Rules Column: Russ Wing

If your ball is near the OB stakes, is it our or in?

At one of this year’s WIAA State Golf Championships, I had a discussion with a couple of players about whether a ball was in bounds or out of bounds. So I thought it might be worthwhile to review that topic.

Most of the time whether a ball is in bounds or out of bounds is pretty clear cut – i.e., it’s either in or out by a clear margin. But every once in a while, it can be close. And that’s when you need to know the details of how OB is defined.

The exhibit accompanying this article is borrowed from Rule 18 of the Rules of Golf. It shows the two ways that OB is generally defined, by stakes or a line, and then for each definition, it shows where the actual OB line is, and when a ball is OB and when it is in bounds.

I think the most widely held misconception about OB is how it is defined. When OB is defined by stakes, by far the most common way OB is defined, the actual OB line is defined by the inside edge of the stakes at ground level, so that the stakes themselves are OB. When OB is defined by a line, the actual OB line is the inside edge of the line, so that the line itself is OB. And in either case, a ball is OB only when all of it is OB.

When a ball is really close to the OB line, it may be necessary to use a string to decide if a ball is OB. Rules Officials generally carry a string of sufficient length to reach between adjoining OB stakes for this purpose. Complicating factors can be trees and shrubs that have grown to the point that they prevent a string from being drawn tight between adjoining stakes and/or prevent clear sight lines.

If you hit a ball close to an OB line, please hit a provisional ball. It can be a great time saver. During the recent WIAA State Championship that I worked, I ended up driving several players back to the tee for a ball that was either lost or OB. So please hit a provisional ball if appropriate.

Get to know the new Rules of Golf. You’ll be glad you did, and sorry if you don’t.