How do the Rules of Golf differ for Stableford competitions?


There is a whole section of the rule book dedicated to this popular format. Our Rules of Golf guru guides your through

I wonder if this format’s namesake, Dr Frank Stableford, really knew what he was creating when he came up with the golf scoring system that has made him immortal – and a hero to club players everywhere.

Stableford is so popular, it’s got its own section in the Rules of Golf. Rule 21.1 deals with this form of stroke play and if you don’t know what it is or how it works, you can read our simple explainer.

Generally, the normal rules for stroke play apply but, crucially, playing a Stableford brings with it some curiosities in the rules that you may not find if you were taking part in, for example, a medal.

So let’s go through a few of them and see if there’s anything in there that will surprise you…

The competition committee is responsible for tallying up your points

Let’s start with a little novelty. If you’ve suddenly realised after handing in your certified scorecard that your marker put two points in the column when it should have been one, don’t sweat. You won’t get disqualified. You won’t even get penalised.

All you are responsible for is making sure your gross score on each hole is correct, your handicap is correct, and then ensuring the card is signed and counter-signed.

The committee is responsible not only for ensuring your name is on the card – fancy that! – and the date but also calculating how many points a player gets on each hole and, assuming it’s a handicap competition, for applying “handicap strokes to the score entered for each hole before calculating the number of points”.

You can be encouraged, in your club’s terms of competitions, to enter the points awarded for each hole on the scorecard – and practically all of us do this anyway – but you can’t be required to do it under the rules.

Don’t believe me? Check it out, and the very handy graphic that explains it simpler than I’ve managed over the last few paragraphs, by reading up on Rule 21.1b.

You don’t get thrown out of the competition for not holing out

Obvious, yes, since we all know that you can just record a blob on the card. But to do that, the rules on Stableford have to circumvent Rule 3.3c, which disqualifies a player if they fail to hole out.

There are other rule breaches, which would normally result in an instant DQ but, in Stableford, just results in zero points for the hole where it occurred.

These are:

– Playing from outside the teeing area and not correcting it

– Playing a wrong ball and not correcting it

– Playing from a wrong place and not correcting it when there is a serious breach

Are there any differences with other penalties between Stableford and other formats?

There are indeed. They are all revealed in Rule 21.1c but here’s a couple that might interest you. Say, for example, you discover during the round you’ve been carrying 15 clubs. Rule 4.1b says you’ll get two penalty strokes, up to a maximum of four, for each hole where the breach occurred.

In Stableford, in an exception 1 to Rule 21.1c, two points are deducted, or four if it applies to two or more holes, from the player’s total points for the round.

There’s another exception when it comes to starting times. As you’ll probably know, Rule 5.3a says that players starting no more than five minutes early, or arriving no more than five minutes late, get hit with the general penalty applied to their first hole.

Do it in Stableford and you can expect to get two points taken off your total score for the round.

There can also be points deductions, rather than stroke penalties, for unreasonable delay of play in a third exception.

What you do need to remember here, though, is that if you find yourself dealing with any of these trio of calamities you’ve got to tell the competition committee about the breach [or breaches] before returning your card.

Makes sense if you understood the earlier section about scorecards. The committee need to be able to apply the penalty. If you don’t? This time you will be getting disqualified.

Anything else?

There is more. Let’s look at Rule 11.2. This covers when it’s known or virtually certain that a ball in motion was deliberately deflected or stopped by a person. This is usually bad news for the deflector as Rule 11.2b says a player “gets the general penalty if he or she deliberately deflects or stops any ball in motion”.

There’s an exception to this in match play, covering when there is no “reasonable chance” the ball can be holed and a similar statute exists in Stableford in Rule 21.1d.

Rule 11.2 doesn’t apply if a player’s ball in motion has to be holed to score a point and anyone deliberately deflects or stops it when, again, there is no reasonable chance it is going to go in.

“There is no penalty to that person and the player gets zero points on the hole”.

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