The Rules of golf do not actually compel you to mark your golf ball, but there are very good reasons why it’s strongly advisable to do so…

Why You Should Mark Your Golf Ball

There is nothing in the Rules of Golf to say that a player must put a unique identification mark on their golf ball. Rule 6.3a merely states that “the player should put an identifying mark on the ball to be played.”

However, there are a number of reasons why it is strongly advisable to do so. Let’s take a look at them shall we?

Why You Should Mark Your Golf Ball

When I first started playing before the days of the Sharpie, no-one I played with did this, other than a few pros who used to put a series of tiny dents in the surface of a balata ball with the end of a tee-peg. We used to just rely on the brand, model and number for identification purposes. But was this enough?

Well, generally, yes it is. Rule 7.2 says that the following is an acceptable way to identify your ball over and above simply seeing exactly where it went or by having an identification mark on it:

  • By finding a ball with the same brand, model, number and condition as the player’s ball in an area where the player’s ball is expected to be (but this does not apply if an identical ball is in the same area and there is no way to know which one is the player’s ball).

Related: 10 Golf Rules Myths

Realistically, the most likely way the latter part of this might apply is if someone in the same group hits an identical ball into a similar spot, although it could be that someone playing an adjacent hole arrives in the search area at the same time and it transpires that you are both playing the same model, brand and number of ball, with no way of distinguishing between them with regard to their condition.

Perhaps more likely is that you yourself despatch an identical provisional ball in to the same area. Now it gets a little bit interesting, and in fact, provides a very rare – perhaps unique – scenario in the Rules in that you may have to choose between two balls.

Marking your golf ball in a distinctive way is one way to avoid potentially confusing moments on the golf course (Getty Images)

Here’s how Rule 18.3 says you must proceed if you hit two identical balls into the same area and have no way of identifying which is which:

If the player plays a provisional ball into the same general location as the original ball and is unable to identify which ball is which:

* If only one of the balls is found on the course, that ball is treated as the provisional ball, which is now in play.

* If both balls are found on the course, the player must choose one of the balls to be treated as the provisional ball, which is now in play, and the other ball is treated as lost and must not be played.

Related: 7 Golf Etiquette No Nos

Sounds unlikely, but I do remember someone I was playing with doing just this in a Men’s Open 25 years ago, and neither of us knowing quite how to proceed.

All of which should lead you to the conclusion that for the sake of avoiding any confusion or potentially costing yourself shots, you should carry a Sharpie or similar at all times, and always mark your golf ball with some form of identification mark, even if the Rules do not compel you to do so.

Oh, and if your provisional ball is the same brand, model and number as the original, mark it slightly differently in some way, so there can be no doubt which is which.


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