RULES OF GOLF What happens if a bird takes your golf ball?

How should you proceed when a bird or any other animal takes your golf ball?

I’d just come off a birdie and was thinking I had a chance to save a bad round. I nailed a drive straight down the middle of the fairway. It couldn’t have been more middle.

But as I came over the rise in the fairway, the golf ball was nowhere to be found.

Crows were flying low like a scene from The Birds. I’d seen them take golf balls before and they were the most likely culprit. On this occasion, it felt like a deliberate act to ruin my scorecard.

But what is the ruling here? I hadn’t actually seen any bird take anything let alone my golf ball.

It turns out you need to actually see, or be virtually certain that a bird (or any outside agency) moves or takes your golf ball.

Rule 9.6 (Ball Lifted or Moved by Outside Influence) states that;

If it is known or virtually certain that an outside influence (including another player in stroke play or another ball) lifted or moved a player’s ball:

    • There is no penalty, and
    • The ball must be replaced on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2).

This applies whether or not the player’s ball has been found.

But if it is not known or virtually certain that the ball was lifted or moved by an outside influence and the ball is lost, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief under Rule 18.2.

In truth, I didn’t deserve to rescue that round. It was a bad one that was almost rescued by a two or three good holes, but I felt robbed all the same.

When a fellow competitor in the group behind lost his ball in exactly the same spot ten minutes later, we could both share the anger. We both agreed it must have been a crow.

We didn’t see it happen though, so we had no grounds for a free drop.

12 thoughts on “RULES OF GOLF What happens if a bird takes your golf ball?

  • I had a similar thing happen to me except it involved a crab. I duck hooked my drive in to the mangroves, took note of where it was and hit another tee shot. I then went over to where my first ball was supposed to be and it had vanished. I know I saw it before and now it was gone. The only creatures running around were a bunch of crabs. It had to be them. I guess it deserved to be stolen after such a poor first tee shot. Great post. Have a good one.

  • Michael,

    This was some years ago but on prestigeous ABC radio the announcer was reading a news item about Royal Adelaide and went on to say “golfers are complaining that the crows are picking their balls.”
    There follwed a deadly silence of at least 3 seconds folowed by a giggle before resuming the news service.

  • Greg, You’re absolutely right. I’ve edited the article to reflect it and linked to your Yowie article!

  • My situation occurred on the 17th at Long Reef. Love to know if anyone else has had the same thing happen!

  • I’m a Long Reef member.

    At certain times of the year, especially around April/May when the Sou’, Wester starts to howl, these Crows (correct name is actually Ravens) do this all the time.

    A few years back, a kid found on the bird’s stash is the scrub. He netted himself about 200 brand new balls. I can tell you that these birds only take new shiny balls. Dirty scuffed ones are completely ignored.

    The same thing happened to me on the 3rd. Hit the ball down the middle just out of site, below the hill. We saw the crow fly into the spot, below our siteline, and then we saw it re-appear with a ball in it’s mouth.

    We got a ruling, and I was allowed to drop as near as possible to the estimated position of the ball as it was deemed “virtually certain” that the crow had pinched the ball. The important point according the rules committee was that whilst we couldn’t see the crow pick the ball up, we saw it go in with an empty mouth, and reappear will a ball in it’s beak.

    I haven’t met anyone who knows exactly why the crows do this. My guess however is that it has something to do with mating. We know these birds are quite intelligent, so they are not confusing them for food or eggs. I think it is the males showing off to the females, bearing in mind that it only happens at a certain time of the year (Autumn).

    A friend came up with a great way of stopping the problem. He spays his ball with Aeroguard or Rid. When the crow picks it up, it hates the taste and immediately drops it.

    • I think you are on the right track as to the reason why they take golf balls. Crows are closely related to the bower Bird which decorates his bower with blue and yellow objects and dances with them to encourage the females to mate with him. I believe that crows behave in the same way to impress females . It’s all about getting laid which we can all identify with!,

  • Thanks LRFG! I have heard it happens a lot around there. That Aeroguard tip is a good one. I’ll bring a can next time I play out there.

  • Hi, I am from Holland and played today in Delden on a golfcourse that has 9 holes. To make 18 holes, we did the course twice. This is what happened:
    On hole 8, I made e beautifull stroke. Unfortunately it landed in a bunker. On the way to the bunker we saw a crow running in the bunker near my ball. Then suddenly: He picks up the ball and flies away with it into the wood. We did not know what the rule is and dropped a baal outside the bunker (don’t think I can drop it inside a bunker. This all happened on the first round.
    But now it comes: On the same hole, 140 meter to go to the same bunker. A crow came out of the woods, with a white thing in the snail(?). He landed just on the the fairway and dropped a ball on the grass. I ran towards the ball and picked it up: IT WAS MY BALL FROM THE 1ST ROUND!!!

    Googling, I saw just article. But I think my experience is unique…

    Leo ten Tije

  • My father plays golf on a bit of scrub land in Bangalore (S India). He has lost nearly all his golf balls due to the crows taking them. What is Rid or Aeroguard? Perhaps he can find an equivalent nasty tasting substance to put on the golf balls he uses.

  • Recently I was playing at Camden golf course with a social marker and I were in a cart and we had both put our balls in the fairway.
    As we approached my partners ball a crow swooped down and took it. We chased after the crow and he landed in some new mown rough and put the ball on the ground and flew into a nearby tree. We went to the spot and looked for the ball but couldn’t find it. What this clever crow had done was bury the ball under some loose cut grass and wait till we left then went straight to the ball and flew of with it. If crows could laugh he certainly had the last laugh.


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