May - 2010

Last month I wrote a little bit about the history of golf balls, and the technical specifications that manufactures must meet to comply with USGA requirements. As a follow up, I was asked the other day just exactly how damaged does a ball have to be before you are allowed to replace it during play. It's a great question because it reflects the advancements in manufacturing and the durability of the equipment we use today. One thing the USGA has always done is try to keep the Rules current with changing conditions. As you probably know, for many years golf balls were made with a balata cover. Balata balls had exceptional feel and spin, but poor durability. Because of this, it used to be a simple thing to say: "Hey! This ball's scratched! I just hit the cart path and I'm going to put a new one in play." Now however, the covers on balls are made of surlyn or urethane and are exceptionally durable. Rule 5. The Ball, no longer allows a scratched or scraped ball to be replaced. It must be visibly cut, cracked or out of shape.

5-3. Ball Unfit for Play

A ball is unfit for play if it is visibly cut, cracked or out of shape. A ball is not unfit for play solely because mud or other materials adhere to it, its surface is scratched or scraped or its paint is damaged or discolored.

If a player has reason to believe his ball has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played, he may lift the ball, without penalty, to determine whether it is unfit.

Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift and examine it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to examine the ball and observe the lifting and replacement. The ball must not be cleaned when lifted under Rule 5-3.

If the player fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure or if he lifts the ball without having reason to believe that it has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played,
      he incurs a penalty of one stroke.

If it is determined that the ball has become unfit for play during play of the hole being played, the player may substitute another ball, placing it on the spot where the original ball lay. Otherwise, the original ball must be replaced. If a player substitutes a ball when not permitted and makes a stroke at the wrongly substituted ball,
      he incurs the general penalty for a breach of 5-3. ,
but there is no additional penalty under this Rule or 15-2.

If a ball breaks into pieces as a result of a stroke, the stroke is canceled and the player must play a ball, without penalty, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played (see Rule 20-5).

Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes. *If a player incurs the general penalty for breach of Rule 5-3, there is no additional penalty under this Rule.

Note 1: If the opponent, marker or fellow-competitor wishes to dispute a claim of unfitness, he must do so before the player plays another ball.

Note 2: If the original lie of a ball to be placed or replaced has been altered, see Rule 20-3b. (Cleaning ball lifted from putting green or under any other Rule - see Rule 21.)

Derek Duesler