It’s another beautiful morning on the course. You’ve stretched, cleaned your clubs, bought a fresh glove…you are ready to go.
But you are still trying to figure out how to rein in that slice as your first shot lands on the next street over. It happens to everyone.
Whether you’re Tiger Woods or someone that just picked up a club for the first time, you will lose a golf ball at some point. Knowing what to do when it happens is trickier than you may imagine. Official rules are complicated, and it can take time to truly understand them.
It isn’t as simple as grabbing another ball and tossing it in the fairway, though many high handicappers follow that rule. According to the USGA, hitting provisionals, out of bounds play, and drops are somewhat complicated.
Commonly referred to as going “OB” (for out of bounds), most Sunday golfers think the rules are straightforward, but in reality, they can be quite the opposite.
Here are the main rules you should keep in mind next time you hit the links and block one into the trees. Following them will keep the pace of play moving and make your scorecard official.
Defining Out of Bounds
The USGA defines out of bounds as “beyond the course’s boundaries or any part of the course so marked.” In layman’s terms, that means anything outside the white stake boundary is considered OB. Additionally, a player can stand out of bounds while hitting a ball in bounds, and a golf ball is only OB if the entire ball is across the boundary line.
How to Score (The Local Rule)
Scoring seems like a simple thing to do out on the course. Every swing you take is a stroke, but hitting a ball out of bounds raises scoring issues. Typically, the scoring is referred to as “stroke and distance.” The term is merely pointing to adding a stroke to your score for hitting the ball OB. You then will rehit from the original spot.
For the high-handicap golfer, you don’t have to take a stroke and hit again from where you previously hit. Leave that for the professionals. Instead, a rule was developed that allows a committee (your foursome in most cases) to agree on a set resolution for lost or out of bounds balls.
This new regulation is called the Local Rule. It was made to assist the sub-par golfer, while still rendering official scorekeeping. The rule is simple to understand, provides relief to the struggling group, and can help track scoring easily.
You have three options with the Local Rule.
- First, you can take a stroke, determine where your ball went out of bounds, and take a drop in that location.
- Second, you can find the nearest fairway edge that is no closer to the hole, take a stroke, and drop your ball there.
- Finally, you can take a stroke and drop in the rough with a clean sight to the flagstick.
Whichever option your committee agrees upon, it must be followed the whole round for a scorecard to be official. No matter which you choose, a stroke must be added for hitting a ball out of bounds in every case.
The Three-Minute Rule
We’ve all been behind the group that searches for a ball for five minutes and creates a backup of carts ten holes back. Don’t be that group…always adhere to the three-minute rule.
Eighteen holes of golf should regularly take around four hours to complete. Sticking to this pace is key to the smooth operation of the course. In order to help with steady play, the three-minute rule was put into place when looking for out of bounds golf balls.
The rule states that if you cannot find your ball within three minutes, it is considered lost. Once your ball is lost, you must adhere to the Local Rule and take a stroke.
Correctly Dropping from the Knee
As of 2019, you no longer have to drop the golf ball from your shoulder. The old rule was beginning to cause more complications than it was solving the pace of play. Today, USGA rules state that you must drop from the side of your knee cap.
After you’ve hit a ball OB and your three minutes of searching came up short; you must drop according to the Local Rule your committee is adhering by. The best way to do this is by standing firmly straight up and bending at the waist to meet your knee.
The ball must not touch any part of your body or equipment before hitting the ground. The dropped ball must be dropped in and only come to rest in the relief area. If the ball doesn’t stay inside the relief area when dropped, it should be dropped again.
Hitting your ball out of bounds can be defeating and humbling. The only way to beat your personal best is to keep on swinging. Golf is not meant to be mastered overnight, and the rules indeed weren’t written overnight.
Whether you average a score in the triple digits or flirt with scratch golf, following the rules on out of bounds/lost balls will earn you respect from your peers.