Ball Accidentally Moved: An Explanation Of The New Local Rule

OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

The life of both the player and referee became much easier with the announcement that a new Local Rule could be adopted starting January 1, 2017 that would eliminate the penalty for a player accidentally causing his ball to move on a putting green. Both the USGA and R&A will be adopting the Local Rule for their championships and qualifiers, as will the Oregon Golf Association, the world tours and the Masters.  In addition, the OGA recommends that all member clubs adopt this Local Rule as well. The suggested wording for the Local Rule is included at the end of this article.

While the Rules of Golf have been undergoing a modernization process that will result in a myriad of changes to be rolled out in the next few years, the USGA and R&A decided this suggested Local Rule should go into effect as soon as possible.

“Eliminating this penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current Rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status. “This change is a good example of the type of Rules modernization changes we hope to implement after completing our fundamental review of all of the Rules. We are looking for ways to improve the Rules by making them easier to understand and apply.”

Please note that the Local Rule provides exemption from penalty only in a case where the ball is accidentally moved by a player in stroke or match play, or his opponent in match play. Accidental movement can involve a variety of actions in which the player unintentionally moves his ball or ball-marker. Examples include dropping the ball-marker on the ball, accidentally making contact with the ball when taking a practice swing near the ball, accidentally making contact when addressing the ball, etc. The Local Rule does not apply to any intentional lifting or moving of the ball such as striking or moving the ball in anger or lifting the ball without marking it.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the Local Rule applies only to the putting green. Data suggests that almost all “ball moved” instances occur on the putting green, and involve very minimal movement with no potential advantage created by the player. Often times, the movement occurs as the player is simply taking reasonable actions in preparing for a stroke and the ball can easily be replaced. But such is often times not the case when the ball lies off the putting green.  Both the USGA and R&A believe it important to retain the penalty for those instances to reinforce the principle that the ball should be played as it lies.

If a Committee wishes to introduce this Local Rule, the following wording is recommended:

“Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1 are modified as follows:

When a player’s ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment.

The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.

This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental.

Note: If it is determined that a player’s ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location. A ball-marker moved in such circumstances is replaced.”

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