Can you change golf balls during a round

Golf is a sport known for its strict rules and adherence to etiquette. One common question that arises among golfers is whether they can change their golf balls during a round. Let’s explore the rules and considerations regarding changing golf balls during a round.

1. Rules Governing Golf Ball Changes

The rules of golf, as established by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A), govern many aspects of the game, including equipment. When it comes to changing golf balls during a round, Rule 4.2a specifically addresses this issue.

2. Initial Golf Ball Choice

At the start of a round, players must choose a specific brand and model of golf ball to use. This means that you cannot switch to a different brand or model of golf ball during the round. The ball chosen at the beginning must be played with for the entire round unless specific circumstances allow for a change.

3. Exceptions to Changing Golf Balls

While the general rule is to play the same ball throughout the round, there are exceptions that permit changing golf balls:

  • Ball Damage: If your golf ball becomes damaged during play (e.g., a scuff, crack, or cut) that affects its performance, you are allowed to replace it with a new, undamaged ball. You should declare the damage to your playing partners before replacing the ball.
  • Lost Ball: If you hit a shot and cannot find your golf ball, you are allowed to replace it with a new one. This is subject to a penalty stroke, as incurred under Rule 18.2.
  • Provisional Ball: When hitting a provisional ball (a second ball played in case the original is lost or out of bounds), you can choose a different brand and model of golf ball for the provisional shot.

4. Marking the Golf Ball

When changing a golf ball during a round due to damage or loss, it’s crucial to mark the new ball to ensure you can identify it as the replacement. Typically, golfers use a unique identifying mark, like a dot or a line, to distinguish their ball from others on the course.

5. Penalties for Violating Ball Rules

Failing to adhere to the rules regarding changing golf balls during a round can result in penalties. These penalties vary depending on the situation but are typically assessed as one stroke or, in the case of a lost ball, stroke and distance.

6. Etiquette and Common Practice

Beyond the rules, golfers should also consider the etiquette of changing golf balls during a round. It’s important to be transparent with your playing partners when changing a ball due to damage or loss. Additionally, changing balls excessively without valid reasons can slow down the pace of play and disrupt the flow of the game, so it should be done sparingly.

7. Choosing the Right Golf Ball for Your Game

While you are limited to changing your golf ball within the rules, it’s important to choose a golf ball that suits your playing style and preferences from the beginning. Golf balls come in various designs, with different spin rates, compression levels, and dimple patterns. Understanding your swing and game goals can help you select the ideal ball for your rounds, reducing the likelihood of needing to change it mid-game due to performance issues.

8. Ball Identification and Personalization

Many golfers choose to personalize their golf balls not only for identification purposes but also for added style and confidence on the course. You can imprint your initials, a specific marking, or even customize the ball’s alignment aid. Personalized golf balls not only make it easier to identify your ball but also add a touch of individuality to your game.

9. Professional Golfers and Ball Changes

In professional golf, players often have a specific golf ball sponsor, which means they are required to use a particular brand and model throughout a tournament. They cannot change balls during a round unless there’s a valid reason, such as damage. The penalty for using a non-conforming ball is disqualification.

10. Common Scenarios for Ball Changes

Understanding when and why you can change your golf ball during a round is essential for all golfers. Common scenarios include:

  • Damage to the Ball: Assess the condition of your golf ball regularly. If you notice any damage that affects its performance, such as a deep scuff or a crack, you should replace it.
  • Lost Ball: If you can’t find your ball within the allotted time (usually five minutes), you must replace it with a new one and incur the appropriate penalty.
  • Provisional Ball: When you’re unsure if your original ball is lost or out of bounds, hitting a provisional ball with a different ball is a standard practice.

11. Stay Informed and Updated

Golf rules and regulations can change over time. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay informed about the latest rule revisions, as these might affect how you handle golf ball changes during a round. The USGA and R&A periodically update the Rules of Golf, and keeping up to date can help you avoid penalties and play the game correctly.

Rules Regarding Changing Golf Balls During a Round

Rule NumberDescriptionConditions for ChangePenalty for ViolationCommon Reasons for Change
Rule 4.2b(1)Changing a ball under the Rules is allowedAnytime during the roundNoneLost ball, damage, or to improve play
Rule 4.2b(2)Changing a ball that is cut or cracked is permissibleWhen it becomes unfit for playNoneWear and tear or impact damage
Rule 4.2b(3)Changing a ball due to becoming “out of shape”When it no longer conformsNoneDeformation due to impact or wear
Rule 4.2b(4)Switching to a different brand/model is acceptableAt the start of any holeNonePlayer’s preference or conditions
Rule 4.2b(5)Changing a provisional ball when the original is foundAfter the original is locatedNoneEliminate the provisional ball

Common Situations for Changing Golf Balls

Lost BallOriginal ball cannot be found.
Ball DamageBall is cut, cracked, or becomes out of shape.
Preferred BallPlayer wants to use a different brand/model.
Unplayable LieBall lands in a position making play impossible.
Water Hazard or OBBall is lost in a water hazard or out of bounds.

Conditions for Changing Golf Balls

Anytime during the roundPlayers can change their golf ball at any point during the round, as long as they follow the rules.
When it becomes unfit for playA ball can be changed when it is no longer suitable for play, such as when it is cut, cracked, or significantly out of shape.
At the start of any holePlayers can switch to a different brand or model of ball when starting a new hole.
After the original is locatedWhen a provisional ball was used and the original ball is found, the player can switch back to the original ball.

Penalty for Violating Golf Ball Rules

Changing a ball not in accordance with the rulesTwo-stroke penalty
Failing to correct a ball violation before teeing off on the next holeDisqualification for the hole
Improving the position or lie of the ballGeneral penalty (loss of hole in match play or two-stroke penalty in stroke play)

Common Reasons for Changing Golf Balls

Lost ballWhen the original ball cannot be found.
DamageWhen the ball is damaged and unfit for play.
Player preferenceWhen a player prefers a different brand or model for specific conditions or personal preference.
Deformation due to impact or wearWhen the ball is significantly out of shape due to impacts or wear and tear.
Eliminating provisional ballWhen a provisional ball was used and the original ball is found, players switch to the original ball.


In summary, golfers are generally required to play the same brand and model of golf ball throughout a round. However, exceptions exist for situations involving damage, loss, or provisional shots. Adhering to the rules and etiquette regarding golf ball changes ensures fair and respectful play on the golf course.

Can you change golf balls during a round


  • Grace Kaufman

    Grace Kaufman, our Creative Director and a Golf Course Design Specialist, brings a touch of creativity and visual flair to The Golf Mine. With a keen eye for design and a deep understanding of course layout, she ensures that our content not only informs but also engages and inspires. Grace's innovative approach, combined with her specialization in golf course design, enhances the overall experience for our readers, making our blog more than just words on a screen.

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