Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Stroke and Distance Penalty for Ball Out of Bounds

There has been a lot of discussion in golfing circles about which Rule of Golf players would most like to see changed, in addition to the proposed changes announced by the Ruling Bodies on 1st March. At the top of nearly every informal poll I have seen is a wish to change the stroke and distance penalty for a ball played out of bounds. Players hate to have to return to where they last played from when they unexpectedly find that their ball is the wrong side of an out of bounds boundary line. When this happens there is an inevitable delay in play while the player goes back. Of course, they should have played a provisional ball, but there are occasions when the out of bounds line is not obvious from where the ball was played from and other times when players find that their ball has taken an unusual deflection in the wrong direction. There is only one way to proceed when a ball is out of bounds and a provisional ball has not been played, as in Rule 27-1b;

b. Ball Out of Bounds
If a ball is out of bounds, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).

The appropriate penalty for a ball that has been played out of bounds has exercised the Ruling Bodies for well over a century; it seems that there is general support for a change to be made, but it is far from obvious what that change should be. This is a summary of the various efforts made by the R&A and USGA to address the issue over the past 130 years;

1886: The term out of bounds was first defined by Royal Isle of Wight, with a penalty of stroke and distance.
1899: Defined as being outside the recognised boundaries of the course; penalty distance only.
1908: Redefined as all ground on which play is prohibited. Penalty distance only still, but may be changed to stroke and distance by Local Rule for both forms of play.
1920: Stroke and distance, but now the penalty stroke may be remitted by Local Rule.
1947: USGA (1950: R&A): Distance only, and no provision for change by a Local Rule.
1952: Stroke and distance.
1960: USGA experimentally changed to distance only.
1961: USGA back to stroke and distance. In addition, the USGA allowed an alternative procedure of stroke only, dropping a ball within two club lengths of where the ball went out of bounds, on courses where the penalty of stroke and distance would be "unduly severe".
1964: USGA allowed a Local Rule to be adopted which allowed a stroke-only option if it was felt that stroke and distance would be “unduly severe”. The player could drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the original ball crossed the out of bounds line. Reasonable evidence was required both that the ball had gone out of bounds and as to the point of crossing. In the absence of either, stroke and distance was the only option.
1968: Rescinded.
The main difficulty relating to a ball that has come to rest out of bounds is estimating where it last crossed the boundary of the course. Sometimes this may be easy to determine, as in the photo above, but more often it may lead to robust debate between players, officials and spectators. Also, there is little doubt that keeping the ball within the boundaries of the course can be a strategic part of the challenge of playing some holes. This is particularly true on courses that have tight boundaries where some holes have specifically been designed to encourage players to weigh the risk-reward of a shot and play the higher percentage route for safety. In this context, safety may include both avoiding out of bounds penalties and avoiding public liability issues from balls landing outside the course. Adjusting the penalty for balls played out of bounds could lead to players choosing to take high-risk shots towards, or over those areas, with little concern for what is on the other side.

Presently, there is no change in the ‘Draft New Rules of Golf for 2019’ with respect to what to do when a ball is lost or out of bounds; “18-2b: If a ball is lost or out of bounds, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and playing the original ball or a substituted ball from where the previous stroke was made.“ However, I would not be surprised if serious representations are made from some quarters to treat out of bounds area the same as ‘red penalty areas’, for which there will be similar relief options to that for lateral water hazards in the current Rules.

Perhaps, the quandary on a suitable penalty for a ball played out of bounds is best summed up by these two statements on the subject by Thomas Pagel, Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA;

“We’ve looked at every angle, but of all the alternatives we’ve considered, we haven’t found one that is workable for all levels.”

“We are committed to identifying a solution. When we hit 2019, there will be solution, even if it’s by a Local Rule, because we recognize the importance going forward.”

Good golfing,


If your golf club is anywhere in Ireland, Berkshire & neighbouring counties in England, or Aberdeenshire in Scotland, why not suggest a Rules of Golf social evening to your Committee. I am widening the areas where I give presentations and would be pleased to quote them for an evening’s ‘entertainment’!

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.


Anonymous said...

I would imagine that almost 100% of non-tournament play in the US treats OB as a red hazard if no provisional was played, since no one wants to go back to the tee, especially on a busy course with aggressive marshals. Going back to the tee is guaranteed to annoy the group behind you, as well.

Barry Rhodes said...


I am sure that you are wrong with your wild 'guesstimate'. This practice would definitely not be permitted in a any competition run under USGA Rules and would not be acceptable for handicapping purposes.


Barry Rhodes said...

A US subscriber has given me permission to share his interesting communication on an alternative penalty for stroke and distance;

"I am a party to an effort which strongly encourages some additional movement on this issue by the Joint Rules Committee. Primarily, the USGA must first recognize this is much more of an issue for the vast majority of none professional players, particularly with a lost ball. Players on the tours rarely lose a ball primarily because there are so many eyes and or cameras on the ball. The typical amateur frequently finds they lose a ball “in plain sight” for no good reason other than it is not readily visible or not located in the area players are concentrating their search. Now, take away 40% of the authorized five minute search time, and you have compounded the problem.

The JRC effort has already shown a willingness to further adopt the concept of a second penalty stroke (first with R26-2, and probably in the future for a ball unplayable in a bunker). It is our contention that for both a lost ball and a ball found out of bounds, neither of which at the time did the player feel it necessary to play a provisional ball, that the player be offered and alternative way to proceed other than return to play a ball under penalty of stroke and distance.

