Women & Golf’s rules expert Sheila Waltham answers some of your most asked questions about marking, lifting and cleaning your golf ball.

By Sheila Waltham

Does a player have to mark their ball before they touch or move it?

No. When the rules changed in 2019, the requirements also changed. You’re only required to mark where the ball lies if you’re going to replace it on its original spot. For example, when you’re lifting the ball to identify it or on the putting green, as per Rule 14-1a.

If you’re lifting your ball under a rule (for instance, unplayable, abnormal course condition, the local rule for winter rules/preferred lies) and you will drop or place it elsewhere, then you don’t need to mark it.

Can I clean my ball by rubbing it on the putting green?

Yes, you can. This is allowed without penalty, even if it is done with the intent of testing the putting green. You can read Rules 13.1e/1 for more clarification on this.

I accidentally touched my ball before I hit my shot and made it move. Will I be penalised, and should I move it back?

The answer depends on if the ball “moved” according to the definition in the Rules, which is:

When a ball at rest has left its original spot and come to rest on any other spot, and this can be seen by the naked eye (whether or not anyone actually sees it do so).

If the ball has moved, it must be replaced, and a one-stroke penalty is incurred. This would not be the case on the putting green. There is no penalty for accidentally causing the ball to move on the putting green, as per Rule 9.4.

There is also no penalty if the ball only wobbles or oscillates.

About the author

Sheila Waltham

Sheila Waltham has been a qualified rules official for over 15 years and joined the England Golf Tournament Panel of Referees in 2019. A keen golfer since 1995, Sheila’s interest in the Rules was born out of the realisation that a lot of the information she received as a novice golfer was incorrect. So, she took matters into her own hands!

Become a whizz on the rules and check out our previous Ask the Ref features, like this one: One Club length or two? >