Golf Rules – Are You Penalized for Moving Your Ball on the Green?

Question

Can you be penalized if you cause your golf ball to move on the putting green?

Answer

touch

Golf’s New Rules: Major Changes

New Rule: The previous prohibition of touching the line of play on the putting green has been eliminated. There is no longer a penalty for merely touching the line of play on the putting green. The term “line of play” applies everywhere on the course, including the putting green, and the term “line of putt” is no longer used.

However, the player is still subject to the prohibition on improving his or her line of play on the putting green (see Rule 8.1a, as limited by 8.1b).

Reasons for Change: No advantage is gained if a player or their caddie merely touches the surface of the putting green on the line where the ball will be played. Over time, the prohibition on touching the line of putt had become subject to many exceptions. Previous Rule 16-1a listed seven different situations in which a player was allowed to touch the line of putt.

The previous prohibition was difficult to administer, and penalties were not often applied. Those penalties that were applied were often perceived as serving little or no purpose, such as when a caddie accidentally touched the line of putt with the flagstick.

Old Rule

  • Putting Green Rule: If the player lifts or deliberately touches his or her ball at rest or causes it to move, the player gets one penalty stroke.

The Exception to the Rule

  • There is no putting green rule penalty when the player accidentally causes the ball to move anywhere except on the putting green while taking reasonable actions to:
    • Mark the spot of the ball or lift or replace the ball, when allowed to do so (see Rules 14.1 and 14.2);
    • Remove a movable obstruction (see Rule 15.2);
    • Restore worsened conditions, when allowed to do so (see Rule 8.1d);
    • Take relief under a Rule, including in determining whether relief is available under a Rule (such as swinging a club to see if there is interference from a condition), or where to take relief (such as determining the nearest point of complete relief); or
    • Measure under a Rule (such as to decide the order of play under Rule 6.4).

Analysis

If you cause your ball to move on the putting green, it all depends on whether the action was deliberate or accidental.

  • An example of a deliberate action:
    • throwing your marker at the ball, or
    • picking your ball up to clean it, or
    • identify it, or
    • to then replace it with its identification line to the hole.
    • These are permissible actions, but you must mark the ball first, otherwise, you incur a penalty of one stroke and must replace the ball.
  • An example of an accidental action:
    • kicking the ball when tripping over,
    • removing loose impediments,
    • fixing a pitch mark,
    • dropping your marker accidentally,
    • accidentally hitting the ball in your practice swing.
  • There is no penalty if the movement was accidental. The player in the video accidentally caused their ball to move, and from 1 Jan 2019, this type of action incurs no penalty.

Blakey’s Golf Tips

  • Make sure to always mark the ball before you intend to lift or move it deliberately.
  • Be more careful around your ball.

Paul Liberatore
Paul Liberatore

As the Founder of Golfers Authority Paul Liberatore Esq. has spent the last 7+ years writing about the best golf equipment or instruction from the top golf instructors in the world. He has been a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated Golf and GolfWRX. After graduating with honors from Purdue University, he realized that he had a passion for the golf business and the law. When he's not practicing law, or creating golf content on YouTube, he can be found on his syndicated Behind the Golf Brand podcast talking with the most prolific leaders in the golf industry. 

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