Golf's Former Rule 34: Disputes and Decisions

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa talks with a rules official on the 10th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia

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Rule 34 no longer exists in the golf rule book. The current edition of the rules — written and managed by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association — went into effect in 2019 and contains only 24 rules. So what happened to the former Rule 34, which covered the resolution of disputes among golfers and committee decisions?

Those issues are addressed in the current rule book in Rule 20, which is titled "Resolving Rules Issues During Round; Rulings by Referee and Committee."

What follows is a summary of the former Rule 34 in the rule book golfers used prior to 2019. This is presented for historical purposes. For information about the current guidance on handling disputes and committee decisions, see Rule 20 on the USGA website or Rule 20 on the R&A website. (Note that references to specific rules in what follows are those rules in the pre-2019 rules editions.)

The Former Rule 34: Disputes and Decisions

The USGA and R&A outline the guiding principles of golf in their "Official Rules of Golf," and the former Rule 34 covered disputes among competitors and referee's decisions when it came 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 "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 or R&A, 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.