How Match Play Rules Differ from Stroke Play Rules
Golfers watching or, especially, playing
match play need to be aware of the differences in the rules between match
play and stroke play. Some of the differences are major, some are minor
and some involve a different type of penalty when rules are broken.
Here is a rundown of some of the most
important differences in the
Rules of Golf for match play:
The Way It's Played
In this sense, match play is a whole different game than stroke play.
In stroke play, golfers accumulate strokes over the course of 18 holes.
The golfer with the fewest strokes at the completion of the round wins.
In match play, each hole is a separate
competition. The player with the fewest strokes on an individual hole wins
that hole; the player winning the most holes wins the match.
The stroke total for 18 holes simply
doesn't matter in match play.
Stroke play is more a player vs. the course
approach; match play is directly player vs. player, or side vs. side.
There is one opponent you must beat, and that's the opponent you're facing
in the match you're playing right now.
In friendly rounds of golf, golfers often ask for and give "gimmies," very
short putts that one simply picks up rather than holing out. Gimmies,
needless to say, are illegal under the Rules of Golf, but many
recreational golfers use them anyway.
In match play, however, conceded putts are perfectly legal. Your opponent
can concede a putt to you at any point, whether it's 6 inches from the cup
or 60 feet. But conceded putts almost always come, of course, on very
Conceded putts should only be offered, they should never be requested.
That's why in some match play matches you'll notice a golfer lingering
over a very short putt - the golfer is hoping his opponent will tell him
to just pick it up.
Fellow-Competitor vs. Opponent
This is a semantic difference. In stroke play, the golfers you are playing
against are your "fellow-competitors." In match play, the golfer you are
playing against is your "opponent."
Hit That One Again
There are several scenarios in match play where a transgression might
result in your opponent cancelling your shot and requiring you to replay
it; whereas in stroke play, the same transgression would result in a
2-stroke penalty or no penalty at all.
A few examples:
• Playing out of turn: In stroke play, order of play is a matter of
etiquette. If you hit out of turn, it's a breach of etiquette, but there
is no penalty. In match play, if you hit out of turn your opponent can
require you to replay the shot in the proper order. And if your first shot
was great one, you can bet that you'll be replaying.
• Hitting from outside the teeing ground: In stroke play, teeing off from
outside the teeing ground (the teeing ground is between the tee markers
and up to two club lengths behind the tee markers) results in a 2-stroke
penalty. In match play, there is no stroke penalty, but your opponent can
cancel your shot and require you to replay it.
• Hitting an opponent: In stroke play, if your ball hits a
fellow-competitor or his equipment (if it is accidentally stopped or
deflected by same), it's rub of the green. In match play, you have the
option to replay the shot.
• Hitting a ball at rest on the green: In stroke play, if your putt
strikes another ball on the green, you get a 2-stroke penalty. In match
play, there is no penalty.
The Big Penalty
In the rule book, just about every section concludes with a warning:
"Penalty for Breach of Rule." If a golfer fails to follow the proper
procedures set forth in the rules, he will incur a penalty in addition to
any penalties set forth in that rule.
That penalty in stroke play is usually 2 strokes, and in match play is
usually loss of hole.
Example: Let's say a player violates one of the tenets of Rule 19. There
will likely be a penalty spelled out for that violation. But the golfer
compounds his error by failing to follow the proper procedure for
continuing play (maybe he doesn't assess himself the proper penalty; maybe
he drops incorrectly; etc.) spelled out in that rule. The big penalty
kicks in: 2 strokes in stroke play, loss of hole in match play.
Better Late than Never
In stroke play, disqualification is the result if you miss your tee time.
In match play, you can show up late and still play ... as long as you make
your match by at least the second tee. You'll have forfeited the first
hole, but you can pick up the match on No. 2. If you fail to make it by
the No. 2 tee, you're disqualified.
The differences between match play and stroke play, where they exist, are
elucidated in the
Rules of Golf. If there is a difference,
that difference will be spelled out in the applicable section. So browse
through the rule book to learn more about match play rules.