Making the lost ball rule clearer and less complicated will make it easier for golfers
to understand and speed up play. BY KEN MOODIE AND DAVID WILLIAMS
The game of golf is long overdue for a major overhaul of its
governing rules, a situation the R&A and the USGA recognized
in their recently published draft amendments to the current rules.
While the proposals aimed at speeding up play and simplifying
the rules are welcome, we believe they do not go far enough.
The golfing bodies indicated that they might be open to
altering the stroke-and-distance rule for a lost ball and asked
for an innovative solution. Our response to
their challenge is a more radical approach that
we believe would be much easier for golfers to
understand and would allow them to apply the
A couple of years ago, we approached the
R&A to propose a rule change that would
allow golfers to use ball-finding devices in
competition. The goal was to enable golfers to
find their golf balls quickly, speeding up play
and getting rid of a frustrating element of the
Finding a ball in deep rough within the
allotted time requires good eyesight (to spot
where the ball landed at distance) and a fair
amount of luck. Our proposal to allow ball-finding devices did not make it into the draft
revision of the rules. It did have one weakness,
which we recognized: When a ball is lost, it’s
often lost in an unplayable area of the course,
such as deep rough, where dropping another
within two club lengths is futile.
Giving golfers the option to drop a ball back
on the extended line of play could take players
into deeper trouble, so the only option left is
returning to the place from which the original
shot was played, a time-wasting step.
We propose that a ball lost in deep vegetation result in the
same penalty as one ending up in a lateral water hazard. That
speeds up play and makes the game more enjoyable.
While we still think ball-finding devices should allowed, we
believe that this change should ideally be coupled with a more
radical shakeup of the rules to overcome the problem of the lost
ball and to reduce the complexity of the rules by combining a
number of disparate ones.
For situations where a ball has become unplayable when it is
lost, either out of bounds, in a water hazard (both normal and
lateral) or in an area of deep rough, dense shrubs or woodland,
we propose that the golfer have three options available. With
a one-stroke penalty, the player can choose to do one of the
•;Drop a ball within two club lengths of where the ball
became lost or unplayable, but no nearer the hole.
•;Drop a ball where it crossed the margin of the area the
player defines as unplayable.
•;Return to the spot where the player hit the original shot
and play another ball.
By taking the line of the shot back toward the place where the
original shot was played, rather than as an extension of the line
for the following shot, a player is more likely to find a playable lie
on which to drop a ball and is less likely to interfere with golfers
playing on an adjacent hole. It would also be easier for a golfer
to judge the line and distance of the subsequent shot, since he or
she should still be on the same hole and require a shorter detour
to play the next shot, which speeds up play.
Some might argue that the proposed rule reduces the penalty
for both a lost ball and an out-of-bounds shot. Given the fact that
professional golfers in tournaments rarely lose a golf ball because
of the assistance they receive from other players, caddies and
spectators, there is already an uneven playing field.
In singles match-play events, a golfer may not be able to count
on his opponent to help him search for a lost ball and in stroke
play, one golfing group may offer more help than another. The
R&A and USGA recognize the fact that many golfers in friendly
competition, particularly in the United States, already agree to
allow players in their group to drop a ball close to where they lost
it with a one- or two-stroke penalty, so the rules do not reflect
the common-sense approach taken by many. The rules need to
be changed to reflect this.
Out-of-bounds areas are less a feature of golf courses built in
recent years than of older courses, as they were once considered
sporting hazards to be integrated into courses. Increased margins
between golf holes and boundaries, due to safety concerns and
the threat of litigation, have reduced the number of balls that
go out of bounds. Where a property boundary lies close to play,
One rule: a proposed simplification
of the rules of golf