Golf's Rule 23 Applies to Four-Ball Play

In Golf Rule 23, two golfers play as partners.

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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 23 is titled "Four-Ball."

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

"Rule 23 covers Four-Ball (played either in match play or stroke play), where partners compete as a side with each playing a separate ball. The side’s score for a hole is the lower score of the partners on that hole."

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.

To that end, these are links directly to the text of Rule 23 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Golf Rule 23 (Four-Ball)

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 23 as follows:

  • Each player plays his own ball. A player may play alone if his partner cannot be there. Partners may choose to play in any order.

There are eight sub-sections to Rule 23. Note that the normal rules of golf apply to four-ball, but Rule 23 goes over areas where this format has some rules differences when compared to one-vs-one match play or stroke play vs. the field.

Since four-ball involves two golfers playing as a side, the lower of the partners' scores on each hole counts as the team score, as stated in Rule 23-2. That rule also includes a diagram showing how to mark the scorecard in four-ball.

Rule 23-4 states that in four-ball, one golfer can represent his or her side — even if that golfer's partner is not present.

Although in four-ball each golfer plays his or her own ball, golfers are allowed take certain actions with their partner's ball. The Player's Edition of Rule 23-5 says:

"You may take any action concerning your partner’s ball that your partner is allowed to take before making a stroke, such as to mark the spot of the ball and lift, replace, drop and place the ball.
"You and your caddie may help your partner in any way that your partner’s caddie is allowed to help.
"In stroke play, you and your partner must not agree to leave a ball in place on the putting green to help either of you or any other player."

Also note that partners in a four-ball set their own order of play, and that there are several situations in which a penalty against one golfer also applies to that player's partner.

Be sure to read the full Rule 23, interpretations of Rule 23, and definitions of important terms either on or