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Rules of Golf

Do I need to tell my partners I’m lifting my ball?

You’re trying to identify your ball, or see if you can take relief. Do you need to call in your playing partners for a conference? Our Rules of Golf expert investigates

 

This one pops up regularly in my email box? ‘When you’re taking relief, and you have to lift a golf ball, do you need to consult your playing partners first?’

When rules change, people often get left behind. It’s natural and understandable. You might have missed it, or you might just be so used to doing something that it’s hard to break the habit.

And there are others who just can’t be convinced, no matter how often they are told something. You might see where I am leaning as regards the answer.

So let’s put everyone out of their misery and get straight to the heart of the matter…

lift a golf ball

You no longer need to tell your playing partners when you lift a golf ball

Remember the 2019 Rules of Golf? While everyone was complaining about knee high drops and the exact moment your caddie had to get out of your line, there were a lot of other lovely new things that didn’t get much attention.

This was one of them.

Here’s where the confusion might arise. In the old days, there were three specific occasions where, before lifting the ball, a player had to announce the intention to do so to an opponent in match play, or another player or marker in stroke play.

Not only that, they had to allow that person to “observe the process of lifting and replacing the ball”.

That trio of situations were: when you were identifying a ball; if you wanted to see whether it had become unfit for play; or to see if it was in a condition where relief was allowed (like an embedded ball).

This changed on January 1, 2019. From that point, a player was allowed to “mark and lift the ball and proceed under the Rule without needing to first announce this intention to another person or to give that person a chance to observe the process”.

The only caveat in these three circumstances (which are now Rule 4.2c, Rule 7.3 and Rule 16.4) was that you still got a one-stroke penalty if you marked and lifted the ball without a good reason to do so.

So you may be asking yourself: Why remove the additional layer? One of the big conversations around the 2019 changes were that the Rules were going to generally rely on the integrity of the player.

There were other relief situations where these kind of announcement requirements were not needed – one that was cited in the reason for the change was when a ball might be lifted and played from a different place – and the R&A and USGA felt eliminating them all brought “consistency to the approach of trusting the player and eliminates an unnecessary procedural penalty for simply not informing an appropriate person”.

Rules chiefs considered it would speed up the game because a player wouldn’t have to inform and then wait to see if another player wanted to come over and witness the lifting and replacement of the ball.

And that’s it. Everything else around this part of the debate, including the oft-heard ‘spirit of the rules’, is just noise. Now, you could argue that it’s good practice, or good etiquette even, to let your playing partners in on the decision. That’s up to you.

But if you’re ever in this position, and you want to crack on without bringing together a gathering to check it’s OK with them first, there’s nothing in the Rules to tell you otherwise.

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 about these lift a golf ball rules and playing partner rules in general? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

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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