Golf Rule Updates – Wrong Ball

Playing the wrong ball in golf happens, even at the top levels. As of March 1st, the rules are changing with 3 things in mind – simplification, encouraging people to tell their opponent before the shot is taken, and making it feel less like a punishment and therefore fairer to both sides.

Only the last shot matters

The first thing is that it now only ever affects the last shot, so anything that happened before that doesn’t matter, other than which ball is played, so even if the previous shot was also out of sequence then it doesn’t matter – that shot was legal and good. So if you correctly play Blue, then your opponent plays yellow, and then you play black, their mistake doesn’t matter because you’ve played another shot, even though you played your balls in order.

The massive benefit here is that there’s no confusion or arguments about when it started to go wrong, and trying to remember what happened 3 shots ago etc.

Replay or Swap

So your opponent has played their own wrong ball. You now have two choices:

Replace & Replay – the ball goes back to where it was before they hit it, and they play the correct ball, and everything continues from there. This was the only option in the previous rules.

Swap – you swap their balls over, wherever they’ve ended up. So you play Blue to a hoop, then they play yellow next, and you notice. You can tell them to swap yellow and red over, and it’s as if they played red, so you play black next.

Why Swap?

In the old rules, where the rule was just to Replace & Replay every time, it would be possible for the offender to get an advantage (whether on purpose or not) when you’re only addressing the most recent shot. If your opponent played blue in front of the hoop, and then you mistakenly played yellow, they could get an advantage by playing black, even though that would be a mistake, as they would then get to put black back and run the hoop with blue, so it would actually be in their interest to play black and then point out that it was a wrong ball. Whether intentional or not, it would be a big advantage, so instead you could just get them to swap black and blue over, and it’d be as if blue just played, so you then play red, and they don’t get the advantage. Again, this also encourages them to let you know about the first wrong ball as there’s no advantage to be gained by not doing so.

Very Wrong Ball

Previously, if you played one of your opponent’s balls then it was a fault – this is no longer the case.  It’s almost exactly the same as playing your own wrong ball, except that there’s no option to swap the balls in this case.

In Summary

The rule is exactly as before, except:

  • Only the last shot matters
  • Instead of Replay & Replace, you can choose to get your opponent to swap their balls over, and you then continue as if they played the ball they should have