Rules of Golf   

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February 2020

Can I be penalised if another player plays my ball by mistake?

Normally, if another player plays your ball by mistake, than you simply replace the ball- or another ball if the original can't be easily retrieved - and play on without penalty. 

If you are searching for your ball, and can’t find it within the 3 minutes allowed for a search, and if you don’t know, or are virtually certain that it has been played by another player, then your ball is “lost”, and you must put another ball into play under penalty of Stroke and Distance. See  Definition - Known or Virtually Certain/ Interpretation 3   

This was a topic that was raised when I received a Rules query last year concerning two players who had both hit a ball into the same area of rough, and who both then played provisional balls.

They reached the area and began the search. Player B announced that he had found his ball, and played it to the green and picked up his provisional ball. No other ball was found during the 3 minutes allowed for the search so Player A then played his provisional to the green. At the green, it was discovered that Player B had in fact found and played Player A’s ball.

Rule 6.3c(2) tells the player what to do if it is known or virtually certain that the ball has been played by another player, and says that the player must replace the ball or another ball on the original (or estimated) spot. That part of the rule does NOT appear in the Player’s Edition of the rules. The Rule gives no more information, so what happened next is understandable without full knowledge of the rules. In accordance with that Rule, Player A went back, placed his ball at the spot where Player B  had played the wrong ball, and then played to the green, assuming that he had now played 2. 

Player B had to correct his error, so he went back and dropped a ball at the spot from which he had lifted his provisional ball and played to the green. With his 2-stroke penalty for playing a wrong ball, he assumed that he had now played 4. But he had also lifted his provisional ball without authority as it had become the ball in play when he couldn’t find his original ball, so he should also have had a 1-stroke penalty for that, and as the Rules now require that ball to be replaced in its original spot another 1-stroke penalty would be applied for dropping the ball – so he has in fact now played 6.

The committee in charge of the competition had accepted the scores returned from both players, and the competitions was closed.

Player B should have been penalised a further 2 strokes for failing to include a penalty that he didn’t know had been incurred (the drop instead of place), as well as the additional penalty, but under the Rules would not be disqualified for that sort of omission.

Player A would be disqualified because his first ball was lost, and he failed to complete the hole with the ball in play – which was the provisional ball played after the original ball was lost, and he did not correct the error before playing from the next tee.

Although Player A was not at fault, he would be penalised because someone else played his ball. 

If both players had followed the advice in Rule 6.3a all of this could have been avoided – “The player should put an identifying mark on the ball to be played” – and make sure that it is clearly visible.  Rule 7.3 also allows a player to mark the position of, and then lift a ball for identification without advising anyone else – but must replace the ball in its original position – and cannot clean it while doing so – although he can remove enough dirt to uncover his identifying mark.

Enjoy your golf, and please let me know of any interesting or doubtful situations that you come across. I promise to keep all players anonymous!