The Ruling When One Golf Ball Collides With Another

The Proper Penalties and Procedures After a Golf Ball Collision

Marking two golf balls on the green
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Sometimes, one golf ball knocks into another during a round of golf. It's not all that uncommon. Player A and Player B are out for a round. Player A has already played his shot and his golf ball is at rest up ahead. Player B takes his stroke and when his ball hits the ground, it rolls right into Player A's ball, striking it. Both balls careen away. What's the ruling? Is anyone at fault? Is there a penalty?

Key Takeaways: When Two Golf Balls Collide

  • Whether there is a penalty when two golf balls collide depends on where the balls were before the stroke was played. If both balls were on the green, the golfer whose ball was in motion is penalized.
  • If neither ball, or only one golf ball, was on the green, there is no penalty to either golfer.
  • In both scenarios, the golfer whose ball was in motion at the time of the collision must play her ball from where it comes to rest. The golfer whose ball was already at rest must replace it, as best they can, back on its original spot.

Penalties and Procedures After Golf Ball Collision

The answer depends on where the golf balls were before the fateful shot was struck: Were both balls already on the putting green, or were neither or just one of the balls on the green? The answer to those questions determines whether there is a penalty, to whom the penalty applies, and what the golfers involved need to do next.

The short answer to whether it's a penalty is this:

  • If both golf balls are on the green before a stroke is played that results in balls colliding, it's a 2-stroke penalty against the golfer whose stroke caused the collision (the golfer whose ball was at rest when struck is not penalized). Note: This is a penalty in stroke play only.
  • If just one or neither ball is on the green when a stroke results in balls colliding, there is no penalty to either golfer.

Here are the details on those penalties, plus what to do after the collision:

Scenario 1: Neither Ball, or Just One Ball, on the Green

This could mean the shot in question was a tee shot, or an approach played into a green, or any other scenario other than when both balls were on the green prior to making the stroke.

For example, your fellow-competitor hits a tee shot, then you hit yours, and your ball hits your fellow competitor's ball in the fairway. Or your buddy's ball is on the green, you hit an approach shot, and your ball hits your friend's ball on the green.

This is covered in Rule 9.6, Ball Lifted or Moved By Outside Influence. (Note: Another player's golf ball is included in the definition of "outside influence.") There is no penalty to either player as long as this procedure is followed:

  • The golfer whose shot struck the ball at rest plays his ball as it lies; the person whose ball was moved returns the ball to its original position.

Failure to replace the ball that was moved to its original spot; or moving the ball that did the striking (rather than playing it as it lies) results in loss of hole in match play or a 2-stroke penalty in stroke play. If you aren't certain where the ball at rest was before it was knocked away by the colliding ball, use your best judgment to return it to a spot nearest where it most likely was.

Scenario 2: Both Balls Already on Putting Green Before Collision

"Both balls on putting green" means on the putting green prior to the stroke in question. Basically, we're talking about putts here. (Or one of those rare occasions when a golfer uses a wedge and chips from the putting surface.)

The ruling here is covered in Rule 11.1, Your Ball In Motion Accidentally Hits Person or Outside Influence.

From the green, Player A hits his putt, but the ball strikes the ball of Player B, who was also on the green:

  • In match play, there is no penalty.
  • In stroke play, it's a 2-stroke penalty to the player whose ball was in motion when the balls collided.

Repeat: It's not a penalty against the golfer whose ball was at rest when it was hit; the penalty is against the golfer whose ball was in motion when the collision happened.

The player whose ball was at rest replaces the ball to its original position; the player whose ball was in motion plays that ball as it lies.