Rule of the Month: Stroke of Genius | Oregon Golf Association

Rule of the Month: Stroke of Genius

By OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly
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Differences Between Stroke Play and Match Play

As the golf season moves into summer and clubs begin to provide a variety of competition opportunities, it is important to understand the differences between stroke play and match play. While many competitions will have a stroke play qualifier followed by match play, Rule 33-1 prohibits playing both forms of golf simultaneously. The Rule states, in part, that “certain Rules governing stroke play are so substantially different from those governing match play that combining the two forms of play is not practicable and is not permitted”. When the two forms of play are combined and a rule situation occurs, it may be impossible to get a final ruling that is equitable to both forms and may result in the players being disqualified from the stroke play competition and the match declared null and void.

The biggest difference in the two forms of play is the number of golfers a player may be playing against at any given time during a competition round. In stroke play, every player is competing against every other player in the competition. But in match play, a player will be competing against only one or two other players in the same grouping, depending on the format. A competitor in stroke play expects every golfer in the field to adhere and enforce the Rules properly. However, in match play, since the round is between one or two opponents in the same group, players are less concerned with what is going on in other matches, but they have a vested interest to protect their own rights by observing an opponent’s play and procedures.

This month we look at the differences between match and stroke play by offering ten scenarios where you must decide if the situation pertains to stroke play, match play or both.

Questions: Stroke Play / Match Play / Both Forms

  1. A ball strikes another player’s golf bag and comes to rest on the grass. The player plays it as it lies.
  2. The stroke for a ball played from the wrong teeing ground is cancelled without penalty and replayed from the correct teeing ground.
  3. At the end of the round, a score card must be returned to the Committee as soon as practicable.
  4. Players agree to disregard a penalty incurred by one of them and are disqualified.
  5. A player is uncertain of a procedure and completes the hole with two balls.
  6. A player is disqualified for failing to hole out.
  7. Practice on the course is prohibited on the day of the competition prior to the round.
  8. There is no penalty for playing out of turn.
  9. While searching for a player’s ball, another player accidentally moves the ball. There is no penalty to either player.
  10. Provided the competition isn’t delayed, players may agree to discontinue the round due to rain.


  1. Both Forms. In stroke play, Rules 19-4 and 19-1 require the player to play the ball as it lies. However, in match play, Rule 19-3 allows the player to choose to either play the ball as it lies or cancel the stroke and replay without penalty.
  2. Match Play. Only in match play is this breach without penalty. Rule 11-4 allows the opponent to cancel the stroke and require the player to replay from the correct teeing ground. Alternatively, the opponent may require the player to play the ball as it lies without penalty. However, in stroke play, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty and must correct the error by putting a ball into play from the correct teeing ground before teeing off on the next hole.
  3. Stroke Play. Rule 33-5 requires the Committee to provide every competitor in a stroke play competition with a score card and Rule 6-6 requires the player to return the score card as soon as practical after the round. Generally, in match play, the players are only required to report the result of the match to the Committee and will not be issued score cards.
  4. Both Forms. Regardless of the form of play, Rule 1-3 prohibits players from agreeing to disregard any Rule or penalty. Any player involved with the agreement is disqualified. However, while a player in a match may choose to ignore a breach of a Rule by an opponent, he or she must not discuss or agree with the opponent that they are overlooking the breach.
  5. Stroke Play. Rule 3-3 (Doubt as to Procedure) is only applicable in stroke play. If uncertain of how to proceed, the player may complete the hole with two balls. In match play, if players are unable to agree upon the proper procedure, the player whose ball is involved must proceed as they see fit and if the opponent disagrees, the opponent may make a claim (See Rule 2-5).
  6. Stroke Play. Rule 3-2 requires every player in a stroke play competition to hole out on every hole before teeing off at the next hole. Failure to do so results in disqualification for the round. In match play, if a player picks up without holing out and without a concession of the next stroke from the opponent, the player incurs a loss of hole penalty unless the player corrects the error by replacing the ball and holing out before playing from the next teeing ground. In which case, the player would incur one penalty stroke (see Rules 18-2 and 20-1).
  7. Stroke Play. In stroke play, because the player’s starting times are different, to restrict any player from gaining an advantage, Rule 7-1 prohibits practicing on the competition course prior to teeing off. However, in match play, since both players will be starting at the same time, they both have the same opportunity to practice on the course prior to the start of their match.
  8. Both Forms. Regardless of the form of play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn. However, when a player plays out of turn in match play, the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel the stroke and play in the proper order (See Rule 10).
  9. Both Forms. In stroke play, there is no penalty when another player (outside agency) moves a player’s ball (Rule 18-1). Also, in match play, there is no penalty if the ball was moved while searching for it. However, if a player moves an opponent’s ball, other than while searching, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty.
  10. Match Play. Only in match play are players allowed to discontinue the match by agreement for any reason. The one stipulation is that the competition must not be delayed. In stroke play, rainy weather is not a valid reason for discontinuing play unless ordered by the Committee. See Rule 6-8 for further guidance on discontinuing and resuming play.

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