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ball moves on putting green

What happens when a ball moves on the green?

Two specific rules come into play when a ball, or ball-marker, starts shifting on the putting surface. Our Rules of Golf guru has what you need to know

 

We’ve all had it. We get onto a green, we’re addressing for a shot, or we’ve lifted and replaced, and the ball starts moving.

It’s easy to get into a panic, and it’s easy for your playing partners to get the wrong idea. But when a ball or ball-marker accidentally moves on the putting green, there are two specific sections of Rule 13.1d that can come into play.

You’ll need to know both, so let’s get stuck in…

Golf rules when a ball accidentally moves on the green

When you’ve accidentally caused the ball to move on the putting green

Think Dustin Johnson at the US Open back in 2016 and you’ll get the clearest example of this in action. DJ actually got penalised that day but a local rule was soon issued that then found its way into the Rules of Golf revamp in 2019.

Rule 13.1d (1) now says there is no penalty if you, your opponent in match play, or another player in stroke play accidentally moves your ball or ball-marker on the green.

You simply replace the ball on its original spot – estimate if you don’t know where that is – or place a ball-marker to mark that original spot.

There is an exception that a ball must be played as it lies when a ball begins to move during a backswing, or stroke, and the stroke is made.  

If the ball has been moved by natural forces

We’re talking about wind, water, gravity or anything else that’s natural which intervenes and shifts your golf ball.

When this happens, where you will play from next depends on whether you’d already lifted and replaced the ball on the green. If you had, you must replace it on the spot from which it moved. If you don’t know where that spot was, you take your best guess.

There isn’t an option to play it from where it lies. If you do so, or if you forget to put the ball back and make a stroke, you will have played from a wrong place and will incur the general penalty (two shots or loss of hole in match play) for a breach of Rule 13.1d (2).

If the ball had not been lifted and replaced then it’s very easy. Just play it from its new spot.

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 golf ball moves on the putting green rules? 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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