Rules of Golf explained: A bird hit my club while I was taking a shot – does it count?

Our rules expert gets stuck into a rather strange scenario in this week’s explainer

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Mike Bramham emailed me with a weird and wonderful query that quickly got my attention. He wrote: “A bird flew into my playing partner’s club as he was making a stroke. It put him off and he mishit it completely.

“There’s plenty of guidance on balls influenced by outside agencies but not the club in motion. I presume that the rule is that it’s rub of the green and you play the ball as it lies.

“For completeness, the bird, a tiny goldcrest, was only stunned and made a full recovery.”

Rules of golf explained: Our expert says…

This isn’t the kind of birdie anyone has in mind. Good to hear the little tyke escaped in one piece, though, even if your playing partner’s scorecard didn’t.

For you are quite right in your assumption – a stroke has been made and they’re off to play the ball wherever this encounter with a winged menace has sent it.

The definition of stroke states that it is “the forward movement of the club made to strike the ball”.

An interpretation to this – titled Determining If A Stroke Was Made – also says that “if a player starts the downswing with a club intending to strike the ball, his or her action counts as a stroke when: The clubhead is deflected or stopped by an outside influence (such as the branch of a tree) whether or not the ball is struck.”

Take a peek at the definition of outside influence and we’ll find that “any animal” is classed as such.

So once the player goes ahead and makes that stroke, the ball is in play – regardless of whether it was a tiny bird or a 30-pound Canada goose that got in the way.

Now, had your playing partner had been able to stop in the swing, it can be a different manner. If the bird hits on the backswing, for example, they can stop, reset and go again.

The definition of stroke also says a stroke has not been made if the player “decides during the downswing not to strike the ball and avoids doing so by deliberately stopping the clubhead before it reaches the ball or, if unable to stop, by deliberately missing the ball”.

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