It’s a fate that befalls all golfers. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new, Rory McIlroy, or Lydia Ko – at some stage you’re going to hit one off the planet and outside of the course boundaries.
So when it happens to you, how do the Rules of Golf say you should handle it? Let’s open our books to Rule 18 and dive in…
Rules of Golf: Out of bounds rule
What is out of bounds?
All areas outside the boundary edge of the course. That was easy, wasn’t it? Right, does out of bounds extend both above and below the ground?
It does, and that means that – according to the definition of Out of Bounds – “all ground and anything else (such as any natural or artificial object) inside the boundary edge is in bounds”. That applies whether it’s on, above, or below the surface of the ground.
What if an object – let’s say a tree – is both inside and outside the boundary edge? Perhaps the trunk is outside, but the branches extend into the course boundary. The definition says that it’s only the part of the object that is outside the edge that is out of bounds.
How do I know where there is a boundary edge?
It’s usually defined either by objects, like a fence, white stakes, or by a painted white line. It’s important you understand the distinction between the latter two, in particular, because it makes a difference when we consider the next question, which is…
When is a ball out of bounds?
It’s when all of the ball at rest is outside the boundary edge of the course. A ball is in bounds when any part of it, “lies on or touches the ground or anything else inside the boundary edge, or is above the boundary edge or any other part of the course”.
Now let’s look at how that applies when there are boundary stakes or a painted white line signifying the course boundary.
For the former, the boundary edge is “defined by the line between the course-side points of the stakes at ground level”. The stakes, themselves, are out of bounds.
So, to break that down, if part of the ball is course side of the stakes, the ball is in bounds. If the ball touches the stakes, or no part of it is on the course side, the ball is out of bounds.
If those stakes are paced out, and you’re not sure whether your ball is in or out, you need to measure a line from one stake to the next. As a referee, I carry around a ball of string to do just that!
When there is a painted line, the boundary edge is the course side edge of the line. If any part of the ball – even if it’s a tiny sliver – is course side, it is in bounds. A ball that is on the line itself, or which is beyond the course side edge, is out of bounds.
And, yes, you can stand out of bounds to play a ball that is on the course.
My ball is out of bounds – what now?
You have to take stroke-and-distance relief. You have no other option. Add one penalty stroke to your score and go back to where you played your previous stroke from.
What if you’re unsure whether your ball is out of bounds?
If your ball might be out of bounds, you can announce you’re going to play a provisional. But if you know it is beyond the course boundaries, that original is no longer in play.
Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?
Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.
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Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?