I was standing outside the locker room on Saturday afternoon, exhausted after my fourth round in six days, when one of my friends shouted over, “What’s the penalty for playing the wrong ball?”  She was obviously “asking for a friend” because she wouldn’t do such a thing, but the ensuing conversation was interesting. The relatively new golfer in question had gone back and played her own ball on discovering her mistake but wanted to ensure that she recorded the correct score on her card before signing it and there had been some discussion about the ruling amongst her four-ball. One bystander said, “Count the shot she hit plus one penalty shot” and another suggested that the shot with the wrong ball shouldn’t be counted – just one penalty shot.  I whipped out my phone and opened the R&A Rules App (I know – I’m a geek, but it’s handy for situations such as this).

Those of you who know your rules thoroughly will of course know the correct answer:

Penalty for Playing Wrong Ball in Breach of Rule 6.3c(1): General Penalty.

In stroke play, the player 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 (including strokes made and any penalty strokes solely from playing that ball) do not count.


  • If the player does not correct the mistake before making a stroke to begin another hole or, for the final hole of the round, before returning his or her scorecard, the player is disqualified.


Well, the player in question acted correctly in going back and playing her own ball, and therefore was not disqualified but what was the penalty?  The bystander who reckoned that she shouldn’t count the stroke with the wrong ball was correct, however the penalty is the “general penalty”.  What’s that?  It’s two shots.

In the Definitions section of the Rules of Golf it says that the General Penalty is:

Loss of hole in match play or two penalty strokes in stroke play.

So the bystander who said that she should count the shot with the wrong ball and then count a penalty shot would have ended up counting two shots, which would have been the right number but using the wrong method.

There are two lessons to take away from this incident:

  1. make sure you carry a rule book or download the R&A Rules App 
  2. mark your golf ball with large, obvious markings!