Golf's New Rules: Ball Moved During Search

Under the new Rules of Golf, if a player accidentally moves his or her ball while searching for it: The player will get no penalty for causing it to move.

Ball Moved During Search

2019 Rule:

Under Rule 7.4, if a player accidentally moves his or her ball while searching for it:

  • The player will get no penalty for causing it to move, and
  • The ball will always be replaced; if the exact spot is not known, the player will replace the ball on the estimated original spot (including on, under or against any attached natural or man-made objects which the ball had been at rest under or against).

Current Rule:

If a player moves his or her ball while searching for it:

  • The player generally gets a one-stroke penalty (there are four limited exceptions), and
  • When the player does not know the ball’s exact original spot, he or she must return it to play by dropping it as near as possible to that estimated spot.

Reasons for Change:

A fundamental principle of golf is to play the ball as it lies; so the Rules should help the player to find his or her ball and play it from the spot where it was at rest.

Players often need to probe in grass, bushes, leaves and other conditions to look for a hidden ball, and such reasonable acts create an inherent risk of moving the ball.

The current Rules allow both an opponent in match play, and other players in stroke play, to help search for the player’s ball without risk of penalty if they accidentally move the player’s ball; outside persons such as spectators are allowed to help search as well.

It is inconsistent to encourage everyone but the player or his or her caddie (or partner) to look for the ball, and this creates an odd incentive for the player to hold back and let others search.

Because the ball’s location isn’t known before it is found, eliminating a penalty in this situation will be a reasonable exception to the obligation to avoid moving a ball at rest.

Removing this penalty will not allow the player to benefit from excessive actions in searching for the ball, as there will be a penalty if the player searched in an unreasonable way (that is, beyond what was necessary for a “fair search”) that improved the conditions affecting the next stroke (see new Rules 7.1 and 8.1).

Changing the procedure for replacing a ball moved in search will help make sure the ball is played from its original spot or, if that spot is not known, on the estimated spot, including from a poor lie under grass or other growing things:

  • Today, when a player returns such a ball to play by dropping it as near as possible to its estimated spot, the ball is typically dropped on top of the grass or other growing things, which can result in a much better lie than the player originally had.
  • Under the new procedure, the player will need to replace that ball on its estimated spot on, under or against the grass or other growing things, and so face the challenge of playing from that difficult spot where the ball had come to rest.

For more information on the new Rules of Golf, visit usga.org/rules.