Unplayable Lie

Since nobody is capable of hitting every fairway and every green in regulation, you are bound to find yourself in some precarious situations from time to time.  More often than not, you are able to hit the ball back into play and proceed on your way.  But every once in a while, you’ll run into the situation where you are physically unable to swing at the ball, or the ball is lodged in such a manner that there is no possible way that you would be able to make contact with the ball and advance it in any manner.

This situation brings Rule 28 of the Rules of Golf into play, the Unplayable Ball.  What most golfers don’t understand is how to correctly proceed from this situation, and that there are three different options to proceed with.

According to the USGA Rules of Golf, under Rule 28, the player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard.  The player is the sole judge as to whether their ball is unplayable.  If the player deems his ball unplayable, he MUST, under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or

b. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or

c. Drop a ball within two club-lenths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

(View the image below for a pictorial explanation of the available procedures)


Note 1: If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, the player may proceed under Clause a, b, or c.  If he elects to proceed under clause b or c, a mall must be dropped in the bunker.

Note 2: When proceeding under this Rule, the player may lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball.

Even though at the time of the infraction, you are receiving a penalty.  Knowing the Rule and how to proceed can save you several other potential strokes.  First of all, a breach of Rule 28 is the loss of hole in match play, or two stoke penalty in stroke play.  So the lesson to be learned, know your Rules!