Golf's Rule 20 Goes Into Rules Disputes, Referees and Committees

The Rules of Golf

Renato Paratore of Italy takes a penalty drop during the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
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In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 20 is titled "Resolving Rules Issues During Round; Rulings by Referee and Committee."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

Rule 20 covers what players should do when they have questions about the Rules during a round, including the procedures (which differ in match play and stroke play) allowing a player to protect the right to get a ruling at a later time.
The Rule also covers the role of referees who are authorized to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. Rulings from a referee or the Committee are binding on all players.

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 20 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 20: Resolving Rules Issues

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 20 as follows:

  • If there’s no rules official available, instead of delaying play you can: a) In match play agree with your opponent how to proceed, agree to seek a ruling from an official later, and continue play with the issue undecided; b) In stroke play, such agreement is not allowed; raise any issue with the committee before handing in your scorecard.
  • Or if uncertain how to proceed, you can complete the hole with two balls and work out which one is to count later — stroke play only.

In the rule book, there are three sections within Rule 20. These are those section titles along with links directly to each section:

  • Rule 20.1: Resolving Rules Issues During Round
  • Rule 20.2: Rulings on Issues Under the Rules
  • Rule 20.3: Situations Not Covered by the Rules

Rule 20 begins with the admonition not to delay play when trying to figure out a rules issue:

You must not unreasonably delay play when seeking help with the Rules during a round. If a referee or the Committee is not available in a reasonable time to help with a Rules issue, you must decide what to do and play on.
You may protect your rights by asking for a ruling in match play or by playing two balls in stroke play.

Be sure to read the full Rule 20, interpretations of Rule 20, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.