The Ruling When One Golf Ball Collides With Another

Golf Rules FAQ: Penalties and Procedures After Golf Ball Collision

Marking two golf balls on the green
Golfers mark their golf balls on the green in part to avoid collisions. But what's the ruling if one golf ball strikes another?. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sometimes, one golf ball knocks into another during a round of golf. It's not all that uncommon. Player A and Player B are out for a round. Player A has already played his shot and his golf ball is at rest up ahead. Player B takes his stroke and when his ball hits the ground, it rolls right into Player A's ball, striking it. Both balls careen away. What's the ruling? Is anyone at fault? Is there a penalty?

Penalties and Procedures After Golf Ball Collision

The answer depends on where the golf balls were before the fateful shot was struck: Were both balls already on the putting green, or were neither or just one of the balls on the green? The answer to those questions determines whether there is a penalty, to whom the penalty applies, and what the golfers involved need to do next.

The short answer to whether it's a penalty is this:

  • If both golf balls are on the green before a stroke is played that results in balls colliding, it's a 2-stroke penalty against the golfer whose stroke caused the collision (the golfer whose ball was at rest when struck is not penalized). Note: This is a penalty in stroke play only.
  • If just one or neither ball is on the green when a stroke results in balls colliding, there is no penalty to either golfer.

Here are the details on those penalties, plus what to do after the collision:

Scenario 1: Neither Ball, or Just one Ball, on the Green

This could mean the shot in question was a tee shot, or an approach played into a green, or any other scenario other than when both balls were on the green prior to making the stroke.

For example, your fellow-competitor hits a tee shot, then you hit yours, and your ball hits your fellow competitor's ball in the fairway.

Or your buddy's ball is on the green, you hit an approach shot, and your ball hits your friend's on the green.

This is covered in Rule 18-5, Ball at Rest Moved by Another Ball. There is no penalty to either player as long as this procedure is followed:

  • The golfer whose shot struck the ball at rest plays his ball as it lies; the person whose ball was moved returns the ball to its original position.

Failure to replace the ball that was moved to its original spot; or moving the ball that did the striking (rather than playing it as it lies) results in loss of hole in match play or a 2-stroke penalty in stroke play. If you aren't certain where the ball at rest was before it was knocked away by the colliding ball, use your best judgment to return it to a spot nearest where it most likely was.

Scenario 2: Both Balls Already on Putting Green Before Collision

"Both balls on putting green" means on the putting green prior to the stroke in question. Basically, we're talking about putts here. (Or one of those rare occasions when a golfer uses a wedge and chips from the putting surface.)

The ruling here is covered in Rule 19-5a, Ball in Motion Deflected.

From the green, Player A hits his putt, but the ball strikes the ball of Player B, who was also on the green:

  • In match play, ​there is no penalty.
  • In stroke play, it's a 2-stroke penalty to the player whose ball was in motion when the balls collided.

Repeat: It's not a penalty against the golfer whose ball was at rest when it was hit; the penalty is against the golfer whose ball was in motion when the collision happened.

The player whose ball was at rest replaces the ball to its original position; the player whose ball was in motion plays that ball as it lies.