Under the current rules, if a player accidentally moves his or her ball while searching for it, they will be charged with a penalty stroke. However, this changed as of January 1, 2019. Under new rule 7.4, if a player accidentally moves his or her ball while searching for it:
- The player will get no penalty for causing it to move, and
- The ball will always be replaced; if the exact spot is not known, the player will replace the ball on the estimated original spot (including on, under or against any attached natural or man-made objects which the ball had been at rest under or against).
Reasons for Change:
A fundamental principle of golf is to play the ball as it lies; so the Rules should help the player to find his or her ball and play it from the spot where it was at rest.
Players often need to probe in grass, bushes, leaves and other conditions to look for a hidden ball, and such reasonable acts create an inherent risk of moving the ball.
The current Rules allow both an opponent in match play, and other players in stroke play, to help search for the player’s ball without risk of penalty if they accidentally move the player’s ball; outside persons such as spectators are allowed to help search as well.
It is inconsistent to encourage everyone but the player or his or her caddie (or partner) to look for the ball, and this creates an odd incentive for the player to hold back and let others search.