Golf is nothing if not a game of etiquettes. The golf ball marker is a prime example of the noble behavior on the course. It takes into account the convenience of your opponent on the putting greens at a make-or-break point in the game where you would ideally play dirty to win. The golf ball marker comes with a dicey PGA rule in the tow which causes turmoil in the game of golfers like Lexi Thompson at ANA Inspiration. Today we solve the mystery of what is a golf ball marker and all its possible ramifications.
What is a golf ball marker?
Like a Portkey in the Harry Potter universe, a golf ball marker could be any item, from a slice of pizza to a metal disc. The more important idea is what it represents. A ball marker marks the place of your golf ball that you lifted from the greens. You may lift the golf ball from the course when:
- When your golf ball is a distraction to the other player
- When it is in the way of another player’s putt.
- When you want to clean your golf ball.
- When you want to align the marks on your golf ball with the putting line.
- When another player claims a distraction.
In all these instances, you should place a golf ball marker on the course to mark the place where you picked up the ball from.
What can be used as a golf ball marker?
The USGA and R&A give you a relatively free hand on selecting the golf ball marker. The definition leaves the window open for you to use your favorite crystal dinner plate to mark the ball location. But they do recommend that you use something small, round and flat. Most golfers use a coin as a golf ball marker.
The pro golfers often use a magnetic ball marker. This can magnetically attach to the visor of your hat or your belt. When it lies upon the course, it’s simply a placeholder. Such markers are often imprinted with a brand logo or personal monogram. Non-magnetic markers might be difficult to dig out from the golf bag in the time of need. Some magnetic ball markers are as small as a button and attach right to your gloves.
Apart from dedicated golf ball markers, you can use divot tools or tees to mark the location of the golf ball. You don’t have to necessarily use a ball marker.
Note that you cannot consider a blemish or some other mark on the course as a ball mark. It will cost you one-stroke penalty. You can use the toe of your golf club as a marker though.
Golf Rules about golf ball markers
Absurd as it may seem, golf associations have specified rules about golf markers as well. The Rule 20-1 on Lifting and Marking states that:
The position of a ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar objects immediately behind the ball. If the ball-marker interferes with the play, stance or stroke of another player, it should be placed one or more clubhead-lengths to one side.
Lifting and Marking states
Notice the wordplay. There is no clear indication that not placing a ball marker may be penalized under Rule 20-1. And that confusion is cleared in the following statement.
The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted under a Rule that requires it to be replaced. If it is not marked, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced. If it is not replaced, the player incurs the general penalty for breach of this Rule but there is no additional penalty under Rule 20-1.
Lifting and Marking states
Competitions often insist that the players use small flat ball markers lest someone mark the golf ball location with a Christmas tree. That would be truly distracting. In the USPGA tour, there’s no current rule that requires you to use something small. But we must all do it from the goodness of our hearts. If we taint the good name of golf, we might all as well be animals.
If you are annoyed by the ostentatious golf ball marker of your opponent, you can do two things:
- Politely ask the person to swap the cupcake they placed for an actual ball marker
- You can ask the golfer to move the distracting golf ball marker away, one club length at a time until it is no longer distracting.
How to mark the golf ball location?
There are few steps to go through to use the golf ball marker:
Marking the golf ball location is a whole different ballgame. This is a small step tripping with penalties. Firstly, the ball must be marked before it is lifted off the course. Failing to mark the ball location before you lift will cost you one-stroke penalty.
The ball marker should be placed immediately behind the ball before lifting. You get a one-stroke penalty to mark a ball by placing the marker more than an inch behind the ball. Upon dropping the ball, it should be right in front of the ball marker.
The golf ball should be replaced only by the player, player’s partner or the person who lifted the ball. Rule 20-3 states that:
If a ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of placing or replacing the ball, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the specific act of placing or replacing the ball or removing the ball-marker. Otherwise, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2 or 20-1.
Lifting and Marking states
Also as Lexi Thompson was painfully reminded during the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in April 2017:
If a ball to be replaced is placed other than on the spot from which it was lifted or moved and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player incurs the general penalty, loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play, for a breach of the applicable Rule.
The player is penalized if she/he drops the marker on the golf ball and moves it. But accidental movement because of wind or another player is not penalized.
Golf ball markers are a tricky domain. Some of those rules are distinctively lax but some are unnecessarily strict. That being said, this is a very convenient accessory that allows the golfers to play without any hindrance from the fellow golfers. Always keep in mind to be considerate and use some small, flat object as a marker. Use a quality marker like the Team Golf NFL Cap Clip that may double as another tool and has a magnetic clasp to attach to your attire.