Has your hole bound putt been diverted off course by a rogue worm? There’s an update in the new rule book you’ll need to read

Golf ball hits insect, what to do?

Remember when a bug on the green almost cost Paul Casey a penalty? The Englishman’s putt at the Porsche European Open in the autumn of 2019 rolled over a moving insect in its path as it dropped into the hole.

Casey hadn’t seen it happen, and it was this that essentially saved him from a two-shot sanction, but it revealed to the watching public a weird and wonderful exception to Rule 11.1b, which covered when a ball in motion accidentally hit a person or outside influence.

It’s a rule that has now been rewritten in the new 2023 code so let’s see how it has been changed and what happens if your golf ball hits an insect in 2023!

What did the old rule say?

That exception to Rule 11.1b said that when a ball played from the putting green accidentally hit any person, animal, or movable obstruction on the green, the stroke didn’t count and the ball had to be replaced on its original spot.

This meant if your ball hit an insect, for example, on its way into the hole – as happened to Casey – the shot was null and void. You didn’t just get the chance to have another go at it, you had to take it. If you didn’t, you’d played from a wrong place and got hit with the general penalty (two shots in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play).

A Model Local Rule, D-7, later limited some of the incidences where this rules conundrum could occur. It said if the ball accidentally hit the player, the club used by the player to make the stroke, or an animal defined as a loose impediment, the stroke counted and the ball was played as it lies.

What does the new rule say?

That Local Rule was employed on tour but, as it was introduced in January 2021, it didn’t appear in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf and many at club level were probably none the wiser to its existence.

So Rule 11.1b (2) has now brought in those important elements.

It means if a ball played from the putting green accidentally hits an insect, the player, or club used in the stroke, it counts. The ball is played as it lies and the stroke is not replayed.

There are still several incidences where you’d still have to take the shot again – if it was known or virtually certain that it hit any other person, a movable obstruction (that isn’t a ball marker, a ball at rest, a flagstick or the club used to make the stroke), or an animal which isn’t defined as a loose impediment.

But if your ball accidentally hits a worm, or a speedy beetle, don’t go for a mulligan. It’s no longer an option.

NCG Verdict

While I’m sure players who now see their hole bound efforts deflected offline by a rogue arachnid might curse their luck, you can’t argue this isn’t a sensible alteration.

For a start, it removes the possibility of an unwanted and unusual penalty if you didn’t know the rule – or hadn’t fully observed the act of ball colliding with insect.

But some may also have felt it opened an unnecessary can of worms (if you’ll excuse the pun).

A putt that wasn’t going in, for example, had to be retaken if it accidentally hit an insect. Should that really be allowed? There will always be those players too who look to stretch the rules – claiming there was contact with an invisible phasmid.

There’s also no need now for clubs to implement a Local Rule and further clutter their noticeboards. If you accidentally hit an insect, play on and putt on.  

What do you think of this change? Let me know with a tweet.

More on the 2023 Rules of Golf update

We’ve painstakingly been through every update to make sure you have everything you need to know about the biggest changes, from penalties in Stableford, handicaps on scorecards, back-on-the-line relief, and much, much more.

Rules of Golf podcast

Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin sat down to discuss the 2023 updates on the From the Clubhouse podcast.

Listen in the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

PGA Catalunya Stadium PGA Catalunya Stadium

The NCG Top 100s Tour is heading to Europe for a multi-day event at PGA Catalunya. Prices start at £799 per golfer.


Subscribe to NCG