This Rule is important but very lengthy so we’ll try to make it as easy as we can for you.

Lifting your ball may sound simple enough but don’t pick up your ball unless you’re certain you know what you’re doing. There’s more to it than meets the eye. You must always mark the position of the ball before you lift it – that’s common sense. If you do not mark it beforehand, you immediately incur a one-stroke penalty. During the act of marking or lifting the ball, if you accidentally move the ball or the marker, then you simply replace whatever moved without penalty. Note carefully the words during the act of. If the ball or your marker moves as a result of any other action, then you receive a one-stroke penalty,

Most golfers assume that you have to mark the ball with a coin, or other small object, behind the ball. Wrong. You can place your marker to the side of the ball, even in front of it. The marker needn’t be a coin, either. You can even mark the position of the ball with the toe of your putter or a daisy. Neither is advisable, however.

The dropping procedure is simple, You stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height with your arm extended – and drop it- You can face in any direction and, if you do drop incorrectly, then provided you have the presence of mind to re-drop properly before you play your next stroke, there is no penalty.

If the ball hits you, your partner or either of your caddies or your equipment, you have to re-drop, without penalty. You must also re-drop a ball if it:

1 rolls into a hazard;

2 rolls out of a hazard;

3 rolls on to a putting green;

4 rolls out of bounds;

5 rolls to a position where there is interference by the condition from which relief was originally taken;

6 rolls and comes to rest more than two club-lengths from where the ball first struck the ground;

7 rolls and comes to rest nearer the hole.

If you re-drop twice, and each time the ball rolls nearer the hole, then you place the ball on the spot where it first struck the ground when it was dropped the second time,

Make particular note of point 6. Provided you drop correctly, your ball may roll up to two club-lengths from the point where it first struck the ground when dropped. In other words, when you are entitled to two club-lengths relief, your ball may actually come to rest up to four club-lengths from the point where the ball originally lay. As long as your ball does not roll nearer the hole, or into any of the other positions listed above, you do not re-drop. In effect, you’re getting more relief than you are entitled to, but rules are rules and it’s nice to know they sometimes work in your favour.

Placing and replacing your ball becomes tricky in a few isolated situations. For instance, if two balls come to rest in a bunker two inches apart, it’s fair to say that if you mark the position of one ball, then that marker will move as a result of the stroke played with the other ball. Since the Rules state that you are entitled to the lie you were given when your ball came to rest, you replace your marker and re-create the exact lie as it was in the sand. That applies whether your ball was originally plugged or sitting perfectly. On the fairway, if the original lie of a ball to be placed or replaced is altered then you place the ball in a spot as near as possible, with a lie as similar to the original lie as possible, no more than one club-length away and not in a hazard.

If it is impossible to determine the position where the ball should be replaced then you drop the ball as near as possible to the spot where it originally lay. You do not drop it into a hazard, though, unless your ball first came to rest in that hazard. On the green, you place your ball, rather than drop it If the ball fails to remain on its spot when replaced, then you must find the nearest spot where the ball will not move and place it there.

Remember that whenever you drop correctly in accordance with the rules, as soon as that ball comes to rest then it is deemed to be in play.

Playing from the wrong place off the tee is covered in Rule 11. Elsewhere on the course, the rules differ. In matchplay, the rules for playing a ball that has been dropped or placed in the wrong position are strict and unequivocal: you lose the hole. In strokeplay, the position is more complicated, if you play a stroke from the wrong place, then provided a serious breach has not occurred, you incur the penalty prescribed by the applicable rule and play out the hole, A serious breach, incidentally, means a situation where you might gain a massive advantage: for example, dropping in front of a water hazard instead of behind.

If, after playing from a wrong place, you suspect that a serious breach might have occurred, then provided you haven’t played your tee shot on the next hole, you can go back and play the hole with a second ball, this time correcting your ‘serious breach’ of the Rules. You must then report these facts to the committee before returning your scorecard, at which time a representative will make a ruling- If you fail to do this, you are disqualified.


Cleaning your ball

You can clean your ball once it comes to rest on the putting green, although you are obviously required to mark it first. Elsewhere on the course your ball may be cleaned in situations when you are required to lift it, except when you are:

• Determining if your ball is damaged.

• Identifying your ball, in which case you can clean it only to the extent necessary to tell whether it is your ball or not.

• Lifting because the ball interferes with, or assists, play.

If you break any of these Rules, you’re penalized one stroke, or you lose the hole in matchplay.


Ball interfering with or assisting play

You can have any ball marked and lifted if you think:

1 that it might interfere with the shot you are about to play; or

2 that because of its location it will actually help your opponent or fellow competitor.

One final point: you cannot have a ball lifted while another ball is in motion. So, think before you play.

Going back to point I, this Rule does not apply just to physical interference. If a ball situated near by is catching your eye as you prepare to play a shot, you can claim mental interference and have it marked and lifted. Your request cannot be refused.


