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split golf balls

My ball EXPLODED after a shot – what do the Rules say?

Have your dreams of a good shot fallen into pieces? Our expert reveals what happens when your ball splits following a stroke

 

Golf balls are wondrously durable. I’m old enough, and was bad enough, to remember carving my way through all number of balatas back in the day.

And some of you will surely have had the odd rubber band poking out of the cover of a freshly sliced sphere.

Great days, not.

Today’s balls, infused with all kinds of polymers, may feel indestructible – my record is getting through eight consecutive rounds with the same one – but sometimes they meet a clubface and strange things happen.

This is probably why Pete Scrafton emailed to ask: “When you hit your ball onto the green it splits, and you have two portions of the original ball on the green, do I replace the ball on the fairway, on its original spot and retake the shot, or do I replace a ball on the green? If replacing the ball on the green, where do I replace the new ball to putt?”

That’s a lot of questions, Pete, but the Rules of Golf provide a very straightforward answer…

cracked golf balls

Split golf balls: Ball breaks into pieces while playing hole

Rule 4.2b covers this extremely simply. If your ball breaks into pieces after a stroke, “there is no penalty and the stroke does not count”.

You must play another ball from where that stroke was made. If you don’t, you’ll get the general penalty – two strokes or loss of hole in match play.

This applies when the ball breaks. If you think it has become cut, or cracked, while you’re playing the hole then another rule applies.

It’s 4.2c. You can mark and lift your ball to look – don’t clean the ball! – and can substitute another ball under Rule 4.2c (2) “only if it can be clearly seen that the original ball is cut or cracked and this damage happened during the ball being played”.

You replace it on its original spot.

Got a question for our expert?

Despite the changes to the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, 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 this split golf balls rule? Let me know 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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