Ball Unplayable
Last Updated: 05/23/10
Do you know what your options are for an unplayable lie?
Rule 28 of the USGA Rules of Golf tells us that the player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable. Having made this decision, you might find it interesting that there are a few options to consider, some of which may work in your favor.

A couple of months ago, I skulled a pitch shot across the 15th green, and my ball came to rest just a few inches before the course boundary fence, which interfered with the area of my intended backswing . Of course, the boundary fence defines OB, and is NOT an immovable obstruction, so no free relief. Rather than attempting a contorted swing, I opted to take an unplayable ball. Here's where it gets interesting.

I took a drop (2 clublengths, no nearer the hole) and watched my ball trickle down and stop in much the same original location near the fence. No big deal I thought, and proceeded to lift the ball and drop a second time. Lucky for me, I was playing with Jay Hays, who stopped me from my casual approach to the situation.

"You realize that's another stroke, don't you?"

WHAT?! I didn't know what he was talking about! He went on to explain that, unless I was willing to attempt to swing at it, I now had another unplayable ball. I was pretty bummed out about this news, but grateful that Jay had enlightened me. If I had carded a score without taking the penalty for a second unplayable, the additional penalty would have been even worse (Match play — Loss of hole; Stroke play — Two strokes). Too bad the dropped ball didn't continue to roll through the fence, since that would have mandated a free redrop!

While Jay and I were focused on this one option of dropping within 2 clublengths, there are actually two others that are allowed under Rule 28, one of which I would have certainly taken. My guess is that most of us wouldn't even consider this option a possibility, however it is the first one listed under the ruling.


I would have been very happy to take a stroke penalty and walk over to the spot just 20 or so yards off the green to have another unobstructed view of the pin, a level stance, tight lie, and best of all, no second unplayable ball penalty stroke!

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