Accidentally moving ball on putting green


A colleague asked me over the weekend to discuss this subject today.

There was a joint statement towards the end of 2016 by R&A and USGA about the introduction of a new Local Rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

Full details of the announcement, the recommended wording for the Local Rule, the info-graphic and explanations, can be viewed at these links:


R&A: Local-Rule-for-Golf


I want to highlight a few points that may be missed by some golfers and golf Committee personnel;

  • This is not a new; or amended Rule of Golf.
  • It is the recommended wording for a Local Rule that was introduced on or after 1st January 2017.
  • Committees were to introduce the Local Rule for it to take effect on January 1 2017 and they had been encouraged to do so.
  • It only applies to a ball, or ball marker, at rest on the putting green being played, not anywhere else on the course.
  • It does not matter how the ball or ball-marker was accidentally moved, e.g. with the head of a putter, kicked, or as a result of a glove being dropped on it.
  • It only applies when a ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved; it does not apply to a ball that is purposely touched or moved, e.g. a ball that is lifted without being marked.
  • It applies to the player, their partner, their opponent(s), or any of their caddies or equipment.
  • The ball or ball-marker that was accidentally moved must be replaced, as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.
  • If a player does not think that they caused their ball to move in any way they must play it from where it came to rest, e.g. if it was moved by wind, water or gravity.

I have previously written on at least three high-profile incidents that would not now be penalised if this Local Rule had been in effect at the time;

  • The ruling that Dustin Johnson had caused his ball to move at the 2016 US Open.
  • Ian Poulter dropping his ball on his ball-marker at the Dubai Championship in 2010.
  • Mike Clayton accidentally knocking his putter into his ball as he tried to catch it after throwing it in the air.

It seems that Decision 20-1/5.5 will have to be withdrawn from the next publication of the Decisions book.

It rules that a player who found his ball-marker stuck to the sole of his shoe and concluded that he had accidentally stepped on it while assisting his partner in lining up a putt, would be penalised one stroke, which will not be the case when this Local Rule is implemented.

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