You just hit a tee shot to a blind landing zone. You smashed it, right on the screws. As the ball disappeared behind the hill, it was right on your target line. Great shot, you. You make your way over the hill but your ball is nowhere to be found. You march up and down the fairway, zig-zagging between the left and right rough. After five minutes, the infuriating reality is no longer deniable. It’s lost.

It could have been a bad kick, picked up by a group on an adjacent hole, plugged, or maybe you were lying to yourself about how great your shot was in the first place.

Now what?

If you’re a rule-follower, you march back to the tee-box, add one, and re-load. Hopefully your partner will watch from the fairway, where you’ll be hitting your fourth shot assuming you find it this time. Don’t worry about the group shooting daggers at you from the tee box as you start the hole over. The “While We’re Young” campaign encouraging golfers to pick up the pace? Don’t worry about that, either.

In theory, the stroke-and-distance penalty for a lost or out-of-bounds ball is sensible. In practice, however, it’s ludicrous. During a casual round, most players aren’t willing to make the aforementioned march back to the tee. If you fall into that category, Andrew Elaimy, assistant pro at TPC Boston, offers his suggestion for an appropriate alternative to the stroke and distance dilemma.

“During everyday play, or when playing with members, I suggest playing it as a hazard with your best guess on where you think it entered,” he says. “At the clubs I’ve worked at it, if someone walked back to the tee and set the whole day back, it would be a big issue and they would definitely hear about it from someone in the professional staff.”

The proposed new rules of golf don’t provide a solution for golf’s “walk of shame.” The USGA did, however, acknowledge its shortcoming in this area, echoing Elaimy’s suggestion by offering an “Appropriate Penalty Under Any Alternate Procedure.” This, you know, ensures everybody can break the rules equally. After all, it’s a gentlemen’s game.

The entire explanation for not introducing a solution is worth a read, but the nuts and bolts of the suggested alternative are: use your best judgement on where to drop, then take your fourth shot from there. The section of the USGA’s explanation regarding an agreeable alternative states:

It was recognized that, when groups of golfers agree among themselves to use an alternative to stroke and distance, the player usually drops a ball somewhere around where the player or the group thinks the ball was lost or went out of bounds and takes a penalty of one stroke.

In reviewing the various alternatives to stroke and distance, we discussed whether there should be a penalty of one stroke or two strokes (noting that, at one point in history, the Rules applied a three-stroke penalty in stroke play, and at other times the penalty was distance-only with no added penalty stroke). While no definitive conclusions were reached, it was generally felt that any option that removed the need to return to where the previous stroke was made should carry a penalty of two strokes. This was based on the view that any alternative should seek to replicate the likely outcome of the stroke-and-distance procedure; in effect, the second penalty stroke would substitute for not requiring the player to return to make another stroke from where the previous stroke was made.

By way of example, a player who loses his or her tee shot and plays another ball from the tee into the fairway will be playing the fourth stroke from the fairway. In view of this, any alternative relief option that allows the player to proceed without returning to the tee should have the player playing the fourth stroke, which means a two-stroke penalty needs to be imposed.

Commendably, the USGA uses sound logic in both assuming that most players won’t follow this ridiculous rule, and in how to best break the rule without cheating its spirit. Nicely done.

This explanation should suffice as permission to replace the trek back to the tee box with a reasonable drop and two-stroke penalty the next time you hit that perfect tee shot that somehow vanishes off the golf course. Whether you like the rule as it is, agree with this solution, or have an alternative of your own, the USGA would like to hear your feedback and creative thoughts.

Your Reaction?
  • 373
  • LEGIT23
  • WOW10
  • LOL8
  • IDHT5
  • FLOP6
  • OB3
  • SHANK58

Previous articleTwo Simple Drills To Improve Your Hand Path
Next articleHow to change your ball flight just by moving your feet
Nick Heidelberger writes about all things related to golf, from the world's best players to the weekend warriors, although he can only relate to the latter. When he's not writing or golfing, Nick co-hosts the @AtTheTurnPod, hikes with his dogs and roots for his wife's soccer team. Twitter: @njheidelberger

44 COMMENTS

Not seeing your comment? Read our rules and regulations. Click "Report comment" to alert GolfWRX moderators to offensive or inappropriate comments.
  1. I see so many issues with this proposed alternative. But the current rule is still too penalizing. So a shot (that is otherwise dry and playable) but rolls into someone’s backyard marked with white stakes incurs stroke and distance. But if you jack a shot into the bottom of a pond, you get to drop from point of entry?

