If Your Ball Moves, What Do You Do – It Depends!  

This happens to all of us. We are in the process of setting up for a shot, taking a practice swing, waggling our club, or whatever our pre-shot routine is, and in the process we accidentally cause our ball to move.

So, up marches the Rules Official. The Rule that applies is Rule 9.4 (Ball Lifted or Moved by Player). What the Rules Official says depends on where on the course you were when this happened.

If you were in the teeing area there is no penalty [Rule 6.2b(5)]. You just put the ball or another ball back on a tee and start over. The reason you don’t get a penalty for accidentally moving your ball in the teeing area is that the ball is not in play on any particular hole until you make an actual on-purpose stroke at the ball. So, it doesn’t matter what you do beforehand.

If you were on the putting green, you also don’t get a penalty (Rule 13.1d). Just replace the ball.

But, if you were in any other area of the course (general area, bunker, penalty area) then you get a 1-stroke penalty and you must replace the ball (Rule 9.4).

So, the bottom line is, when you’re not in the teeing area or on the putting green, take special care not to accidentally move your ball at rest. If you do move it, replace the ball and you will have to take a 1-stroke penalty.


Further consequences if you don’t follow the Rule.

If, instead of replacing your ball, you instead hit your next shot from the ball’s new position, you are now in trouble, because you have hit a ball from the Wrong Place [Rule 14.7]. That is a 2-stroke penalty and requires that you hit it again from the right place. But, to further complicate the issue, instead of getting 3 penalty strokes (1 for causing your ball to move and 2 for hitting from the Wrong Place), you only have to take a total of 2 penalty strokes. This is because of yet another Rule [Rule 1.3c(4): Applying Penalties to Multiple Breaches of the Rules]. Those 2 Rules will be the subject of other articles.

What if your ball moves for another reason?

Three other culprits could cause your ball to move: 1) Natural Forces (e.g., wind, gravity); 2) Your opponent in Match Play; and 3) An Outside Influence (e.g., someone else in your Stroke Play foursome,  a goose).

(1) Natural Forces. If you did not cause your ball to move, but after it came to rest, it moved on its own, say because of wind or gravity, as long as you had not already marked the position of the ball, you have to play it from its new position, no penalty.(Rule 9.3)

(2) Your Opponent in Match Play. If your opponent accidentally moves your ball, she does not get a penalty, and the ball should be replaced. But, if she deliberately moves your ball, she gets a 1-stroke penalty and the ball should be replaced (Rule 9.5). It’s interesting that if you accidentally move your ball you get a 1-stroke penalty (except on the teeing area or the putting green), but if your Opponent accidentally moves your ball, she doesn’t get a penalty!

(3) Outside Influence. There is no penalty and the ball should be replaced (Rule 9.6).