The player would, to save time, be allowed to put another ball into play under penalty of a second 1-stroke penalty ( a total of two penalty strokes but not a 2-stroke penalty) at the point the ball was last estimated to have crossed the course boundary; or, in the case of a lost ball, the estimated point where the ball was last viewed in play that is not in a hazard. The player would always have the option to play under stroke and distance, but as we know, that is not always the more practical way to proceed. (And, too, it indirectly encourages play of a provisional ball.)

The idea is to initially do this under Local Rule, get a good feel for how well received it is and gain some data for further analysis before proceeding. If all goes well and proves successful, the JRC could adopt this into the body of the Rules and then offer a Local Rule which would withdrawal the second penalty stroke option for more elite events as the exception.

The four Rules: water hazards, unplayable, lost and OB, all provide the player with relief options when it becomes clear he cannot continue play of the hole by simple adherence to the two prime principles of our game. The options available to the player for how to proceed under ball lost or OB should be expanded to offer as many similar solutions as is possible. Hopefully, there is still open-mindedness regarding this topic. I think the key to proceeding with this concept, is nailing down where the player is permitted to put another ball into play. We solve that, and I think we eliminate a major barrier for progress."

I look forward to seeing how this is received by the JRC, as it appears to me to offer an innovative and equitable resolution to a difficult issue.


Shane Mc Cauley said...

A dhuine uasail,

I have found your blog extremely useful over the last few weeks. Prior to looking into your profile and in consideration of the high quality descriptive answers offered, I should have guessed you were fellow Irish Man! Tá sé an-taitneamhach

I myself, help run a golf society (NOMADS) here in Abu Dhabi for the last 5 years. I have developed a great interest in discussions related to the rules of golf and how they apply correctly. As you are likely aware, a good hearty discussion in the 19th after the game concerning what should have happened on the course very often leads into differences in opinion. Previously I've found that the in ability to get your opposition to accept what exactly is the correct ruling, often leads to tensions! As i've said recently, "I hear you but I don't agree, show me proof and and i'll accept and spread the word to others.... Hence the when is a ball said to best lost ball brought me back here

Thankfully today with almost every answer availalbe in some from on the WWW, one can get an advantage over less technically aware, whereby you can back up your point of view because Joey Blog said so! The only difficulty now is getting the opposition to accept Mr. WWW is reliable....

Keep up the good work.



Barry Rhodes said...

Thanks Shane,

It is always pleasing for me to hear from those that find my content interesting/useful.

If you do have any unresolved incidents on which I can provide an authoratative opinion, please feel free to email them to rules at barry rhodes dot com.


Anonymous said...

When you didn’t know it was going to be lost and didn’t hit a provisional and it’s a busy course where you can’t go back, what are you supposed to do for handicap purposes? Take the most likely score on the hole like the rules say when you don’t hole out a putt like in conceded putts in match play situation? Or is the whole round no longer under the rules of golf and not to be posted?

I’m in the US and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone go back to the tee for a lost ball or OB situation in casual play. In tournaments obviously yes, then it is enforced properly. Some busy places in casual play have marshals riding you so hard that you don’t even want to hit a provisional out of concern it will take away from time to look for your original so that’s a factor…you don’t always get your 5 minutes in casual play either.

As long as I’m on that topic, changing the time to look for a ball from 5 minutes to 3 minutes will make the discrepancy in lost balls between tournament play and causal play even worse. That is the one rule I’m very much against changing. If anything I’d like to see the discrepancy narrowed, not widened.

Barry Rhodes said...


I do not have any expertise on handicapping systems, which vary considerably around the world. However, I can assure you that the only way to proceed if you cannot find your ball within the permitted time, and a provisional ball has not been played (why?), is to return to where you last played from under penalty of stroke and distance. Failure to do so incurs the penalty of disqualification in a strokes competition, disqualification from the hole in a Stableford competition or loss of hole in match play. The Rules of Golf are the same for casual play as for competition play; if you are not following these Rules you are not playing golf!

Personally, I do not agree with you on the proposed change to reduce the time to search for a ball from 5 minutes to 3 minutes, but you should use the current opportunity to advise the USGA/R&A of your views before they finalise the modernisation of the Rules for January 2019.



Anonymous said...

Hope you understand I'm not trying to be antagonistic, just expressing a few minor frustrations I have.

The point I'm trying to make is there are scenarios where you didn't know it might be lost and the course managers and other groups playing don't want you holding up play by following the letter of the rule. That's a real problem and thus I welcome solutions like your US subscriber mentioned. It's rare if you're hitting provisionals like you're supposed to but even then still not non-existent.

If we're trying to speed the game up with these rule changes then stroke and distance seems like an obvious one to me. Even hitting a provisional adds time when you're walking because you have to go chase down two balls now. I wouldn't have a problem with the rule the way it's written today if it weren't for others pushing/in a hurry. I am in no hurry to get off the golf course. I want to be there. I don't like feeling like I'm holding people up though.

As far as the search time rule it's just a gut feeling, not something to submit to the R&A/USGA. Real research would be something to submit, or the R&A/USGA should do it themselves. (if it exists I'd love to see the data). If data shows in casual play balls not found in the first 3 minutes are hardly ever found in the last 2 then the change makes sense.

Anonymous said...

For handicap posting purposes in the US it looks like a hole not played under the rules of golf is scored the same as a hole not played at all: https://www.usga.org/HandicapFAQ/handicap_answer.asp?FAQidx=8