Is It a Stroke to Accidentally Bump the Golf Ball Off the Tee?

Do you have to count that? Is there a penalty?

Golfer placing ball on tee
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Ah, yes, the time-honored tradition of yelling, "that's one!" or "that's a stroke!" whenever a playing partner, waggling away, accidentally knocks his ball off the tee ... But is it a stroke to accidentally knock or bump your golf ball off the tee on the teeing ground?

The short answer: No. It's not a stroke. There is no penalty.

That Ball On the Tee Is Not Yet 'In Play'

Explanation: A ball is not considered in play until a stroke has been made from the teeing ground, so when the ball is sitting on the tee, it's not yet in play.

A waggle of the club, or shaky hands, or any similar move that results in bumping the ball off the tee with your driver or other club is not a stroke. In the definition of a stroke, intent is the key - remember, a swing is only a stroke if it is the intent of the golfer to hit the ball (see "Does a whiff count as a stroke?").

There is no penalty, it does not count as a stroke, and the ball is re-teed and played (see Rule 11-3).

(But keep in mind, this "it's not a stroke because the ball is not in play" explanation applies only on the teeing ground. Once you have made a stroke at the ball, the ball is "in play." Once a ball is in play on a hole, accidentally making contact with it incurs a penalty. See "What's the ruling when you accidentally strike the ball with a practice swing?")

Worst-Case Scenario: When Bumping Ball Off Tee Does Result in Penalty

Keep in mind, we've never seen this happen nor heard of it happening.

But just for fun, let's imagine a scenario in which accidentally bumping a ball off the tee on the teeing ground would add a stroke to your score:

  • You address the ball, take a mighty rip - and look down to see the ball sitting untouched on the tee. Your intent was to the hit the ball, so even though you missed, it's a stroke.
  • Because you've taken a stroke, the ball is now in play, even though it's still sitting on the tee.
  • So you address the ball a second time, and in waggling the club bump the ball off the tee. Guess what - now it counts as a stroke because Rule 18-2a applies. Because the ball was in play, you must assess a penalty stroke for touching a ball at rest with your equipment.

If this scenario ever happens to you, we strongly recommend taking up tennis. (Just kidding - laugh it off and keep swinging!)

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