    Best solution would be for courses to line every hole with stakes. No out of bounds. If a ball is lost you get two club lengths from the point of entry. And if it’s someone’s backyard or somewhere the course doesn’t want you attempting to hit from, mark it as a mandatory drop area.

  2. I’ve never been a huge fan of lost ball or OB for that matter. You can smash a tee shot 3 bills just slightly off your intended line and either lose it or have it kick out of bounds, and somehow that is deemed a worse shot than if you swung and missed your tee shot all together.

  3. Our league course has 9 OB holes all very much in play. 2 left and 7 right. A slicer’s nightmare. And the ground is hard enough that a kick could easily roll OB when one thought it should nestle. It got ridiculous when one plays a provisional and that definitely went OB. Now a 3rd needs to be hit. And how many people carry 3 different balls or markings in their pocket? More trips to the bag to rearm themselves. The 3rd shot is a guaranteed duff 90 degrees in the opposite direction of 1 and 2. So screw the USGA. Almost 20 years ago we enacted a hazard rule of 2 club lengths/1 stroke rule from where it crossed the line and play on. Often the lie isn’t great in terms of access forward, so it still was penal, but play sped up significantly, and people were happier (I think that’s a goal of playing as rule anal people often lose sight of). These scores are not for USGA handicapping purposes so wft does it really matter?!!

  4. It’s nice that the USGA has caught up with what the general golfing public has done for the past 40 years. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone walk back to the tee during casual play. Do these guys play golf in the real world with real people or is it all 0HCP country clubbers? It’s like hearing the president being amazed at the cost of milk when he goes to the grocery store for the first time in 10 years.

    Here’s a thought for the USGA. Let’s be progressive and think ahead instead of agreeing that what’s already done is OK. You guys are without a forward thinking clue. Ugh..

  5. My friend and I had a ‘Tiger Woods Rule': the idea being that Tiger Woods basically never ever loses a ball when he is playing because 900 people are watching and finding his ball for him.

    So when he and I are playing a course and I hit one into a blind area or just an area with a few trees that is mostly open and we can’t find it…the idea that I’m supposed to follow the same “rules” as Tiger is just ridiculous to me. If there is no hazard, no OB and it’s just an area of rough with a few trees (in the midwest every course I’ve ever played on has any number of playable areas like this) then I should be able to find a ball that I hit into that area. Tiger would have found it – actually basically ANY professional would have found it – but we chose Tiger cause he was fairly wild off the tee.

    But sometimes amateurs just can’t find their ball in an area where there isn’t any reason for them not to find it. The ball takes a weird hop off a tree, it went shorter or farther than I thought, some sort of hole in the ground swallowed it up – or it’s the first time I’ve played this course and I don’t know the distances/angles just yet. I’m supposed to take two penalty strokes in that situation and/or walk back to the tee? Just because I’m NOT Tiger Woods and don’t have all kinds of people and marshals watching? That’s ridiculous to me. What’s probably happened is that it’s under a tree or a rock and I would probably take an unplayable – which is just one stroke and drop within two club lengths.

    The bottom line is that a professional golfer hits something like 6 out of 10 fairways. But some days they only hit 3. An amateur might be having a good day if they hit 3 and an all-time kind of day if they hit 6. There is a lot of searching for your golf ball is the point. I watch a LOT of golf and I honestly can’t recall a pro not being able to find his ball no matter where they hit it. Didn’t Sergio literally find his ball halfway up a tree? C’mon.

    I understand it’s a fairly fine line between saying: “It should be here and I’m not taking a penalty” and using a Judge Smails foot wedge – but the line exists and there is a difference. I can act in good faith. If I’m not playing a tourney or keeping track of my handicap…

  6. It’s not the rules that need to be fixed. Rules are not slowing down the our play on the weekends. It’s “the stupid”. We need a cure for stupid. It’s 2 people in a cart standing over 1 ball, taking 5 practice swings. Then getting in the cart and driving 40 feet across the fairway to the other ball, only to take 5 practice swings.

    It’s bringing 1 wedge to the green, deciding its the wrong club, going for your other wedge, hitting the shot, then going back to the cart for your putter.

    I’d rather play behind somebody shooting 90 with a 110 IQ, than somebody shooting 80 with an 90 IQ.

