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hole in one golf

I picked up my playing partner’s ball – do I get a penalty?

Case of mistaken identity? What happens to you if you move a ball that is not yours? Our Rules of Golf expert has the answer

 

Ever picked up a ball that wasn’t yours? It might be a case of mistaken identity, or you might just have had a brain freeze, but it does occasionally happen in the heat of battle.

People ask me about this from time to time, usually followed by the question: ‘how many penalty shots is this going to cost me?’

So what’s the answer? Is it a penalty if you pick up your playing partner’s ball, or will the Rules of Golf come to your rescue? Let’s take a look…

marking a golf ball pick up

Rules of Golf explained: Golf ball pick up rules

This is one of those times where the outcome is hugely different depending on whether the format is stroke play or match play.

In stroke play, there is no penalty. Yes, you read that right. Don’t get into the habit of it by any means, but don’t worry if you’ve inadvertently picked up the ball of another player in your group.

That’s because you are classed as an outside influence. Rule 9.6 says if it’s known or virtually certain an outside influence, “including another player in stroke play”, has lifted or moved another player’s ball at rest then there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced on its original spot.

In match play, though, prepare to be punished.

Again, the known or virtually certain element applies and, again, the ball is replaced on its original spot.

But if an opponent lifts or moves the player’s ball at rest, deliberately touches it, or causes it to move, they get one penalty stroke.

There are a couple of exceptions to this – the most obvious being if you’ve requested they lift the ball, or if they’re conceding a stroke, hole, or match to you. It’s all laid out for you in Rule 9.5.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf in 2019 and 2023, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. I’ll try to help by featuring the best of your queries in this column.

What do you think of these golf ball pick up rules? Let me know with a comment on X, formerly known as twitter.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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