Loose impediments

This is a simple Rule to understand if you just think of loose impediments as natural objects that are not fixed or growing and are not solidly embedded or stuck to the ball. Except in a hazard, any loose impediment may be moved without penalty.

One extraordinary incident brought colour to this Rule in a professional tournament during the mid-1980s. Greg Norman hit a tee-shot along the ground no more than 100 yards and, when asked afterwards how he had managed to hit such an awful shot, said that a worm had distracted him by popping its head out of the ground as he made his backswing. This claim caused everyone to burst into hysterical laughter. As for the Rule’s implications, well, a worm, even if partly in its hole, is regarded as a loose impediment, since it is neither ‘fixed’ nor ‘solidly embedded’. Norman could have moved it out of the way. Fortunately he didn’t and thus such memorable headlines as ‘Shark stared out by worm’ appeared in the next day’s newspapers.

This, of course, is a fairly unlikely scenario. But there are plenty of other related incidents where you need to tread carefully. A banana skin, or any other fruit skin, is classified as a loose impediment and can be moved. So can a worm cast.

A divot is a loose impediment when detached, but not when it has been replaced. If an insect is resting, even crawling, on your ball, you are allowed to dispose of the offending creature, You can also move a stone embedded in the ground, but only if it can be dislodged with ease. Loose soil on the fairway cannot be moved – but can when it lies on the green. Compacted soil in the form of, say, aerification plugs, can be moved – and it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the fairway or the green.



This is a straightforward rule, provided you think of obstructions as anything artificial, although there are exceptions, which I will come to later. Obstructions come in two categories: movable and immovable. As you might assume, the rules vary for each.

You are perfectly entitled to claim relief from a movable obstruction, such as a rake, an empty drinks can or a cigarette end. If the ball does not touch or lie in the obstruction, then you simply remove the obstruction. If your ball moves in the process, then you replace it without penalty. If the ball does happen to be touching or lying on the obstruction, you first lift the ball and then remove the obstruction. If you’re on the green then you place the ball, otherwise you drop it as near as possible to the spot where the obstruction lay.

If your ball lies in or on an immovable obstruction or so close that it interferes with your stance or swing, you are again entitled to relief.

Examples of an immovable obstruction would be a cart path or a sprinkler head. First establish the nearest point where there is no interference. You then have one club-length’s relief from that point but you must finish no nearer the hole. You cannot claim relief from an immovable obstruction if your ball lies in or touches a water hazard. And you do not get relief from interference from an immovable obstruction on the line of play, except on the green.

If there is reasonable evidence to suggest that your ball is lost in an immovable obstruction, then you may substitute another ball and drop within one club-length of the point where there is no interference, again finishing no nearer the hole. You are not allowed to do this, however, if the immovable obstruction lies in any kind of water hazard.

Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences or stakes, do not qualify as obstructions, even though they are artificial, so you cannot claim relief from them. Nor can you claim relief from any part of an immovable obstruction that lies out of bounds.


Abnormal groud conditions and wrong putting green

First, we should remind ourselves of two definitions that appeared earlier. Casual water is a temporary accumulation of water on the course, which is visible before or after the player takes his stance. Ground under repair is any portion of the course so marked by the committee. It includes material piled for collection and a hole made by the greenkeeper, even if not so marked.

You are entitled to relief if your ball lies in casual water or ground under repair, or if you have to stand in either condition. The same applies to holes made by burrowing animals. If interference exists, you can either play the ball (you might like the lie) or take relief as follows.

You must first determine the nearest point that avoids the condition. (Remember that interference applies to your stance as well as the ball.) Now mark that position with a tee-peg and drop within one club-length of that spot. You may recall from a previous ruling that you are allowed to clean your ball in such circumstances. It goes without saying, though, that you cannot drop your ball nearer the hole.

Incidentally, if you are claiming relief from ground under repair or casual water on the putting green, you do not drop the ball; you place it. Unlike anywhere else on the course, interference from either condition can occur on the line of play on the green; there needn’t be interference merely with your stance or ball.

Unfortunately, the casual water rule contains one of the harshest lessons in golf. If your ball comes to rest in a totally waterlogged bunker, and there is no dry sand on which to drop your ball, you must either drop it where the water is at its shallowest and play a genuine splash shot from there, or else drop out of the bunker under a one-stroke penalty. You have been warned.

For a ball to be deemed lost in either casual water or ground under repair, there must be reasonable evidence to support that theory. If all evidence points to that being the case, then you are entitled to relief without penalty. First, establish the point, nearest to where the ball entered the casual water or ground under repair, that offers total relief from that condition. You then drop your ball within one club-length of that point, no nearer the hole. If the ball rolls back into a position where it is again affected by the condition, you must drop again.

Unfortunately that troublesome lake guarding the front of the green at your home club isn’t casual water.

Another abnormal ground condition is an embedded, or plugged, ball. Basically, any ball embedded in its own pitch mark on a closely mown area may be lifted, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to the spot where it originally lay, provided it occurs through the green. Remember, this term should not be confused with ‘through the back of the green’. The other important words here are closely mown area. That means any area of the course cut to fairway height or less.