    NONE of the foursome slowing you down are following the rules. They don’t even know the rules, and they will never ever know that they have been changed.
    When you bring people out to learn golf. Don’t waste your breath teaching them the rules. Teach them to PLAY FAST. Teach them to be ready. Keep a 2nd ball in your pocket, continue your putts. STOP MARKING YOUR BALL when your lag put leaves you 1.5 feet left. Your lowering your chances of making it anyway.

    Fix the stupid.

  7. Why is hitting a ball OB worse than hitting a ball in a pond? OB should be treated as a hazard with the stipulation that the player may not attempt to play out of it (someone’s back yard) A two stroke penalty is too severe. If the player had re-teed the ball it would be likely the second shot would be in a better position than two club lengths from OB.

    • Totally agree.

      Some will say they want to make it worse, etc.

      Sometimes, I think it would be better if we all played double-bogey pickup (Original Stableford) and if you have a penalty ball, well, double-bogey it is.

  8. It doesn’t happen to professionals because they have spotters everywhere. Us amateurs are considerably worse (and not getting better according to the stats) and punished unfairly so why not treat it like a hazard and do away with the stroke and distance penalty in these circumstances? No more provisionals, a single simple rule for all circumstances and much faster play???

  9. If you are at the estimated spot. Then you should find your ball. If it’s not there then you have no idea where you hit it. Take a walk back and reload or dq. If your handing in a card and you took the liberty of thinking this is where it should have been then your a cheat!! Those who complain about the time should play nothing but stableford then you can just wipe a hole and move on and pick up after double.

    • who are you handing your card into on a casual round of golf that is semi-competitive between the people you are playing with other than the garbage can after the winner of the 5 bucks? you’ve never hit a ball that you knew was in some overseeded thick rough, and couldn’t find it? take a chill pill luke and be more coolhand….ayyy.

    • Handing in a card? HAHAHAHAHA.
      OB rule is just as stupid as the “You can not post a round if you played by yourself” rule. 99% of the people that I play with have no idea what score I posted for handicap purposes.
      The proposed rule changes are a step in the right direction but they still have a ways to go. There is a big difference between cheating and basically playing by the intended rules.

    • I play at a LOT of different courses with people from all walks of life. Out of 100 people MAYBE 2 of them have an official USGA handicap and record their scores. Even some of the private courses I’ve played only 1 in 4 record their scores. Most of us don’t take the game that seriously but love to play….

  10. I believe the worst part of the rule is that:
    a) We know are rules are stupid
    b) We suggest this rule for casual play
    c) We don’t observe casual play as official
    d) Casual play is not bifurcation; it’s just sanctioned cheating

    These new rules are a start, but they do not go far enough… I’m against any bifurcation in equipment rules, but good gravy, either clean up the rules to match the initiatives for fast, fair play, or split tournament rules officially. This rule change is half-pregnant.

  11. Frankly, I find even this rule stupid. If my ball is in the fairway under one of 10,000 leaves, another ball goes down in the closest estimated landing position. No penalty.

    If everyone agrees it *should* be in the fairway, toss one over your shoulder where it should be. Two minutes looking maximum. If you’re near a hazard, you’re in the hazard.

    This is the reverse of the “call-in” rule. If you lose a ball because no one is watching, how is it your fault? The loss of a golf ball within the “field of play” is a terrible penalty. When people say that the rules are to help a golfer, that’s nonsense.

  12. I have applied the drop + 2, hitting 4 off the tee whenever I turn out to be incorrect on where I thought my ball was (of course actually watching my ball land and taking note of a nearby tree or other object works wonders too). In a way I am hurting myself more than going back to the tee as I have assumed my second off the tee went to the same crappy place as my first. Then again – highly likely if my swing has sailed away for the day. Of course, I do not think the rule is ridiculous as one just has to hit a provisional which myself and most I play with do. Fact is, people do not want to be punished for a crappy shot … or having to hit off of hardpan … or having to make a 3-5 foot putt … or having to play a shot from the sand … or on a hilly lie …

    • Kind of an ignorant comment…obviously you have never played a course where the tee shot is to a landing area that No One can see from the tee. I have played courses in CA, MA, NC, and NH where your suggestion would require all golfers that hit a reasonable tee shot to hit a provisional (hell, some courses have red/green lights because you cannot even tell if the group ahead of you is in your way – in the fairway!) Better players can also cut the corner on doglegs which makes it impossible to see if the ball landed in the fairway (or was short…or long)…If everyone hits a provisional, now the group is looking for 8 balls – Great Idea!

