The Unplayable Ball

Rule 28 explained by Grant Moir, The R&A's Director - Rules of Golf

So Grant, it’s the first Rules in Focus on the new – where should we start?

Grant Moir: It seems sensible to start with Rule 28, the one governing unplayable balls. Even the world’s best golfers use this one on a regular basis and in the league table of rulings that we produce after each Open Championship, the unplayable ball Rule always sits on top. It’s really a Rule that we should all be familiar with.

Who decides whether the ball is unplayable?

Grant Moir: You are the sole judge of whether your ball is unplayable. What might be a playable ball for Tiger Woods, may not be for the rest of us, and we can make our own determination as to whether we want to ‘have a go’ at the ball or take relief under the unplayable ball Rule. You can deem your ball unplayable anywhere on the course, except when it lies in a water hazard, where the water hazard Rule applies if you want to take relief.

If you do decide that your ball is unplayable, you have three options, and they all come with a penalty of one stroke.

1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie identifies his ball in an unplayable position.So what are the options?

Grant Moir: Option one is that you can go back to where you last played and play again from there. So, if you hit your second shot from the fairway into a large bush and decide you can’t play it, you can go back and drop a ball at the spot where you played from on the fairway, and you would then be playing your fourth shot. If your last shot was played from the teeing ground, you can play a ball from anywhere within the teeing ground, and the ball may be teed.

You can drop a ball back on a line that keeps that spot directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, using the spot where the ball lies unplayable as your reference. There is no limit to how far back on that line a ball can be dropped, so you can look for a good lie somewhere on that line or drop a ball at your favoured distance.

The third option is dropping a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay. The measurement can be made to either side of the ball or behind the ball, but the ball cannot be dropped nearer to the hole than the point where the ball lay.

Ai Miyazato drops a ball.Is there anything else that needs to be considered or borne in mind?

Grant Moir: There are a few ‘extras’, as it were, that impact upon the ruling process., If your ball is unplayable in a bunker, for example, all three options above are available, but, if you are going back on a line or using two club-lengths, the ball must be dropped in the bunker.

A ball that is dropped can roll up to two club-lengths from the spot on which it was dropped, even if this takes you off the line on which the ball was dropped or outside the two club-length area. If a dropped ball rolls nearer the hole than the unplayable spot, it has to be re-dropped.

On the down-side, it is possible that when you drop a ball under this Rule it will roll back into an unplayable lie and you might have to take another unplayable drop, incurring another penalty stroke.

On the plus-side, however, you can clean your ball when using the unplayable ball Rule, or you can substitute another ball if you wish!