In depth: Causing your ball to move

IN the latest edition of Golf Link's In Depth rules blog, our resident expert explains the rules surrounding when you cause your ball to move.

IN the latest edition of Golf Link's In Depth rules blog, our resident expert Barry Rhodes explains the rules surrounding when you cause your ball to move.

In most circumstances, when a golfer causes their ball in play to move, whether accidentally or purposely, in either stroke play or match play, there is a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2 and the ball has to be replaced.

This includes a player:

  • Treading on or kicking their ball while searching for it anywhere, except when it is covered by sand.
  • Striking their ball as they make a practice stroke other than on the teeing ground.
  • Dropping a glove, towel, club or other equipment on their ball.

The one stroke penalty also applies when a player touches their ball when they are not entitled to under the Rules.

Examples of this are when a player:

  • Touches their ball when it is lying on the apron (fringe) and not on the putting green.
  • Touches a ball to identify it without following the correct procedure. In my opinion this is one of the commonest breaches of the Rules of Golf.
  • Picks up their ball in match play when they think that the hole has been won or lost and it has not.
  • Picks up a ball in a stroke competition in which they must hole out, or be disqualified, e.g. mistakenly thinking it was Stableford scoring and that no points could be scored.
  • Picks up their ball thinking that relief was available when it was not, e.g. from a tractor tyre rut.
  • Picks up their ball that has been moved by the wind instead of playing it from where it came to rest.

However, there are seven important exceptions listed in Rule 18-2a, where no penalty is incurred when a player causes their ball in play to be moved.

They are:

  • In searching for a ball covered by sand, in the replacement of loose impediments moved in a hazard while finding or identifying a ball, in probing for a ball lying in water in a water hazard or in searching for a ball in an obstruction or an abnormal ground condition – Rule 12-1.
  • In repairing a hole plug or ball mark – Rule 16-1c.
  • In measuring – Rule 18-6.
  • In lifting a ball under a Rule – Rule 20-1.
  • In placing or replacing a ball under a Rule – Rule 20-3a.
  • In removing a loose impediment on the putting green – Rule 23-1.
  • In removing movable obstructions – Rule 24-1.

Remember, that the provisions and exceptions to Rule 18-2a also apply when the player’s caddie, or partner in a four-ball or foursomes, causes the player’s ball to move.

There is an important amendment to Rule 18 that was introduced from 1st January 2012. Rule 18-2b states that if a player’s ball in play moves after they have addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke) the player is deemed to have moved their ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke.

The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made.

However, if it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause their ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply. So, if a player’s ball has definitely been moved by the wind, or some other element (earthquake!) there is no penalty, even if the player had completed their address.

It should also be noted that there is a new definition of ‘address’; “A player has addressed the ball when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance.”

The removal of stance as a requirement for addressing the ball also became effective from 1st January 2012.

Finally, when has a ball moved under the Rules? The Definition of Moved clarifies that a ball is deemed to have moved if it leaves its position and comes to rest in any other place. So, an oscillating ball that does not move from its spot has not moved for the purposes of the Rules.

Good golfing,


Barry Rhodes

Barry Rhodes, a resident of Dublin, Ireland, is qualified as a Chartered Accountant but has spent most of his career in senior sales, marketing and management roles within the information and communication technology sector in Ireland. He is an enthusiastic, high handicap golfer who developed an interest, then a fascination, and now an obsession with the Rules of Golf. 

Barry’s relationship with the Rules began in 2000 with his participation in the inter-club Rules of Golf quiz competitions, organised by the Royal & Ancient for Golf Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland. This progressed to him writing articles, running quizzes, and delivering presentations on the Rules at various Golf Clubs and corporate functions.

In March 2008, Barry became the first person to achieve a 100% correct mark on the public Advanced Rules of Golf Course examination, run by the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) in their headquarters at The Belfry, West Midlands, UK.

Barry is author of the eBook, ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2012 - 2015’. To purchase the eBook, click here.

He writes a weekly web blog, containing interesting content for anyone who wishes to improve their knowledge and understanding of the Rules of Golf. To visit the blog, click here.

Top photo: Joey Ratcliffe

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