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Rules of Golf - Recent Rulings

January 15, 2023

Written by: Darin Green, Senior Director of Rules & Competitions

Below are a few rulings that have taken place in FSGA competitions or at competitions at golf clubs.

Holes Played Out of Order

During a 9-hole four-ball match, the players were frustrated with the slow play ahead of them. After the 3rd hole, the players agreed to pass a few holes, play holes 7-9 and then return to the 4th hole. After the match was over, the players returned to the clubhouse and informed the Golf Professional of the result of the match. The Golf Professional learned that they played the holes out of order and called the FSGA for assistance.

Holes may not be played out of order; however, match play is unique. I asked the Golf Professional to ask the players if they knew they were not allowed to play the holes out of order, or were they ignorant of the Rules. The players said they did not know there is Rule regarding playing the holes in order. Since the players were ignorant of the Rules, the result of the match stands. If the format were stroke play, the players would be disqualified even if the players were ignorant of the Rules.

15 Clubs, Too Late

Two players were playing an 18-hole match and the match concluded on the 15th hole with Player A winning the match 4&3. They reported the result of the match to the Golf Shop and they agreed to play the final three holes for fun. While playing the final three holes, Player B noticed that Player A had 15 clubs in his bag. Player B asked the Golf Shop for a ruling.

Since the match result was reported to the Golf Shop and accepted by the Committee, the match is final and stands. If the match was not reported and accepted by the Committee, then the players would return to the 16th tee with Player A being deducted “2up’s” making Player A 2up with three holes to go.


During a round, a player was constantly on his phone talking to others and typing messages. Another player questioned if this was allowed under the Rules. There is nothing in the Rules of Golf that prohibits general use of a cell phone during a round; however, Rule 1.2 Standard of Player Conduct does state that players must act with integrity, show consideration for others, and care for the course. If the cell phone usage is distracting to others, then the player must reduce the usage to a level that is not distracting to others. While not advised, the Committee could prohibit cell phones through a Code of Conduct Policy

Sprinklers – Not Covered in the Rules

A player’s tee shot came to rest in bounds and about 10 feet from a homeowner’s backyard. The homeowner’s sprinklers were running and constantly spraying water on and around the player’s ball. The player asked for free relief. There is nothing in the Rules of Golf that directly addresses this issue, so the Committee used Rule 20.3 Situations Not Covered by the Rules and agreed that the most fair and equitable ruling is to grant the player free relief from the sprinklers.

Thorns in Golf Ball

A player’s shot flew through bush with large thorns on it and several thorns penetrated the cover of the ball. Some thorns were still in the ball while others broke off leaving part of the thorn in the ball. The player asked if he could replace the ball. Similar the sprinkler situation above, the Committee used Rule 20.3 and ruled that the holes the thorns made are similar to “cuts or cracks” that make a ball unfit for play in Rule 4.2c Balls. The Committee ruled that the ball is unfit for play and he may replace it.