What happens when you start altering conditions while a ball is on the move? Our Rules of Golf expert is here to keep you on the right lines

Play golf long enough and you’ll see all sorts out on the course – from the sublime to the ridiculous, the freakish to the fortunate, and everything in between.

Often, these little foibles and big dramas can come with a Rules of Golf issue attached. Just like this email that dropped into my inbox.

“Recently while playing a friendly better-ball Stableford round, my partner and I had marked our balls on the green and Opponent A came out of a greenside bunker, raked, and placed the rake in the rough between the bunker and the green.

“Opponent B then chipped his shot on to the green, past the hole, and directly towards the rake. While the ball was still in motion, Opponent A then lifted the rake causing the ball to land in the bunker. [Is it] A two shot penalty for altering the course of the ball while still in motion?”

Sounds complicated, but there’s a whole section of Rule 11 dedicated to this kind of scenario. So let’s dive in…

Rules of Golf explained: Deliberately removing objects or altering conditions to affect ball in motion

I think intent is a key factor. What were you trying to do when lifting the rake? Was it incidental or did you have something deliberate in mind? The latter is where you get into trouble.

Rule 11.3 says when a ball is in motion a player must not deliberately lift or remove a loose impediment or movable obstruction to affect where it could come to rest. That applies whether it is their own or someone else’s ball.

They also must not alter physical conditions, such as replacing divots in a divot hole and moving, bending, or breaking any immovable obstructions, integral or boundary objects.

It doesn’t even need to affect where the ball actually comes to rest. If they’ve picked up, in this case a rake which is a movable obstruction, to try and deliberately affect where the ball ends up then they’re going to be in trouble whether it hits the rake or not.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, one of which is a removed flagstick on the green, but you’ll get the general penalty – two strokes or loss of hole in match play – for being in breach. The ball is played from where it comes to rest.

There is a clarification to this rule, which gives a couple of examples when you would – and wouldn’t – be hit with a sanction.

You’d pick up a penalty when “the player believes a rake lying on the ground may stop or deflect another player’s ball in motion, so the player lifts the rake”.

An example where no penalty would be applied is after making a stroke, and while the ball is in motion, “a player lifts a nearby rake to give it to another player for an upcoming bunker shot. The player’s ball rolls through the area that the rake was lifted from”.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

Have you ever come to grief with a golf ball in motion? Are you clear on the rules for deliberately moving objects? Let me know with a tweet.

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. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

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