Towards the end of my first year of teaching I discovered that my school had a fiercely contested Annual Staff Golf Competition which appeared to be a lot of fun – the older staff regaled me with many colourful stories of wayward shots and proud low-handicappers who thought they had sealed victory, only to have some novice steal it from them after a play-off on the putting green!!! So, I borrowed my uncle’s golf clubs and tried to get to grips with the game, just so I could play in the competition later that term… and that’s when I got bitten by the golf bug!

Fast-forward to 2022 and we played the staff golf competition last week.  The trophy, which is almost as old as I am, was won by our lowest handicapper, whose name is already engraved on it several times.  We reminded him of the time we were playing in Fintona when our boss (not our current one, he wouldn’t make this mistake!) strode purposely to the ball in the middle of the fairway, assumed it was his and played it… only for Nigel to walk over to the other ball in the rough and discover that it wasn’t his… the boss had played the wrong ball!  We tease him about “letting the boss play the wrong ball” every year!

So, what do you do if you, or your playing partner, play the wrong ball?

Rule 6 c says:  You must not make a stroke at a wrong ball.

Penalty for Playing Wrong BallGeneral Penalty (2 shots).

In stroke play, you must correct the mistake by continuing play with the original ball by playing it as it lies or taking relief under the Rules:

  • The stroke made with the wrong ball and any more strokes before the mistake is corrected do not count.
  • If you do not correct the mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning your scorecard, you are disqualified.

So, if you hit a shot and then come across your own ball, you’ve obviously hit the wrong ball.  You are penalised two shots, but you don’t count the stroke you made at the wrong ball, however you must now ignore it and proceed to play with your own ball.

In match play:

  • If you and your opponent play each other’s ball during the play of a hole, the first to make a stroke at a wrong ball gets the general penalty (loss of hole).
  • If it is not known which wrong ball was played first, there is no penalty and the hole must be played out with the balls exchanged.

Here’s a short video explaining this rule (if you’re in a rush, fast-forward to 30 secs):