Rule 34: Disputes and Decisions

From the USGA's Official Rules of Golf

Complaining about the score
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The United States Golfers Association (USGA) outlines the guiding principles of golf in its online publication "The Official Rules of Golf," and Rule 34 covers disputes among competitors and referee's decisions when it comes to claims and penalties, which are ultimately decided by a committee in the absence of a referee.

Rule 34, subpoint one essentially dictates the time frame within which a claim and penalty may be applied to both match and stroke play games as well as outlining the specific exceptions to these rules. Subpoint two covers the finality of the committee appointed referees' decisions and subpoint three lays out the means for a committee to determine the legality of a referee's call or a player's objection to such.

This rule is often referenced in tandem with other rules, especially as this one pertains very much to the assessment of claims and penalties associated with other rules in the USGA's "The Official Rules of Golf."

Subpoint One: Claims and Penalties

During match play, Rule 34 dictates that "If a claim is lodged with the Committee under Rule 2-5, a decision should be given as soon as possible so that the state of the match may, if necessary, be adjusted," but also stipulates that if the claim is not made according to Rule 2-5, it must not be considered at all.

In stroke play, a penalty must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed — which means when the result has been officially announced or, in stroke play qualifying followed by match play when the player has teed off in his first match.

An important note, though, is that there is no time limit on applying the disqualification penalty for a breach of Rule 1-3, though a penalty of disqualification must be imposed after the competition has closed if a competitor was in breach of Rule 1-3, returned "a scorecard on which he had recorded a handicap that, before the competition closed, he knew was higher than that to which he was entitled, and this affected the number of strokes received (Rule 6-2b);" or the player returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken (according to Rule 6-6d) for any reason other than failure to include a penalty that was not known about.

Who Makes the Call

Rule 34-2 and 34-3 govern that the ultimate decision in regards to broken rules and penalties to be applied either falls on a referee or on a committee. Rule 34-2 states "If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final," but Rule 34-3 states that "In the absence of a referee, any dispute or doubtful point on the Rules must be referred to the Committee, whose decision is final."

In the event a committee cannot come to a decision, the dispute may be referred to the Rules of Golf Committee of the USGA, whose decision is also final. If this does not occur and the dispute is not referred to the Rules of Golf Committee, "the player or players may request that an agreed statement be referred through a duly authorized representative of the Committee to the Rules of Golf Committee for an opinion as to the correctness of the decision given." 

However, if a play is conducted other than in accordance with the Rules of Golf, the Rules of Golf Committee will not give a decision on any question.