matter should be referred to the Committee (Rule 6-6b). If, for example, a fellow-competitor claims that you played from a wrong place after taking relief, you should ask the Committee for a decision on the matter. The timing of this referral is important, since the player is not allowed to make alternations to their score card after it has been returned to the Committee.

If the card is considered returned when it is placed in a designated box, the referral must be made before the card is placed in the box. If the card is considered returned when it is handed to a Committee member in a designated “scoring area”, the referral must be made before you leave the scoring area. In either case, if the Committee rules that you did play from a wrong place and incurred a penalty of two strokes, the penalty should be added to your score if the ruling is made before your card is considered returned to the Committee, but you should be disqualified if you informed the Committee of the breach after the card is returned.

The exception to this however, is if the player did not know if they had incurred penalty strokes prior to returning their score card. In this case, the player is not disqualified, however they will incur the penalty prescribed by the applicable Rules and an additional two strokes for each hole at which they failed to include the penalties they had incurred.

The Rules of Golf provide guidance to Referees and Committees on how to settle disputes and claims between players in both match play and stroke play. This guidance is contained in Rule 34 - Disputes and Decisions.

Decision 34-3/9 provides an excellent summary of how a Referee or Committee charged with resolving a dispute should proceed when it must resolve questions of fact in order to reach a conclusion.

All relevant circumstances must be considered and the weight of evidence evaluated, including the balance of probabilities, where applicable.

If the Committee is unable to determine the facts, it must resolve the matter in the fairest way.

· The testimony of the players must be given due consideration. In evaluating this testimony each situation must be treated on its own merits; there is no hard-and-fast rule.
· If spectators or others not involved in the competition provide testimony, it must be accepted and evaluated.
· Questions of fact must be resolved in a timely manner to allow the competition to proceed in an orderly manner. A ruling given by a Referee with this time restriction is always subject to further review as additional evidence becomes available.
· A player is always entitled to proceed on the basis of a ruling given by a Referee. An incorrect ruling may be corrected in certain circumstances.

Decision 34-3/9 refers to a number of other Decisions to illustrate these concepts. The Decisions can be accessed on the R&A website randa.org under the “Rules and Amateur Status” tab. A Decisions on the Rules of Golf App is also available for Apple and Android devices.

Finally, I will leave you with three Decisions which are typical of the type of decision Referees and Committees face from time to time.

Decision 34-3/4

Dispute as to Whether Competitor Played from Outside Teeing Ground

Q. In stroke play, B, A’s fellow-competitor and marker, claimed at the completion of the round that A had played from outside the teeing ground at the 15th hole. A stated that he had played from within the teeing ground.

The Committee ruled that the claim was invalid because it was not made at the 15th tee and because A disputed the claim. Was the ruling correct?

A. It is a question of fact whether A played from outside the teeing ground. The matter should be resolved on the basis of the weight of evidence. The timing of a claim is not necessarily a factor.

In this case, it was B’s word against A’s and the weight of evidence did not favour either competitor. In such a case, the benefit of the doubt should be given to A, the player of the stroke.

Decision 34-3/5

True State of Match Not Determinable

Q. On completion of a match, A claims he is one up and B claims the match is all square. The matter is referred to the Committee. The Committee gathers all available evidence and is unable to determine the true state of the match. What should the Committee do?

A. It should resolve the matter in the fairest way. An equitable solution would be to order that the match be replayed.

Decision 27/12

Identification of Ball Through Testimony of Spectator

Q. A’s ball and B’s ball came to rest close together. Neither A nor B could identify one of the balls as his ball because they were using balls with identical markings. A spectator who saw both shots land was able to state which ball belonged to A and which one belonged to B. May his testimony be accepted, or should both balls be deemed lost because they could not be identified by A and B?

A. If the Committee determined that, based on information given by the spectator, A and B were able to identify their balls, the balls should not be deemed lost. Otherwise, they would have to proceed under Rule 27-1.

By Frank Gal  (GA Rules of Golf & Amateur Status Sub-Committee Member)




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