ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT and talked-about changes in the new Rules of Golf for 2019 was the introduction of an alternative to stroke and distance for a ball that is lost or out of bounds. Before we go any further on this topic however,
let’s first clarify that stroke and distance is still the default in the Rules
of Golf. The alternative relief procedure is only available when the golf
course or the Committee running a competition has decided to put the
optional Local Rule into effect. Before using it, you should verify with
the person in charge of the golf course (often the pro) or the competition as to whether or not it is in effect.
Now that you have verified that this Local Rule is in effect, let’s take a
look at how it actually works.
How the Local Rule Works
The text of the Local Rule (along with helpful diagrams) can be found
in the Committee Procedures section of the Official Guide to the Rules
of Golf book. Within Committee Procedures, navigate to Section 8E and
then locate Model Local Rule E- 5. In addition to the book, all of the Official
Guide content can be accessed for free in the USGA Rules of Golf
mobile app (available in the iOS and Android app stores) or at www.
usga.org/RulesOfGolf. There is also a resource page dedicated to this
Local Rule, which can be accessed at www.usga.org/StrokeAndDistance.
Now, let’s pretend that you just lost your tee shot, or hit it out of
bounds. You can take relief under the Local Rule for two penalty
strokes, which means that you will be playing your fourth shot after
taking your drop. This might at first seem like a harsh penalty, but is
actually comparable to what you could have achieved if you went back
to play under stroke and distance. To take relief, your first steps are to
identify your ball and fairway reference points.
• Ball Reference Point: For a lost ball, this is the estimated spot where
your ball came to rest on the course. For a ball that went out of
bounds, it is the estimated spot where it crossed the out of bounds line.
• Fairway Reference Point: The nearest spot on the fairway of the
hole you are playing that is the same distance from the hole as the
ball reference point, or farther (if there is no equidistant fairway
From the fairway reference point, you can then measure two club-lengths further into the fairway. Within this two club-length area on
the edge of the fairway is where you will drop your ball most of the
time. However, your relief area where you are allowed to drop is actually
much larger. Imagine one straight line starting at the hole and running
through the ball reference point, and then a second straight line starting at the hole and running through the fairway reference point. Your
relief area includes anywhere between those two lines but no closer to
the hole than the ball reference point, plus an additional two club-lengths to the side of each of those two lines. See the shaded areas in
the diagrams below for a simple visualization of your relief area.
Some items to note relating to how this Local Rule works:
• If your ball is lost in a penalty area, you must proceed under the
penalty area relief options.
• If you played a provisional ball, you can no longer use the relief
option provided under this Local Rule.
• If there is no fairway reference point equidistant from the ball ref-
erence point, you can use the nearest point that is farther from the
hole. The term “fairway” can include a tee box or a path through the
rough cut to fairway height or less.
Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Ball Lost or Out of Bounds
THE R u l e s O F G o l f By Jamie Wallace