Match Play or Stroke Play

Match Play or Stroke Play – Not Both!


The blunt answer is – You can’t because you would be breaking one of the Rules of Golf.

The Rules of Golf note that certain specific Rules governing match play are so substantially different from those governing stroke play that combining the two forms of play is not practicable and is NOT permitted – see Rule 33-1.
If you do, the result of your match is null and void, and you are disqualified from the stroke competition!
People sometimes argue that they won’t apply any of those rules that are different between the two forms, but that could risk breaking Rule 1-3 for which the penalty is disqualification for both your match and both players in the stroke event.
More practically, Match play is a head-to-head competition where tactics can be applied within the Match play rules to gain advantage over your opponent, whereas you are usually not playing head-to-head in a stroke competition – you are playing against the whole field. Trying to combine the two prevents you and your opponent from using Match tactics if either of you would like to apply the rules to gain a legitimate match advantage – defeating the purpose of “Match Play”.

Rules expert Barry Rhodes put together a brief list of some areas where match and stroke play rules are not compatible –

  • In stroke play the general penalty for a breach of the Rules is two strokes; in match play it is loss of hole. However, any breach of the Rules that incurs a one stroke penalty in stroke play is also a one stroke penalty in match play.
  • In stroke play the player must hole out, in match play a player may concede a stroke. A player may also concede the hole, or the match and once given a concession can’t be declined, or withdrawn under any circumstances. Rule 2-4.
  • If you are unsure of a Rule, or a procedure, in match play the Rules don’t permit you to play a second ball, as in stroke play. You have to try and resolve the issue with your opponent or make a claim before teeing-off at the next hole, notifying your opponent that you’re making a claim. Rule 2-5.
  • Normally, the person with the honour or the ball furthest from the hole plays first. There is no penalty in stroke play for playing in the wrong order, but in match play, the opponent may immediately require the player to cancel that stroke and play again, in the correct order – tactic you can use to your advantage if he played a good shot out of order.
  • A player may practice anywhere on the course, on the day of the match – but not in stroke play. Rule 7-1.
  • If you play a stroke in match play and your ball hits your opponent, his caddie, or his equipment you can choose whether to replay the stroke or accept it and play your next shot from where it comes to rest. Rule 19‑3. Use it when it benefits you.
  • In match play, if you play a ball from outside the teeing ground, there is no penalty, but your opponent may immediately require you to cancel the stroke and play a ball from within the teeing ground. In stroke play, you must play a ball from within the teeing ground and accept your two strokes penalty.
  • If a putt from the putting green hits another ball at rest on the putting green, whether it is your side or your opponents’ there is no penalty in match play. Rule 19-5.  Just play your ball from where it comes to rest. A two stokes penalty applies in stroke play.
  • You are not required to keep a score card in match play – the winner is the player who wins the most holes. The match is over when one player is ahead by more holes than remain to play.
  • In match play, players may discontinue their match by agreement, unless by so doing the competition is delayed. In stroke play, players may not suspend play for bad weather, unless they consider there is danger from lightning.
  • Unlike stroke play, where you have an obligation to your fellow competitors to report every breach of a Rule that you witness, you do not have to in match play situations, as you may disregard, or overlook any breach of a Rule by your opponent. Only you, or your side, are affected – it does not affect any other entrant in the match play competition. However, you still must not say anything to your opponent, as under Rule 1-3 there cannot be agreement with your opponent to waive any penalty incurred by either side.
  • If a player incurs a penalty that was not observed by their opponent they must inform the opponent as soon as practicable. If the player fails to do so before their opponent makes their next stroke they lose the hole, Rule 9-2b. This penalty also applies if a player gives incorrect information during play of a hole regarding the number of strokes taken and does not correct the mistake before their opponent makes their next stroke.
Rhodes points out that in stroke play, a competitor who knows that a fellow competitor has breached a Rule should bring to light the transgression by notifying the player, their marker or the Committee, even if they are not their marker, because the interests of every other player in the competition are affected if a competitor returns a score that does not include a penalty that they had incurred.
Be aware however, if you observe an opponent’s breach of Rule and for whatever reason do not want to penalise him, (eg when the breach is something unintentional that does not result in any benefit), you must keep quiet and not mention it, at least until after the game. If you bring the breach to the attention of your opponent, but do not then penalise him for it, both sides would be disqualified for agreeing to waive a Rule – see Decision 1-3/4.
Your Club promotes the importance of all players supporting play in accordance with all the Rules, but recommends that the best way to do this, in order to avoid the risk of an unpleasant incident, is to stop a player before he breaches a Rule. Giving information on the Rules is not advice and is to be encouraged in both stroke play and match play.

Rhodes has produced a downloadable document that may be of interest to those that play, or are anticipating playing, match play golf – ‘So You Are Going to Play Match Play!’  Go to for details.