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Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf explained: An animal has moved my ball – what happens now?

Here’s what to do when a pesky critter makes off with your new brand new Titleist
 

It was a treacherous hole anyway – tight tee shot, narrow fairway and raised green – but this only upped the ante.

We were on a captain’s weekend and the WhatsApps were reverberating around the course: something was taking a liberty with our golf balls.

Our group got to the tee, my mate fired one right down the centre and made this sort of satisfied grunt – only to watch a crow swoop down as it came to rest and make off with his brand new Pro V1.

Everyone was initially at a loss as to what to do, and many of you out there are clearly in the same boat as you’ve been emailing me this quandary in numbers.

Spare a particular thought for the chap who had a gruelling session with some seagulls – or ‘flying rats’ as he’d prefer they were known. They snatched a dozen of his finest in one 4BBB round.

So what happens if a bird, or any animal for that matter, mistakes your ball for a nut or is just being plain larcenous?

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

This happens way more than you might think – just pop ‘bird steals ball’ into YouTube and you’ll get all manner of videos, including this of Colin Montgomerie’s close encounter with a seagull at the PGA Tour Champions in 2015.

It’s all very amusing, of course, until it happens to you. There’s no need to panic, though, the Rules of Golf are on your side in this war against nature.

Rule 9.6 – Ball Lifted or Moved by Outside Influence – is riding to the rescue. It says “if it is known or virtually certain that an outside influence (including another player in stroke play or another ball) lifted or moved a players ball:

“There is no penalty, and the ball must be placed on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated).”

A little peek at the definition of “outside influence” reveals it includes “any animal”.

Don’t worry, either, if that crow has made your ball a pivotal part of its new nest and it’s gone forever. This rule applies “whether or not the player’s ball has been found”.

But, a word of caution. You can’t just assume that because your lovely drive has gone missing a mysterious creature has snaffled it.

The key is you’ve got to know, or be virtually certain, that an outside influence has lifted or moved your ball. That means there’s got to be conclusive evidence, which basically translates into either you’ve seen it happen or witnesses have done the same.

Or, if there’s a very small degree of doubt, all “reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened”.

If you can’t do that, and you can’t find the ball, you’ll have to take stroke-and-distance and a penalty shot along with it.

Rule 9.6 will cover most close encounters with the animal kingdom but not quite all. Say, for example, your ball is in motion and it hits, or comes into contact with, an animal.

Now Rule 11.1 applies. It states there will be no penalty to any player “if a player’s ball accidentally hits any person or outside influence”.

The ball must be played as it lies, except in a couple of circumstances. If, when on the green, it accidentally hits an animal – and use the known or virtually certain standard to decide whether it has – the stroke doesn’t count and a ball must be replaced on its original spot.

The other is when a ball, played from anywhere except the green, comes to rest on an animal. In that case, turn to Rule 11.1b and take free relief.

If the ball finishes off the green, your reference point is the estimated point right underneath where the ball first came to rest on the animal and you’ve got a one club relief area – no nearer the hole and in the same area of the course as the reference point.

If it’s on the green, then place the ball on the estimated spot “right under where the ball first came to rest” on the animal.

Don’t play the ball as it lies in any of these exceptions as you’ll get a two shot penalty if you do.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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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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