[PHOTO: Westend61]

Let’s start with a pet peeve. Whenever a golfer chooses to walk but others in the group take a cart, it’s always annoying when they hit shots and then race down the fairway to their golf balls, leaving you to trot along like the turtle in the race against the hare. If you accidentally hit that cart, they should apologise to you, not the other way around.

OK, with that off our chest, let’s get to the rule that applies here. It used to be that if you hit another player, his or her caddie, or his or her equipment – things like a golf bag or golf cart – it was a penalty. Luckily, in 2019, the R&A and USGA decided during its modernisation of the Rules of Golf to make some changes when you do any of those things.

Now, under Rule 11.1, there is no penalty and you should play the ball as it lies. This includes striking pretty much anything on the course, but the one exception is when your ball is on the putting green and it hits another ball at rest on the putting green. If you do that, it’s a two-stroke penalty.

Why did the rules-makers soften their stance? According to the USGA, “Many objects, persons and animals are present on a golf course during play. It is inevitable that a ball in motion will sometimes hit them before coming to rest, and a player is generally required to accept the outcome [whether good or bad].

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“Just as there is no penalty in strokeplay if one player [or his or her equipment or caddie] accidentally deflects another player’s ball, there is no need for a penalty when a player [or the player’s equipment or caddie] accidentally deflects his or her own ball. The outcome in such cases is random and unpredictable, and it results in a disadvantage for the player at least as often as it results in an advantage.”

While you get a pass if you accidentally deflect or stop a golf ball, the same is not true if you do it on purpose. It’s a two-shot penalty or loss of hole in matchplay. This is true whether it’s your own ball or a ball played by an opponent or by another player in strokeplay. The one exception is if a ball has no reasonable chance of going in the hole during a match. Then there’s no penalty. Think of those situations when a player needs to chip in to halve a hole, but instead skulls one to the back of the green and you stop it from going into a pond out of courtesy.

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So to recap: if you’re anywhere but on the green and you accidentally hit another player, his or her equipment, just about anything, there’s no penalty. Play it as it lies. However, if you’re on the putting green and hit a ball at rest also on the putting green, it’s a two-stroke penalty.


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