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Rules Guy: Can I use another player’s club during a round?

March 1, 2019

The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

My brother and I played a match that he won, 3 and 2. At the bar after the round, he admitted that without my knowledge, he used one of my wedges on the 11th hole, which he won. Does he only have to forfeit that hole? Or, since he waited until after the round to admit it, is it a DQ? This seems like incredibly reckless behavior to me. —KYLE HOLMAN, VIA E-MAIL

You might want to think twice before using a club from someone else's bag during a round.
You might want to think twice before using a club from someone else's bag during a round.
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Rules Guy fears that no matter what his answer, it will drive a wedge between brothers … But all humor aside, this is the rare instance where ignorance of the Rules can actually be one’s salvation. His salvation, alas—not yours.

If your brother truly didn’t know that pinching your pitch, stealing your sand or lifting your lob wedge was a breach of the Rules — if he thought doing so was just a funny prank, or more convenient, merely unethical, what have you — then the result of the match stands.

Indeed, once a match-play result is final it almost always stands … unless, that is, someone has knowingly breached Rule 3.2d (giving wrong number of strokes taken) or Rule 3.2d(2) (failing to tell the fellow competitor or opponent about a penalty). Which is to say, the player knew he did something illegal and didn’t own up to it at the proper time.

The Rules aren’t kind to people who don’t play the game in the proper spirit. In these instances, a late-ruling request can be made. If your sneaky sibling knew he was breaking the rules, Rule 4.1c(1) applies and he is disqualified, since he failed to declare the borrowed club out of play (for him, not you).

One last thing: If your brother knew that he had broken the Rules but was then struck by a pang of conscience, he would have had to fess up immediately and take the required penalty: a one-hole adjustment to the state of the match at the end of the hole being played.