What happens if you run out of golf balls?


It’s been a bad day on the course and your last Titleist has gone sailing out of bounds. What happens now? Our Rules of Golf guru fills in the gap

Each week, I play golf’s version of Russian Roulette. I’ve got just enough balls to get by and no more. I’m a carrier by nature, so filling my little Sunday bag with a dozen pearls is not what I want.

And so, when things aren’t going to plan, there’s a moment of jeopardy where I’ve usually got two left and about 10 holes still to play.

I’ve never actually run out. But if I did, would it matter? Could I just tap up my playing partner, or anyone else for that matter, to hand over one of theirs? Let’s take a look…

Rules of Golf explained: What happens if I lose all my golf balls?

Rule 4.2 states that a player can “get a conforming ball to play from anyone else, including another player on the course”.

It can be your playing partner, or some random person you’ve never seen before, but if they’re happy to hand a ball over to you – as long as it’s conforming – you can thank them for their kindness and carry on.

If you’re going to tempt fate like this, it’s probably best to ensure you’ve got some charity-minded folks around you, though.

In the unlikely event they’re not inclined, or can’t spare one themselves, you’re not going to be able to finish the round.

Hang on? What about that time when Stevie Williams was fretting that Tiger Woods was down to his last ball when he was annihilating everyone at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach? Couldn’t he just have borrowed one too?

Yes, but most professional and elite tournaments have in place something known as the “one ball rule”.

If that’s in effect, as it is for The Open for example, you must use the same brand and type of ball. That level of detail goes right down to the difference between, say, a Pro V1x with a dash and one without.

While Tiger could have borrowed a ball, it would have had to have been the exact same brand and model as that he’d already played if he wanted to escape a penalty.

And an error can prove very costly. Russell Henley, at the 2019 Mayakoba Classic, got hit with eight shots after he realised he’d used a slightly different model of ball to his usual on four holes.

So while you can tap up those around you at club level, it’s probably better to avoid any stress and just pack a couple of extra balls into your bag. You never know when you might need them.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

If you’ve sent me an email and are yet to hear back from me, I will try to answer your query. I’m still inundated with requests and trying to get through them.

Just to reiterate, I continue to receive emails from players hoping I can intervene in a club rules dispute. For fairly obvious reasons, I can’t do that and would direct those players either to their county or to the rules department at the R&A for a definitive judgement.

Click here for the full Rules of Golf explained archive and details of how to submit a question to our expert.

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