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Overview of Four-Ball  RandA Rule 23.1


Four-Ball is a form of play (in either match play or stroke play) involving partners where:

  • Two partners compete together as a side, with each player playing his or her own ball, and
  •  A side’s score for a hole is the lower score of the two partners on that hole.

Rules 1-20 apply to this form of play, as modified by these specific Rules.

A variation of this is a form of match play known as Best-Ball, where an individual player competes against a side of two or three partners and each partner plays his or her own ball under the Rules, as modified by these specific Rules. (For Best-Ball with three partners on a side, each reference to the other partner means the other two partners).

23.2  Scoring in Four-Ball

a  Side’s Score for Hole in Match Play and Stroke Play

  • When Both Partners Hole Out or Otherwise Complete the Hole under the Rules. The lower score is the side’s score for the hole.
  • When Only One Partner Holes Out or Otherwise Completes the Hole under the Rules. That partner’s score is the side’s score for the hole. The other partner does not need to hole out.
  • When Neither Partner Holes Out or Otherwise Completes the Hole under the Rules. The side does not have a score for that hole, which means:
    • In match play, the side loses the hole, unless the opposing side already had conceded or otherwise lost the hole.
    • In stroke play, the side is disqualified unless the mistake is corrected in time under Rule 3.3c.

b  Side’s Scorecard in Stroke Play

(1) Side’s Responsibility. The side’s gross scores for each hole must be entered on a single scorecard and, in a handicap competition, each partner’s handicap must be entered on the scorecard.

For each hole:

  • The gross score of at least one partner must be entered on the scorecard.
  • There is no penalty for entering more than one partner’s score on the scorecard.
  • Each score on the scorecard must be clearly identified as the score of the individual partner who made it; if this is not done, the side is disqualified.
  • It is not enough to identify a score as the score of the side in general.

Only one partner needs to certify the hole scores on the side’s scorecard under Rule 3.3b(2).

(2) Committee’s Responsibility. The Committee is responsible for deciding which score counts for the side on each hole, including applying any handicaps in a handicap competition:

  • If only one score is entered for a hole, that score counts for the side.
  • If the scores of both partners are entered for a hole:
    • If those scores are different, the lowest (gross or net) score for that hole counts for the side.
    • If both scores are the same, the Committee may count either score. If the score used is found to be wrong for any reason, the Committee will count the other score.

If the score that counts for the side is not clearly identified as the score of the individual partner who made it, or if that partner is disqualified relating to the play of the hole, the side is disqualified.

Rule 11.2 does not apply in this situation:

When a player’s partner has already completed the hole and the player’s ball in motion needs to be holed to lower the side’s score for the hole by one stroke, if any person deliberately deflects or stops the ball at a time when there is no reasonable chance it can be holed, there is no penalty to that person and the player’s ball does not count for the side.

23.3  When Round Starts and Ends; When Hole Is Completed

a  When Round Starts

side’s round starts when one of the partners makes a stroke to start his or her first hole.

b  When Round Ends

side‘s round ends:

  • In match play, when either side has won the match (see Rules 3.2a(3) and (4)).
  • In stroke play, when the side completes the final hole, either by both partners holing out (including correction of a mistake, such as under Rule 6.1 or 14.7b) or by one partner holing out on the final hole and the other partner choosing not to do so.

c  When Hole Is Completed

(1) Match Play. A side has completed a hole when both partners have holed out or had their next strokes conceded or either side has conceded the hole.

(2) Stroke Play. A side has completed a hole when one of the partners has holed out and the other partner has either holed out or chooses not to do so.

23.4  One or Both Partners May Represent the Side

The side may be represented by one partner during all or any part of a round. It is not necessary for both partners to be present or, if present, for both to play on each hole.

If a partner is absent and then arrives to play, that partner may start play for the side only between the play of two holes, which means:

  • Match Play – Before Any Player in Match Starts Hole. If the partner arrives only after any player on either side in the match has started play of a hole, that partner is not allowed to play for the side until the next hole.
  • Stroke Play – Before Other Partner Starts Hole. If the partner arrives only after the other partner has started play of a hole, the arriving partner is not allowed to play for the side until the next hole.

An arriving partner who is not allowed to play on a hole may still give advice or help to the other partner and take other actions for the other partner on that hole (see Rules 23.5a and 23.5b).

Penalty for Breach of Rule 23.4: General Penalty.