In the winter months committees have been known to extend the Rule to include relief from plugged balls in the rough, as well as on closely mown areas. Make sure you’re not caught out by this temporary change in the rules.

You must not play a ball from the wrong putting green. That includes a practice green. If your ball does come to rest on any green other than that of the hole being played, you must drop at the nearest point of relief. That usually means playing a shot off the apron, so you’re at least certain of a good lie in such circumstances.


Water hazards and lateral water hazards

The first principle of Rule 26 is learning to differentiate between a lateral water hazard and a water hazard. That’s simple. As well as the physical differences, the hazards are colour-coded to avoid confusion; yellow stakes, or painted lines, for a water hazard and red for a lateral water hazard.

If any form of water hazard at your home club is not marked in such a way, then it’s time you badgered a member of the greens committee to do something about it. The Rules are complex enough without the added confusion of unidentified water hazards on the course. The relief procedures do vary depending on the category of the watery grave your ball has plunged into. In a water hazard there needs to be reasonable evidence that your ball has indeed finished in it. Having established that fact, you have three options:

1 If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and play the ball as it lies, under no penalty, lust remember that the clubhead must not touch the water at address;

2 Imagine a line running from the hole to the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, and then drop a ball on an extension of that line. In doing so, you incur a penalty of one stroke;

3 Proceed under the stroke-and-distance rule. In other words, you go back to the spot from where you played the offending stroke, add one stroke, and play a shot from there. In practice, this means that if you dump your tee-shot in water on a par-3, you may go back and play your third shot from the teeing ground

If your ball comes to rest in a lateral water hazard, you have the right to proceed under options 1, 2 or 3 above, or under two additional courses of action. You can either:

4 Drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, or;

5 Identify a point on the opposite side of the water hazard, but no nearer the hole, and drop the ball, again within two club-lengths of that point. For each option you incur a penalty of one stroke. The rules are sufficiently generous to allow you to clean your ball.


Ball lost or out of bounds;

provisional ball

The first point to establish here is the point when your ball is transformed from being merely a fiendishly hidden ball to alost ball. This happens when:

1 Your ball is not found within five minutes of searching.

2 You have put another ball in play in accordance with an applicable rule.

3 You have played a provisional ball level with, or beyond, the point where the original ball is likely to be.

Going back to point I, if your search goes beyond five minutes and you subsequently play the original ball, then you have played the wrong ball and must be penalized accordingly.

The penalty for a lost ball is harsh -stroke and distance. This penalty also applies to any ball that finishes out of bounds– you go back to the spot from where you played the offending shot, add one, and then play your next stroke. Once again, you need to check the definitions for clarification of hairline decisions on the out-of-bounds rules. When you consider that you can hit a ball 250 yards and have it come to rest one inch out of bounds, it is not surprising that the stroke-and-distance penalty is thought of as harsh. Unfortunately no one this century has possessed the genius or know-how to come up with a more equitable alternative.

If you consider that your ball may be lost (not in a water hazard, though) or out of bounds, you may play a provisional ball to save time. Before you play the stroke, you must inform your playing partner or opponent of your intentions. A grunt or a succession of expletives will not suffice. If you do not announce your intention, the ball that you meant to be merely a provisional suddenly becomes the ball in play. It makes no difference if you subsequently find your original. The moral? Always speak up. You may continue to play with your provisional ball until you reach the point where your original ball is likely to be. If you play a shot with the provisional ball beyond that point, then that becomes the bail in play (see point 3 above).

If you find your original ball, then provided it is not out of bounds or in a water hazard, you must abandon the provisional ball. Even if your original is unplayable and the provisional is sitting invitingly in the middle of the fairway, you do not have the option to ignore your original ball.


Ball unplayable

The term unplayable lie can be used to describe any one of a number of undesirable situations that might occur anywhere on the course, except in or touching a water hazard. The first point to bear in mind is that you. and you alone, are the sole judge as to whether your ball is unplayable. If you do come to the conclusion that a penalty drop is preferable to a violent swing with your sand wedge, then here are the relief options open to you, each one carrying a one-shot penalty.

1 Walk back, keeping the point where the ball lies and the hole in a straight line, and drop your ball at a point on that line. There is no limit to how far back you can go under this option.

2 Drop your ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lies, but no nearer the hole.

3 Play your ball as near as possible from the spot where the original ball was last played. This may mean going back to the tee.

You cannot declare your ball unplayable in a water hazard. You can declare your ball unplayable in a bunker, although the procedures vary slightly. The three relief options described above still apply, but if you choose option 1 or 2, the bail must be dropped in the bunker.

If you drop from an unplayable lie and your ball rolls into another unplayable lie, you do not get a second free chance. The dropped ball is now the ball in play, and if you can’t get the club at it, that’s too bad; you have to drop again under penalty of yet another stroke. So don’t be too hasty to drop any ball. The moral? Before you do anything, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing That might just be the perfect slogan to accompany the Rules of Golf.