When the Ball-Marker is Moved Accidentally

Van Rooyen drops his putter on his ball-marker

An absorbing 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, was relatively Rules incident free, but there was one ruling that may be of interest to readers, not because it played any part in the ups and downs of the player concerned, but because of the changes in the relevant Rule over a 4-year period.

As he was sizing up his putt on the 18th hole of his second round at the 147th Open, Erik van Rooyen dropped his putter on his ball-marker, but he did not know whether it had moved off its spot, or not. I am going to assume that the ball-marker was moved, albeit marginally, to explain the various rulings relating to this simple incident over a short period.

Pre – 2017:

The penalty for a player causing their ball or ball-marker to move on the putting green, whether accidentally or purposely, was the same as for anywhere else on the course; a penalty of one stroke and the ball had to be replaced under Rule 18-2. An exception to this was if the movement occurred as a result of the specific act of marking the position of or lifting the ball (Rule 20-1).

From 1st January 2017, provided the recommended Local Rule had been introduced:

The R&A and the USGA introduced a new Local Rule to the Rules of Golf that eliminated any penalty when a ball or ball-marker was accidentally moved on the putting green. This Local Rule was adopted by the R&A and the USGA in all of their championships, qualifying competitions and international matches and they recommended that all Committees adopt the Local Rule, although it was not compulsory to do so, as it was not a Rule of Golf.

From 1st January 2017, if the recommended Local Rule had not been introduced:

The ruling would be the same as pre-2017, with a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2.

From 1st January 2019:

Under the new, modernised Rules of Golf the action incurs no penalty and no Local Rule is necessary;

Rule 13.1d. When Ball or Ball-Marker Moves on Putting Green

There are two specific Rules for a ball or ball-marker that moves on the putting green.
(1) No Penalty for Accidentally Causing Ball to Move. There is no penalty if the player, opponent or another player in stroke play accidentally moves the player’s ball or ball-marker on the putting green.

The player must:

• Replace the ball on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2), or

• Place a ball-marker to mark that original spot.

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