Address the Ball: What the Golf Term Means (and Meant)

Golfer addressing the ball before putting
This golfer's putter is grounded immediately behind the golf ball, which means he is addressing the ball. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

There's an old (very old) and worn-out joke among golfers, in which one says to the other, "Address the ball," and the other says, "Hi ball!" "Address the ball" — and variants such as addressing the ball, taking your address, the address position — are now just a vernacular term in the golf lexicon.

It used to be an important term in the golf rules, however, and the governing bodies of the game (the R&A and USGA) included "address the ball" in the definitions section of the official Rules of Golf. As of 2019, that is no longer the case.

The Vernacular Use of 'Address'

Veteran golfers know that when you've stepped up to your golf ball and set your golf club down behind the ball, you have "addressed the ball." This is also called being in the address position.

While "address the ball" is no longer included in the definitions of the Rules of Golf, the term's usage by golfers will probably takes decades to fade away — if it ever does all.

Many golf instructors, and everyday golfers, will continue using the phrase long-term because "address the ball" or "take your address" or "get in the address position" can all, colloquially, be used as synonyms for "stance" or "setup position."

'Address the Ball' As It Once Was Used In the Rule Book

As noted above, prior to the 2019 edition of the Rules of Golf, "address the ball" was included in the official definitions of our sport. The term was part of the rules, which meant it had a specific meaning and that it was important for golfers to know that specific meaning.

The definition of "address the ball" as it appeared in the official Rules of Golf prior to the year 2019 was this:

"A player has 'addressed the ball' when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance."

"Grounded his club" refers to the golfer setting the bottom of his or her club on the ground — the sole of the club is touching the ground. Once a golfer did that, with his club on the ground immediately behind of or ahead of the golf ball, he had "addressed the ball."

(One might ask why someone would ground the club in front of the golf ball. That sometimes happens on the putting green. It's not that common anymore, but golfers sometimes first set the putter head down in front of the ball, then move it behind, as part of a putting routine.)

Why 'Address' Is No Longer Defined in the Rule Book

So why was "address the ball" removed from the Definitions section of the rule book? Because one of the changes to the rules that went into effect in 2019 made the definition superfluous.

Prior to 2019, if your golf ball at rest moved after you took your address position, you, the golfer, were assumed to have caused it to move. And that resulted in a penalty stroke.

However, in the rules edition issued in 2019, if a ball at rest on the putting green is accidentally moved by the golfer, there is no penalty so long as the ball is replaced.

When that specific penalty went away, the governing bodies removed the definition of "address the ball" from the rule book. However, penalties may still apply if a ball at rest moves somewhere other than on the putting green, and those situations are now covered in Rule 9 (Ball Played As It Lies; Ball at Rest Lifted or Moved). In that rule, and elsewhere in the rule book where the term "address" might have been used in the past, the rules now use the beginning of one's stroke, or prior to the beginning of one's stroke, as the starting points.