Rules FAQ: Wind Moves Ball after Address - Is It a Penalty?

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As of Jan. 1, 2012, the answer is "no." Prior to that date, the answer was "yes." The old ruling was that once a player was at address, he was responsible for the movement of the ball, no matter what actually caused that movement. So if the golfer took his address and then a big gust of wind cause the ball to move, it was a penalty on the golfer.

Not surprisingly, that rule wasn't very popular with golfers, most of whom felt it was unfair to be penalized for something beyond their control. Then a series of high-profile incidents on the pro tours in 2010 and 2011, in which just such penalties were assessed, brought this ruling to the forefront.

Golf's governing bodies - the USGA and R&A - responded by reconsidering the wording of Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address). And for the version of the Rules of Golf that took effect on Jan. 1, 2012, the penalty to the golfer relating to wind moving the ball after address was removed.

In announcing the change to Rule 18-2b, the USGA wrote:

"A new Exception is added that exonerates the player from penalty if his ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position."

At that point, though, Rule 18-2b still assessed a 1-stroke penalty if a ball in play moved after the golfer had taken his address if that movement was in any way caused by the golfer's actions (other than, of course, making a stroke at the ball).

But the governing bodies went farther in a new Local Rule in effect as of Jan. 1, 2017, eliminating the penalty for accidentally moving a ball (or ballmarker) on the green.

The change officially entered the rule book in the 2019 edition with the creation of Rule 9.3, Ball Moved By Natural Forces. The definition of "natural forces" in the Rules of Golf includes wind and gravity, and Rule 9.3 states:

"If natural forces (such as wind or water) cause your ball at rest to move, there is no penalty, and your ball must be played from its new spot.
"Exception – If your ball on the putting green moves after you have already lifted and replaced it, the ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated)."