A ball is only dropped when there is intent for it to be in play. So can you have a sneaky practice and claim you didn’t mean it? Steve Carroll explains

Did you know when you drop a golf ball there needs to be the intent for it to be in play?

The definition of drop says if you let go of a ball, and you don’t mean it, it has not been dropped and it is not in play.

Common sense, if you think about it, and covers the rare times a ball might accidentally slip or fall out of your hands into a relief area. The rules, in this case, aren’t going to punish you for being clumsy. If there was no intent, pick it up and drop again.

This also applies, under Rule 14.4, for a ball that’s replaced or placed on the course. The ball is in play only when there is the intent for it to be play.

Some of you may already be thinking ahead – of the scurrilous things golfers could try while claiming no intent on their part.

Firstly, shame on you. But, secondly, the rules makers are one step ahead and they tackle a specific, and genius, example in a clarification to Rule 14.4.

Say you were taking relief from a path. You’d scouted out the relief area and figured out your ball might end up in a bush in the relief area.

Remember, a relief area includes everything within it. If you drop from knee height and it comes to rest in a bad lie in that relief area, bad luck. It’s in play. You can’t drop again.

So before you pick up your ball and commit to taking relief, make sure you look at where your nearest point of complete relief is and what’s in that one or two club relief area. You may be better off playing it as it lies.

Anyway, back to the example. What if you fancied having a practice run, dropping the ball in one part of the relief area to see if it ends up in the bush and then citing that you didn’t intend to put the ball into play?

The laws of the game will come down on you like a ton of bricks. The clarification we’ve cited – called Test Drops are Not Allowed – says the dropping procedure is meant to create an “element of uncertainty when taking relief under a Rule”.

It adds: “It is not in the spirit of the game to test how a dropped ball will react.”

They say the committee would be justified in disqualifying you for serious misconduct under Rule 1.2a.

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.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

What’s the weirdest drop you’ve seen on the golf course? Did it involve an original ball, did it affect where the ball must come to rest, and was it in a golf tournament? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

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