What Is the Penalty for Hitting Someone Else's Ball in Golf?

Many golfers use brightly colored felt tip pens to mark their balls prior to competition so they may identify them during play. One reason they take this action is to avoid playing the wrong ball. Under Rule 15-1 of the standard Rules of Golf, a player must hole out with the ball he hits off the tee, except when the ball is lost, hit out of bounds or substituted. When your ball lands in deep rough or is partially buried in a bunker, however, it may be difficult to confirm the ball is yours. Hitting the wrong ball during any competition played under the Rules of Golf will typically result in a penalty.

Stroke Play

The standard penalty for playing the wrong ball during stroke play is the loss of two strokes. The actual strokes taken with the wrong ball do not count on the golfer’s score.

A player is not penalized for hitting the wrong ball if it’s moving in a water hazard. Pursuant to Rule 15-3b, a player who hits the wrong ball must correct her mistake by finding and playing her legal ball, or substituting a new ball. If the player doesn’t correct her mistake before teeing off on the next hole, or if she fails to announce her intention to do so before leaving the last green, she is disqualified.

Match Play

A player who hits someone else’s ball in match play loses the hole, according to Rule 15-3a. As in stroke play, there is an exception for a ball that’s in motion within a water hazard; no penalty is assessed, provided the player corrects his mistake by playing his original ball, or a substituted ball.

If match play opponents inadvertently hit each other’s balls, the player who hit the wrong ball first loses the hole. If the players aren’t sure when the balls were exchanged, they must play out the hole with the exchanged balls.

Double Jeopardy

A player can be assessed a pair of two-stroke penalties if she plays two different wrong balls on the same hole. Under Decision 15-3b/2, if a player hits a wrong ball, discovers her mistake and searches for her original ball -- but instead plays a second wrong ball -- she suffers a two-stroke penalty for each occurrence, for a total of four strokes.

Swing and a Miss

Even attempting to hit someone else’s ball is a violation of the Rules of Golf. Decision 15/1 states that if a player swings at the wrong ball he suffers a two-stroke penalty, or loses the hole in match play.