Jamie Wallace, USGA Rules Department
movement of your golf ball during a round is one of many areas in the Rules
that underwent a lot of player-friendly changes in the updated 2019 Rules.
Still, some golfers may be confused about when there is a penalty, when there
is not, when the ball must be replaced, or when the ball should be played from
its new location.
take a closer look at some of the most common ball at rest moved situations
encountered during a round. Before we dive in, it is important to know that
there is still a general principle in the Rules that your ball should be played
as it lies and that you should exercise caution around your ball.
you will still be penalized if you move your ball or accidentally cause it to
move. However, exceptions have been made in the 2019 Rules for some of the most
common times when a ball is accidentally moved during a round.
you are in the process of searching for your ball or trying to identify a ball
you have found, there is no penalty if you accidentally cause it to move. As an
example, if you are looking for your ball in an area with a lot of leaves or
other debris on the ground and you accidentally kick your ball, there is no
replace it as closely as possible to the spot that you estimate where it
originally lay. As a second example, if you find a ball in long grass, mark its
location, and then accidentally bump and move that ball in the process of
lifting it to identify it, there is also no penalty. Simply identify it,
replace it if it is yours, and play on. This is all covered in Rule
there is no penalty for lifting or causing your ball at rest to move if you are
in a situation where the Rules allow you to lift or move your ball. For
example, perhaps your ball is right in front of another player’s ball on the
fringe and you need to lift your ball to allow the other player to play.
would be no penalty for lifting that ball (after marking its spot), or even for
accidentally causing your ball to move while taking reasonable actions to lift
it. You will just need to replace your ball back on its original spot.
example where there is no penalty would be accidentally moving your ball while
in the process of determining your nearest point of complete relief to take a
drop from a cart path.
case where a penalty has been removed in the 2019 Rules is for any kind of
accidental movement of your ball on the putting green. All of the following
would be included as long as the movement is accidental: hitting your ball with
a practice swing, moving your ball while trying to mark it, kicking your ball,
dropping a club on your ball, bumping your ball with your putter in addressing
all of these cases, simply replace the ball and play on without penalty. This
also applies to any accidental movement of a ball-marker on the putting green.
This is all covered in Rule
was previously an optional Local Rule introduced in 2017 that similarly removed
the penalty for accidental movement on the putting green. Now this principle is
simply part of the Rules of Golf.
mentioned previously, accidental movement anywhere on the golf course other
than the putting green will generally still be a penalty, unless one of the
above exceptions apply. Let’s look at a few common examples.
your ball is in the fairway and you accidentally kick and move it, that will be
a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced on its original spot. If you
move a leaf next to your ball in the rough and that causes your ball to move,
the same penalty will apply.
a final example, if you accidentally touch your ball with your club in getting
ready for a stroke and that causes your ball to move, that will also be a
far, we have only addressed instances where you moved your own ball. Now let’s
look at cases where someone or something else moves your ball. The term
“outside influence” encompasses all other players in a stroke play competition
as well as any person other than your opponent(s) in match play, your partner,
or either of your caddies. It also includes animals.
one of these outside influences deliberately lifts or touches your ball or
accidentally causes it to move, there is no penalty to anyone. Simply estimate
the spot where the ball lay, replace it, and play on.
your opponent deliberately lifts or touches your ball or causes it to move, the
opponent will get one penalty stroke. You must then replace your ball, just
like in all of the previously discussed scenarios. However, the same exceptions
mentioned above that apply to you, the player, would also apply to the
example, if your opponent moves your ball while searching for it or moves it
accidentally on the putting green, there would be no penalty. An additional
exception to penalty would be if your opponent marks and lifts your ball on the
green by mistake.
Rules also recognize “natural forces” as something that can potentially cause
your ball to move. This covers the effects of nature including wind, water, and
gravity. If your ball is moved by any of these natural forces, there is no
penalty. You will generally just play your ball from its new location.
one exception to that is on the putting green. If you have already marked,
lifted, and replaced your ball on the putting green and it then moves to a new
location due to something like wind or gravity, you will replace that ball on
its original spot.
forces are essentially the default cause of movement under the Rules. If it is
not clear that you, your opponent, or an outside influence caused your ball to
move, that movement will be attributed to natural forces.
major difference between the previous Rules and the 2019 Rules when it comes to
a ball at rest moved is the number of player-friendly exceptions to penalty
that now exist. As a player, you should still be careful around your ball as
there are numerous times when moving it will still result in a penalty.
However, many of the ball moved situations that occur most frequently during a
round now do not include any penalty.
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