PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

rules review

Rules of Golf Review: Somebody just picked up my golf ball! Now what?

October 04, 2023

David Madison

Hey, look what I found! A souvenir. There's no way this golf ball belongs to anyone playing golf right now. So I might as well give it a new home in my pocket.

You'd think people would be smarter than that. But they aren't. Just ask Nelly Korda about nearly losing a golf ball to a thoughtless person. It happens quite a bit on the pro tours; a spectator sees a ball, has no clue that it's likely a ball in play, and scoops it up. Fortunately for the pros, there's usually another spectotor or marshal around who knows better and gets the person to put the ball back. Or there might be a camera around to help the pros know where there ball was when the scoundrel took off with it.

But if you're playing a casual round without anyone around to witness the theft, what do you do? Well the Rules of Golf have things outlined pretty well for circumstances when it's known or virtually certain that your ball was picked up by someone (or something) else. We'll explain what to do in a minute, but first, let's cover the "known or virtually certain" aspect of this rule.

You can't just assume someone or something (an outside influence, as the Rules of Golf would say) took your ball because you can't find it in the spot where you're sure it came to rest. There needs to be some strong corroborating evidence. Think of it as being at least 95 percent sure. Maybe a golf cart rolled up on that spot, stopped, and then drove away after either picking something up or playing a shot from there. Maybe someone saw a person pick up a ball at that spot. Maybe everyone in your group saw the ball come to rest from the tee, but when you arrive at that spot, the ball is no longer there. Birds have been known to mess with golf balls, too. All this can be taken into account.

OK, so now that you're sure an outside influence has moved your ball, what do you do? If you can retrieve the ball, you can replace it on the spot where it was moved (Rule 9.6) and play on without penalty. If you can't find the ball, you can put a new one in play on that spot. Again, no penalty.

Where things get tricky is if you're not sure where the ball came to rest before it was moved. According to Rule 14.2, if it's not known where the ball came to rest, you must estimate the spot and either put the original ball back in play (if possible) or replace it.

And if you're wondering what happens if evidence later proves that the ball was replaced in the wrong spot, well, the rules have that scenario covered, too. Rule 1.3b(2) says that so long as you did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to determine the spot, your judgment about where to play from is accepted. That's true even if your judgment is proven to be wrong later on by additional information. On the pro tours, for example, video evidence would not be considered.

Ball hawks are everywhere, people, so keep these rules in mind the next time you think you're a victim of petty larceny.