Golf is an extremely complex sport. With the many thousands of rules and interpretations, you’ll find in the USGA’s rule book; many grey areas can still arise around what players can and can’t do in the sport. Particularly when switching balls, it’s good to know what you can and can’t do to avoid conceding a penalty.
You cannot switch out your golf ball on the putting green. Once a player has teed off on a hole, they must complete the hole before they are allowed to switch out their golf ball. You can mark and replace your ball when on the green, but you cannot switch it with another golf ball.
To help clear up some of the grey areas around the rules of golf, I’ll give you the lo-down on when you can and can’t switch out your golf ball on the course. I’ll be discussing whether golfers can mark, pick up and switch their ball when on the green and whether they can get a penalty for hitting another golf ball on the green.
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Can You Change Golf Balls On The Green?
On the putting green when you mark and lift your ball, you must replace that same ball to finish out the hole. You can use a new ball when starting a hole or use a different ball when taking relief, including free and penalty relief. In circumstances where the ball is unfit for play, a player may substitute their ball in the same place the ball came to rest on the green.
The number one rule of golf is to play the ball as it lies; you need to play the same ball for as long as it’s in play on a hole until you tap it into the hole. It would help if you played the same ball when it lands on the green, although players are allowed to mark and retrieve their golf ball when on the green but must place the same ball back down when they’ve finished aligning their putt.
The only exception to the rule is if your golf ball becomes damaged during the hole, the damage must become so profound that the ball no longer can be used. Then the player may replace it with a like-for-like replacement in the position they found it.
Modern golf balls are made out of a core of rubber encased in a thin and durable layer of plastic that should only break if it’s put through a real battering.
Golf balls are made of sturdy stuff, but you never know what could happen on the course if your ball breaks, not only on the green but on the fairway; then golfers can switch the ball around and then play their shot with a new golf ball.
Ever wondered what makes up a golf ball? I recommend you learn the facts in my detailed article.
Are You Allowed To Switch Golf Balls?
You can always use a new ball when switching a hole, or you can substitute a different ball any time you take relief, including free and penalty relief. Unless the one-ball local rule is in effect, the substituted ball can be of any brand. If you switch before completing a hole, there is a risk of suffering a penalty or being disqualified for cheating.
A player can substitute a golf ball any time they are taking relief. If you hit your shot out of bounds or strike a ball into the water, you can switch out the golf ball and use an identical replacement. In my article on the rules and etiquette of golf that you should read I go into more detail around the rules of taking relief and how players should appropriately drop a golf ball in a drop zone.
Even if your ball is in play, you will have to continue to play that ball even if it has only a slight scratch or dent on it. Until the ball is unplayable, you must hole out before you are allowed to replace it.
Similarly, players aren’t allowed to clean their golf balls until they reach the green. Once on the dance floor, players can mark the ball, clean it, and replace it where they found it. Although you can keep golf balls, you find on the course that I explain in my article be careful to not pick up another player’s loose tee shot.
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Is There A Penalty For Hitting Another Golf Ball On The Green?
If you putt a ball and it hits a competitor’s ball which is on the green, you will incur a two shot penalty (stroke play) only. The ball will be played from where it lies, with the hit ball being returned to its original resting position. In match play, there is no penalty.
A golfer will also receive a two-shot penalty if they play the wrong ball on the green. That is a pretty silly mistake to make, and it happens; the player must move the ball back to its approximate original position before they can continue to play.
If a player chips their ball onto the green and it hits another player’s ball, they will not receive any penalties for this occurrence. But if both balls are already on the green and a player strikes another player’s ball, they will concede a two-shot penalty even if they didn’t mean to hit another player’s ball.
This is an easily avoidable mistake as players can ask their playing partners to pick up and mark their balls when on the green. That extra two-shot penalty could mean the difference between winning and losing a tournament, so it’s wise to ask other players to move their ball so that you can have a good line into the hole when on the green.
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