Can You Use 'Practice' Balls in Competition? Are They Conforming?

Sometimes golfers buy golf balls whose manufacturer has stamped the word "Practice" on them, and priced them at a discount. It's a way to save a little money. But what is the status of such "Practice" balls under the rules: Are they "legal"? Can they be used in tournament play?

Golf balls that are stamped "Practice" (or otherwise indicated to be "practice balls," such as being stamped with a "P" inside a circle) are, in fact, perfectly OK according to the Rules of Golf. And, yes, you can even use them in tournament play. (To be clear, we are talking about regular golf balls — say, a Titleist Pro V1 — that has the word "Practice" stamped on it; we are not talking about foams balls, wiffle balls, or other types of non-brand-name golf balls that are designed for practice sessions.)

A Titleist representative, responding to a question about Pro V1 practice balls, supplied this explanation of the balls' status: "Pro V1 Practice golf balls are conforming products that differ only due to a cosmetic blemish such as paint, ink or registration of stamping."

But where in the Rules of Golf is that confirmed? It's confirmed in a clarification of Rule 4-2a. Specifically, it is Clarification 4.2a(1)/2, and this is what it says about balls stamped "Practice":

"'Practice' balls are typically listed, conforming golf balls that have been stamped 'Practice' or with a similar stamping. 'Practice' balls are treated in the same way as golf balls that feature a golf club or course, company, school or other logo. Such balls may be used even where the Committee has adopted the List of Conforming Golf Balls as a Local Rule."
So, according to the Rules of Golf, a "Practice" ball is no different than a box of balls that a golfer has had personalized with her name, or a ball with a company logo or your favorite football team's emblem.

In theory, Tiger Woods could put a "Practice" ball into play in the U.S. Open! And that means that if you are saving money by buying "Practice" balls, you should feel completely confident in playing them, if you wish, in your city championship, your golf association playday, or any other round of golf.

Related articles:

R&A and USGA. Official Rules of Golf.
Titleist. Team Titleist, "X-Out Balls,"

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