23.5  Player’s Actions Affecting Partner’s Play

a  Player Allowed to Take Any Actions Concerning Partner’s Ball That Partner May Take

Although each player on a side must play his or her own ball:

  • A player may take any action concerning the partner’s ball that the partner is allowed to take before making a stroke, such as to mark the spot of the ball and lift, replacedrop and place the ball.
  • A player and the player’s caddie may help the partner in any way that the partner‘s caddie is allowed to help (such as to give and be asked for advice and take the other actions allowed under Rule 10), but must not give any help that the partner‘s caddie is not allowed to give under the Rules.

In stroke playpartners must not agree with each other to leave a ball in place on the putting green to help either of them or any other player (see Rule 15.3a).

b  Partner Is Responsible for Player’s Actions

Any action taken by the player concerning the partner’s ball or equipment is treated as having been taken by the partner.

If the player’s action would breach a Rule if taken by the partner:

  • The partner is in breach of the Rule and gets the resulting penalty (see Rule 23.8a).
  • Examples of this are when the player breaches the Rules by:
    • Improving the conditions affecting the stroke to be made by the partner,
    • Accidentally causing the partner’s ball to move, or
    • Failing to mark the spot of the partner’s ball before lifting it.

This also applies to actions by the player’s caddie concerning the partner’s ball that would breach a Rule if taken by the partner or partner’s caddie.

If the actions of the player or the player’s caddie affect the play of both the player’s own ball and the partner’s ball, see Rule 23.8a(2) to find out when there is a penalty for both partners.

23.6  Side’s Order of Play

Partners may play in the order the side considers best.

This means that when it is a player’s turn to play under Rule 6.4a (match play) or 6.4b (stroke play), either the player or his or her partner may play next.

Exception – Continuing Play of Hole After Stroke Conceded in Match Play:

  • A player must not continue play of a hole after the player’s next stroke has been conceded if this would help his or her partner.
  • If the player does so, his or her score for the hole stands without penalty, but the partner’s score for the hole cannot count for the side.

23.7  Partners May Share Clubs

Rule 4.1b(2) is modified to allow partners to share clubs, so long as the total number of clubs they have together is not more than 14.

23.8  When Penalty Applies to One Partner Only or Applies to Both Partners

When a player gets a penalty for breach of a Rule, the penalty may apply either to that player alone or to both partners (that is, to the side). This depends on the penalty and the form of play:

a  Penalties Other Than Disqualification

(1) Penalty Normally Applies Only to Player, Not Partner. When a player gets a penalty other than disqualification, that penalty normally applies only to the player and not also to his or her partnerexcept in the situations covered by (2).

  • Any penalty strokes are added only to the player’s score, not to the partner’s score.
  • In match play, a player who gets the general penalty (loss of hole) has no score that can count for the side on that hole; but this penalty has no effect on the partner, who may continue to play for the side on that hole.

(2) Three Situations Where Player’s Penalty Also Applies to Partner.

  • When Player Breaches Rule 4.1b (Limit of 14 Clubs; Shared, Added or Replaced Clubs). In match play, the side gets the penalty (adjustment of the match score); in stroke play, the partner also gets the same penalty as the player.
  • When Player’s Breach Helps Partner’s Play. In either match play or stroke play, the partner also gets the same penalty as the player.
  • In Match Play, When Player’s Breach Hurts Opponent’s Play. The partner also gets the same penalty as the player.

Exception – Player Who Makes Stroke at Wrong Ball Is Not Treated as Having Helped Partner ‘s Play or Hurt Opponent’s Play:

  • Only the player (not the partner) gets the general penalty for breach of Rule 6.3c.
  • This is true whether the ball played as a wrong ball belongs to the partner, an opponent or anyone else.

b  Disqualification Penalties

(1) When Breach by One Partner Means Side Is Disqualified. A side is disqualified if either partner gets a penalty of disqualification under any of these Rules:

Match Play Only:

  • Rule 3.2c Applying Handicaps in Handicap Match

Stroke Play Only:

  • Rule 3.3b(2) Player’s Responsibility: Certifying and Returning Scorecard
  • Rule 3.3b(3) Wrong Score for a Hole
  • Rule 3.3b(4) Scoring in Handicap Competition
  • Rule 5.2b Practising On Course Before or Between Rounds
  • Rule 23.2b Side’s Scorecard in Stroke Play

(2) When Breach by Both Partners Means Side Is Disqualified. A side is disqualified if both partners get a penalty of disqualification under any of these Rules:

Stroke Play Only:

side is disqualified if, at the same hole, both partners get penalties of disqualification under any combination of these Rules:

(3) When Breach by One Player Means Only That the Player Has No Valid Score for Hole. In all other situations where a player breaches a Rule with a penalty of disqualification, the player is not disqualified but his or her score on the hole where the breach happened cannot count for the side.

In match play, if both partners breach such a Rule on the same hole, the side loses the hole.

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