Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Make sure to put ball in play properly or pay the price

In January, we took a look at the fact that stroke and distance is sometimes the only way we can get a ball back in play; think out of bounds or lost outside a penalty area. Getting it in play properly is important. Doing it incorrectly will possibly lead to an additional general penalty (two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play) and we are trying to avoid those extra penalty situations.

The accompanying graphic from the Rules of Golf is invaluable as it outlines clearly the where and the how, both critical to avoiding further penalty. Always start with “From what part of the course was my previous stroke played?”

If it was from the tee you have choices; you can either tee it up anywhere within the teeing area, yes, anywhere, not just from precisely where you made the last stroke, or you can drop it anywhere within the teeing area. That was easy.

Your last stroke was from the general area, a bunker or a penalty area? First of all, you are going to drop it. Where? Within your relief area which is an area one club length from the spot where the previous stroke was made (that spot is called the reference point). There are two restrictions; it MUST be within the same area of the course as the reference point AND it must not be nearer the hole than the reference point. So, if the last stroke was played from a bunker? Both the reference point and the relief area MUST be in the same bunker. The same criteria must be used for applying stroke and distance to the general area and a penalty area.

Thirdly, if your last stroke was from the putting green…. you must replace it on the spot from which the previous stroke was made.

Two clarifications: you can use either your original ball or another ball AND if you are not certain of the precise spot from which your last stroke was played, your best estimate is acceptable.

In some cases, you may be putting a ball back into play closer to the hole than where your original ball came to rest. If that last statement messes with your head maybe these two scenarios will help. You have hit your tee shot with a fade that was a little more severe than you hoped. The ball bounces off a tree and lands behind you in an unplayable lie in bushes that back the teeing area. For stroke and distance, tee it up or drop another ball in the teeing area. Or as described in the January column, a putt that was three feet from the hole on a severely sloping green ends up off the green thirty feet away. For stroke and distance, replace your ball or another ball on the spot of that previous putt.

Fair warning, if you play a ball that was placed when it should have been dropped, you get the general penalty. Ouch. Check out the rest of Rule 14 which may assist you in avoiding additional penalties while you try to get your ball back in play. The videos on are always helpful!