USGA, R&A Eliminate Penalty for Accidentally Moving Golf Ball on Green

Golfer reaching down with coin to mark golf ball
Careful! Don't accidentally move that golf ball! But under a new Local Rule, doing so will no longer result in a penalty. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Dec. 8, 2016 - Whoops, did you accidentally move the golf ball as you were setting up to putt? Or did the ball wobble a bit as you stood over it?

In the past, you might have been penalized for that. Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, you won't be - at least if a Local Rule introduced by the USGA and R&A is in effect. Which it almost surely will be.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, accidentally moving your golf ball or your ballmarker on the putting green will no longer result in a penalty, so long as you replace the ball (or ballmarker).

The Local Rule - which the USGA and R&A will use in all their competitions, and which the governing bodies expect will be near-universally adopted locally - reads like this:

Accidental Movement of a Ball on a Putting Green
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.

Rule 18-2 states that a golfer incurs a penalty if he accidentally causes his ball on the putting green to move. Rule 18-3 specifies a penalty when an opponent in match play causes the player's ball to move. And Rule 20-1 imposes a penalty if the player or his opponent causes the player's ballmarker on the green to move.

The governing bodies update the Official Rules of Golf every four years. Making this new Local Rule available now is a way to remove those penalties now, rather than waiting until the next schedule quadrennial update.

A few examples of things that will no longer be penalized under the new Local Rule:

  • If your putter (or whatever club you are using) accidentally contacts and moves the ball when you are preparing to make a stroke - no penalty, replace the ball;
  • If you accidentally drop your golf ball and it hits and moves the ballmarker - no penalty, replace the ballmarker;
  • If you accidentally drop your ballmarker and it hits and moves the ball - no penalty, replace the ball;
  • Or accidentally kicking the ball as you walk by or near it - no penalty, replace the ball.

Remember: The Local Rule applies only to balls that are on the putting green, or ballmarkers on the putting green. It does not apply to accidentally moving the ball anywhere else on the golf course.

Need to know more, or require further explanation? The governing bodies have posted videos, infographics and Q&As to explain the new Local Rule and why it is being implemented now: