Rules of Golf: Unplayable Lie

A golfer drives his ball into the trees and decides to hit a provisional ball in case the first cannot be found. The first ball is eventually found within the five minutes allowed for searching but it is in such a bad lie that it is deemed unplayable by our now, slightly annoyed golfer.

If the golfer chooses to go back to the tee and rehit, can the provisional ball be used instead?

I assumed the answer, but decided to turn to the guru and get the facts straight.

Barry Rhodes at the Rules of Golf, the first person to achieve 100% on the public Advanced Rules of Golf exam informed me the provisional ball originally played cannot be used. There are only these three options available to a player who deems the ball unplayable according to Rule 28. Under the penalty of one stroke:

a. Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or
b. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or
c. Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

The provisional ball was played from the tee in case of a lost ball. As the ball was found, if the player wishes to play a ball as near as possible to where the original ball was played – another must be hit.

Of course, all of this mayhem can be avoided by hitting it straight in the first place.

7 thoughts on “Rules of Golf: Unplayable Lie

  • That very issue came up at a tournament I was watching late last year. That might be one rule they should consider changing, just to help speed up play.

  • This rule is too complicated… like a number of others in golf in our opinion. Golf needs to make this easier to attract new and young players to the game…

    Visual Golf – golf video production

  • If a golfer has hit two shots and the ball is on the green, is the correct term that the ball now “lies” two or “lays” two?

  • if a ball is hit into a hazard, lateral hazard, and comes to rest ina hole made by rabbits, can you get a free drop into the hazard? curious player

  • Anon, nope. The rules give you a free drop in any hazard except water and lateral water hazards:

    “Rule 25-1b Abnormal Ground Conditions
    Except when the ball is in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, a player may take relief from interference by an abnormal ground condition as follows…”

    • Because of an unplayable lie the golfer decides to go back the tee for relief. Can the golfer tee up the ball?


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