    • This is stupid. The example was blind landing. That means that every blind landing needs a provisional. If that’s the case, you’re now asking everyone to load up twice.

      • Where’s the difference between a ball disappearing behind a mound aka blind landing spot and disappearing behind a bush in the rough? Answer: the confidence of the player.
        Have you ever heard of “rub of the green”? Have you ever sliced one in the woods just to see that same ball come back and ending up middle of the fairway after ricocheting from a tree? Well, sometimes you ball bounces in the water or the rough and it’s lost. Boo-hoo.
        If you can’t see your ball, hit a provisional. Easy as that. How many blind landing spots are there on any given course?

        • A course near me has four tee shots that have blind landing areas I can think of off the top of my head.

          Another one near me – depending upon your tee box and how far you hit it/the line you choose to take – has as many as five.

        • My bad, George…If you are playing Par 3 courses, executive courses, or flat resort courses then you are 100% correct. OTOH, if you are playing real golf courses with dog legs, rolling terrain, or actual elevation changes then you will have some blind tee shots. I have played in tournaments where better players try to drive the green on dogleg par 4’s and their ball ends up in green-side rough; my son routinely has to wait for the group ahead to clear the green on shorter par 4’s (which is a pain without a cart, esp since we can NOT see the green from the tee); and even I have accidentally cut the corner on doglegs and ended up with a flip wedge (although the ball can be tough to find if it isn’t in the fairway). Based on the quality of the tee shot and initial trajectory, NOT ONE person in the group has ever considered a provisional remotely justified… And yes, other than these blind landing area examples, we always hit a provisional when there is a chance the ball we hit may be lost or OOB (and we also make sure to announce that it is a provisional…)

    • If every time you can’t see your tee shot and “HIT A F$%#ING PROVISIONAL”, play would slow down to a more than it painful crawl than it often is now and you’d be b!tching more. Then factor in that people don’t often carry a second distinguish-ably different ball (or third) and then it’s trips to get another one, go through their routine, and more. Fact is over 95% of rounds of golf played are for non-USGA handicapping purposes so wtf cares if they go and drop where it disappeared. I’m thankful when they do. Saves me time and aggravation.

  13. To me, this is akin to the new rule in baseball, which allows a team to walk an opposing batter without having to pitch out. It speeds up the game, without, generally, changing the outcome.

    I have always accepted dropping 3 and hitting 4 at the same spot. It does eliminate the possibility of the the player hitting another one out of bounds, leaving him on the tee box lying 5, which everyone hates. Of course, people should hit a provisional if they even suspect a problem.

  14. This isn’t nearly as complicated as they’re making it. Playing it as a hazard and taking the drop is already a good solution for casual rounds. Golf is about more than perfect rules. I’d prefer to keep the pace of play up than be such a stickler for old rules.

    • The USGA is recommending essentially the same thing but instead of one penalty stroke, you take two, which is closer to the the penalty of stroke and distance.

      • I’ve always played OB this way, and take a one-stroke penalty for a lost ball (at least if I’m certain it was not OB or in a hazard). I don’t agree with a two-stroke penalty for a lost ball. That just seems cruel to the recreational player that has to deal with the potential of another golfer claiming his or her ball. I also don’t think it’s fair since the recreational player doesn’t get a team of ball spotters and spectators to help them locate their golf ball.

  15. Ugh. This is an example of the USGA at its worst.

    They want to solve the problem of a really stupid rule. That is great. Nobody follows stroke and distance during casual rounds, especially when its busy. Good for the USGA.

    Then they decide the best way to solve it is instead of coming up with the best solution from scratch their going to come up with the closest approximation to the stupid rule that existed before.

    If you think the rule is stupid enough that it needs to be changed why make the solution have anything to do with the previous rule? Just make the best rule possible.

    USGA: “This is a really stupid rule. We’re going to change it.”
    US: “Awesome! What’s the new rule?”
    USGA: “Well, here’s the closest we could come up with to the old, stupid rule….”

  16. Just think … in a few decades they can just stay home and watch the tube while their robot goes out onto the course and plays on their behalf … in fact, why ever leave their homes .. then again why even exist in the first place …

  17. you’ve never played where creeks and streams are common in the area have you. no reason to dam up mother nature to give you break. be a man and jump in after your round and fetch your lost balls.

LEAVE A REPLY