Thursday, 12 August 2010

Moving Another Player's Ball

In recent blogs I covered Rules situations that occur when we accidentally move our own ball in play and purposely touch our ball in play. In this one, I will deal with the rulings for when you move another player’s ball in play.

If you are a competing in a stroke play competition and you, your caddie or your equipment touch another player’s ball, there is no penalty and if the ball is moved it must be replaced (Rule 18-4). This means that there is no breach of the Rules if you lift another player’s ball to identify it, even if neither of you had marked it first. But I am always uneasy when I see this happen. If I am searching for a ball and find one in the rough I will try and read the branding, number and identifying marks without touching it. If the ball is lying in such a position that this is not possible, I then call over the player whose ball it might be and let them mark and identify their ball. I then meet my obligation to all the other competitors in the competition by witnessing that it is replaced in the same lie that it had before it was touched.

In match play, there is no penalty if a player, their caddie or their equipment moves, touches, or causes their opponent’s ball to move while they are searching for it. Rule 18-3a. However, if a match play player’s ball is moved other than during search the opponent who moved the ball does incur a penalty of one stroke (Rule 18-3b). In either case, if the ball is moved it must be replaced.

Then we have the circumstance where a player has played another player’s ball by mistake. You should be aware that playing a wrong ball incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play, and that any strokes made with the wrong ball do not count in the player’s score. But did you know that if the wrong ball belongs to another player only they may place a ball on the spot from which their ball was first played? The relevant words in Rule 15-3b are;
“If the wrong ball belongs to another competitor, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.”
Finally, there are occasions when to save time players will mark another player’s ball on the putting green because it lies close to a line of putt. Strictly speaking, the player should obtain authorisation from the owner of the ball before they mark and lift it. However, as has previously been noted, there is no penalty in stroke play for touching another player’s ball so this courtesy is often overlooked. But there is a penalty for the same action in match play. Decision 20-1/2 confirms that a player who marks and lifts his opponent’s ball on the putting green without authorisation incurs a penalty of one stroke.
Q. In a match between A and B, B, without A's authority, marked the position of, and lifted, A's ball on the putting green. Is B subject to penalty?
A. Yes. Under Rule 20-1, a player's ball may be lifted by his opponent only with the authority of the player. Since B was not entitled to lift A's ball, B incurred a penalty stroke — Rule 18-3b.
Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

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mooredan said...

Hi Barry,

Some more clarification on mistakenly taking a stroke at the wrong ball please. In this case, a competitor's ball in stroke play.

This is what happened in a recent round. Please let me know if the correct procedure was followed.

My golfing buddy and I teed off on a blind par 5 hole and the balls came to lie near each other in the fairway. Assuming that my buddy outdrove me (he usually does) I played the ball further from the hole which I assumed was my ball. When he took a look the remaining ball, we discovered that it was my ball and I had played the wrong ball.

We identified the spot where I had played the wrong ball and he placed a substitute ball there and played it.

We now moved up to where my ball lie and I played it. I was now lying four on this hole:

- 1 stroke from the tee
- 2 stroke penalty for making a stroke at a wrong ball
- 1 stroke from the fairway

He was now lying two:

- 1 stroke from the tee
- 1 stroke from the fairway

Did we play and score this correctly?



Barry Rhodes said...


Yes, you have it absolutely correct.


Sue said...

Barry - this is connected to an earlier point made. In a stroke play competition player B marks and lifts (with permission) player A's ball on the putting green. Must player B replace the ball or may she give it to Player A to replace?

Barry Rhodes said...


Either A or B may replace the ball. Part of Rule 20-3 states;

A ball to be replaced under the Rules must be replaced by any one of the following: (i) the person who lifted or moved the ball, (ii) the player, or (iii) the player’s partner.


sturgeons in thailand said...

Hi Barry, recently in a stableford competition, Player A moves and marks Player B's ball as he deems it interfering with his play. He did not ask permission. I assume there is no penalty even though player B was denied the opportunity to play first?

Barry Rhodes said...


You are correct. Whilst it is a courtesy to ask a fellow competitor if you can mark and lift their ball, because it is interfering, there is no penalty for not doing so. It is now a common occurrence in those Clubs where 'ready golf' is advocated.


John W said...

What about accidentally moving another player's marker? My fellow competitor marked his ball which was near my line of putt. He used a magnetic marker. The marker was not seated and may have interfered with my putt. I tapped it down with my putter (an infraction itself?). Of course, the magnetic marker stuck to the bottom of my putter and returned with me to my ball. I sheepishly replaced the marker. Clearly my friend incurs no penalty. Do I?

Barry Rhodes said...


No penalty was incurred in the circumstance that you describe. The ruling is the same as if a player moved a fellow competitor's ball in play, Rule 18-4.


Anonymous said...

Recently during a stroke play round player A marked player Bs ball on the green without permission and threw it to the side. Player B wasn't aware that this had happened and played the ball from the spot where it now lay on the green (nearer to the hole). After the ball had been played player A advised player B that she had played from the wrong place. Player B then played the ball from the original place. Do either of the players get any penalty strokes??

Barry Rhodes said...


Decision 15-3b/3 rules on this situation. No penalty was incurred by either player.

As B did not know that A had lifted her ball she could not be penaliszed for playing a wrong ball. If she became aware of the mistake before playing from the next tee, she was required to replace her ball on the correct spot, without penalty, and complete the hole. If she learned of the mistake after playing from the next tee, the score with the wrong ball would stand and there would be no penalty.


Unknown said...

During a 2 man scramble match play, one of the opponents caddy wrongfully picked up my partners ball which is still in play as we have not yet selected the ball to play. Do our opponent loose the hole, or do they incur any penalty?

Barry Rhodes said...

A Atienza,

Scramble match play is not a format that is recognised by the Rules of Golf. However, in the absence of any Condition of Competition relating to the circumstance that you describe, it is my opinion that the player incurred a penalty of one stroke for purposely touching an opponent's ball in play (not loss of hole), the ball must be replaced and the decision on which ball to play can then be made. Rule 18-3b is the appropriate Rule in standard match play.