You just hit your golf ball out of bounds. What’s the rule?

If you had suggested I would hit four drives on one hole at the latest WGAM Tournament, I would not have believed you. How bad a golfer do you have to be to hit four drives on one hole?

It happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault! Not really. And it just goes to prove you should always carry a rule book around with you when you play in a golf tournament!—at least the abridged version.

Here’s the story.

Yesterday I played in the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts (WGAM) tournament. We were playing at Fall River CC, a club I had never played before. It threatened rain all morning. That wasn’t really a factor as the heavens didn’t open until we were almost done with our round. But it made us all a little anxious to keep play moving forward without unnecessary delays.

I was doing all right until the fifth hole when I hit my drive off to the left of the fairway heading into the low brush. I couldn’t tell if it was lost in the woods or not, so I told my partners I would play a provisional ball. Fortunately, my second drive went right up the middle of the fairway, so I was ok.

I headed for the left side of the fairway, hoping I wouldn’t find my ball, but giving the search a good faith effort. If I found my ball I would have to play it. Well I found it, but! and this is a big but!!! – it was just over the out-of-bounds line. I was pretty sure this meant I could play my provisional ball, but as I wasn’t absolutely sure, I asked for a ruling from the WGAM spotter who was on that hole. She determined that no, I could not play the out of bounds ball, nor could I play the provisional. I would have to go back to the tee box and hit a new provisional ball.

It was a little confusing and I should have questioned her, but instead I headed back to the tee box. By this time, the group behind us had already arrived. Embarrassed, I apologized for the delay and hit my third drive. And of course, with my head totally out of whack, I hit this third ball left, deep into the woods. I had to declare it lost. The ladies all said supportive things like, “Oh, that’s happened to me, too. Don’t worry about it.” But I still felt like a goof, so it was a small miracle, when I hit my fourth drive and this ball finally landed in the fairway and we could continue to play.

Needless to say the hole was a disaster and I had to put a 12 on my score card. Yikes!

But it wasn’t over yet. By the time our group reached the 15th hole, the spotter from hole 5 had double checked with the club house and realized she had made an incorrect ruling. I should have been allowed to hit my first provisional ball. She apologized and we took 4 strokes off my score card.

I was probably never going to win the tournament. Better players were out contending for their name on the trophy. But not knowing the rule and sticking up for myself made a big difference to the way I played the rest of my round. And even if I was confused, I should have played two balls and checked with the clubhouse when we were done.

So here’s to learning the rules of golf, even in an abridged version! Amazon has an illustrated version of the rules in paperback: Golf Rules Illustrated

==> Here’s the rule for dealing with a ball that has gone out of bounds: Rule 27 1 – Ball Out of Bounds – At any time, a player may, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played, i.e., proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

If a ball may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally in accordance with Rule 27-1. The player must inform his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play that he intends to play a provisional ball, and he must play it before he or his partner goes forward to search for the original ball.


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