When a player may substitute a ball

If a player substitutes a ball when not entitled to do so they incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play, for a breach of Rule 15-2, part of which states;

If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted to do so under the Rules (including an unintentional substitution when a wrong ball is dropped or placed by the player), that substituted ball is not a wrong ball; it becomes the ball in play.

If the mistake is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6 and the player makes a stroke at an incorrectly substituted ball, he loses the hole in match play or incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play under the applicable Rule and, in stroke play, must play out the hole with the substituted ball.

Of course, players may change balls at will between the play of two holes (unless there is a One Ball Condition of Competition), as they do not have a ball in play at that time.

Two examples of when a player unintentionally substitutes a ball are;

  1. When a ball is marked and lifted from the putting green, put in a pocket and then a different ball is replaced at the marker and played. This precludes a player from having a favourite ball for putting only.
  2. When a ball is lifted from a putting green and is accidentally dropped or thrown somewhere from where it cannot be retrieved, e.g. in deep water of a water hazard.

An example of when a player intentionally substitutes a ball when not entitled to do so is;

  • When a player notices that they are playing the same brand and number of ball as another player in their group and they change their ball, so as to easily distinguish between them, Decision 15/6.5.

However, there are several instances where a player is not penalised for substituting a ball, as Rule 15-2 also states;

A player may substitute a ball when proceeding under a Rule that permits the player to play, drop or place another ball in completing the play of a hole. The substituted ball becomes the ball in play.

Examples of where the Rules permit substituting a ball are;

  • When taking relief from a water hazard, Rule 26-1.
  • When playing under penalty of stroke and distance, Rule 27-1, even if the original ball is not lost or out of bounds.
  • When the player deems their ball unplayable under Rule 28, whether or not the original ball has been retrieved.
  • When a ball has come to rest in a place that is dangerous to the player (e.g near a poisonous snake or a bees’ nest) and they are permitted to drop a ball away from the danger, Decision 1-4/10.
  • When it has been determined that a ball has become unfit for play, Rule 5-3.
  • When a ball has been lifted under the Rules, due to suspension of play, the player may replace the original ball, or a substituted ball, Rule 6-8.
  • When a ball to be dropped or placed is not immediately recoverable by a player after they have caused it to move; e.g. if it was accidentally kicked into water; because it is in or on a movable obstruction, Rule 24-1, or an immovable obstruction, Rule 24-2; because it is in an abnormal ground condition, Rule 25-1.

Note that there is no penalty is a player lifts a ball that has been incorrectly substituted and replaces it with the original ball, provided they have not made a stroke at it. Rule 20-6 states.

A ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and the player must then proceed correctly.

11 Responses to When a player may substitute a ball

  1. Jim Budelman November 27, 2017 at 11:36 am #

    The one ball rule is crap, most of us do not have a dozen or so of the same ball in our bag.
    Changing balls should generally be OK on the tee, and nowhere else unless that rule is followed.

    • marchinko November 27, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

      the one ball rule is for tournaments, usually run by USGA or State golf association. or if you are playing for money
      I find proV1x goes a little farther but nothing compare to putting a proV1, so there are advantages to be gained by
      switching balls.

    • ernaldo November 27, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      It is ok to change a ball between holes. Its out of play….

  2. Stan November 27, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    Wasn’t there a utube of a college player diving in to water looking for his ball he accidentally dropped near a green and it rolled into the water. Wasn’t he penalised and the team lost the event?


  3. ken young November 27, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

    I can understand the “one ball rule” applying to sanctioned competition. For recreational golf, no.
    Now, For substituting a ball.
    First. Unfit for play. That should be as the player perceives. For example cart path scuffs, tree damage, these are aspects would be legitimate reasons to change balls. Now, the rules may say something else. The way I see it, if I SAY the ball in play is damaged, then its damaged and I will substitute after informing my fellow competitors.
    As with the entire USGA rules issue. the Rules of Golf are far too complicated.
    This in and of itself is a major reason why golf participation is not attractive to young people.
    In order to save the game as a major participation sport, Golf has be made less complicated.

  4. Lloyd November 27, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    The ‘One Ball Rule’ never applies to recreational golf and not often to amateur competitions. The following is a quote from the USGA Rules of Golf:

    When changing balls, the player is permitted to substitute a ball of another brand or type unless the Committee has adopted the One Ball Condition of Competition (see Appendix I; Part C; Section 1c). This optional condition (usually referred to as ‘The One Ball Rule’) is generally adopted only in events that are limited to professional golfers or highly-skilled amateur golfers. Generally, this condition of competition is not adopted in club-level competitions.

  5. Wbdav November 27, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    LOL. A lot of us change balls every hole because we lost the one we started the hole with.

  6. Scott Bess November 27, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

    Is it OK to change colors between holes as long as the brand and model stay the same? In our PGA Section events we do not play the one ball rule except for National Qualifiers.

  7. Paul Kruger December 1, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    It is my understanding that it is not OK to change colors even though the brand and model stay the same. The differently colored ball (albeit with the same brand/model) is a separate listing in the USGA list of conforming balls, and thus is deemed to be a different ball under the One Ball CoC.

  8. Steve January 28, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

    I had a situation where I didn’t even attempt to find my ball even though I knew where it was because it was in a “dangerous to the player”, as stated in the article. I hit it near woods where I spotted a black bear about where I had seen my ball land. Needless to say, I chose to drop somewhere else and safe.

  9. Barry McPherson January 29, 2018 at 12:15 am #

    I find it amusing that golf, being a game of rules and honor, is so willingly abused by recreational players simply because they think the rule is stupid. When you play other games with friends do you make rules up when you go along too? As an amateur, it is not difficult in the slightest to find a ball that can meet your skill ability for driving, approach and putting, and knowingly ignoring the rule is cheating. BTW, half of the comments on here talk about changing a ball between holes. You can change brand, type, COLOR, whatever you want between holes. That is clearly stated in the article. Pros have rules about the number of balls they can carry. We do not so you can try that Titleist on one hole and the Callaway on the next, no problem. But swapping out that limited spin distance ball you used to tee off with a soft, high-spin ball so you can grab the green better….that is cheating. What is worse, you know it is cheating but still do it because you think the rule is stupid or not for you. But hey, your prerogative and your conscience. Kick a ball out from under a tree and tell your buddies you got a par while you are at it. Same thing.

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