TPWGC Mary's Rules Corner

When the rules of golf are your friend rather than a burden.

Sometimes it seems the Rules of Golf are a burden….a little bad luck, an innocent mistake and BAM! You’re stuck taking one or two penalty strokes.

But what’s important is that the more you know about the Rules of Golf, the more they can HELP you get out of jam. The Rules can sometimes be your best friend!

The key factor is to know your options.

When I’m officiating at a golf event and a player asks for help, I often ask the question “Do you want me to go over all your options under the Rules?” Most experienced players know they need to answer yes, as I’ve clearly come up with a rules option that I think is more advantageous, and by listening to all options, they have the best chance of selecting the best one.

Here are several examples:

Stroke and distance

Rule 18.1 tells us that at any time, a player may take stroke and distance relief by adding one penalty stroke from where the previous stroke was made.

It seems like the equivalent of a two stroke penalty, because you lose the distance you gained on the stroke plus you have to add a penalty stroke. But where might S&D help you?

TPWGC Stoke and Distance
Credit: Lulu Bee Marketing and Design

1) You play a shot from the fairway, but your ball hits a boulder and bounces directly backwards 100 yards into the canyon, considered a red penalty area at Torrey Pines. If you can’t play your ball as it lies in the canyon, your best relief option might be to take stroke and distance and play again from the fairway. Because your ball flew backward, you DON’T lose any distance, and you get to drop a ball in the fairway to take relief. Totally legal under the rules.


2) You miss a short putt on a green with a steep slope, and your ball runs 60 yards off the edge of the green and down a slope. You can take Stroke and Distance, and play that short putt again for the low, low price of one penalty stroke, versus hoping to get up and down from its new position well off the green.

Unplayable Lies in a Bunker

I often see fellow players try to make an impossible shot  in a bunker rather than consider all their Unplayable options. If you have a “fried egg lie” up against the lip of a steep bunker wall, or you’re nestled near the very back edge of a bunker with little chance of making a good stroke, your best bet may be to consider ALL your Unplayable options under Rule 19.3.

Diagram 19.3 in the Rule of Golf identifies your 4 options:

You have two options that allow you to play a stroke from outside the bunker:

• For ONE penalty stroke, you can play a ball under Stroke and Distance and go back to where you hit your prior stroke.
• For TWO penalty strokes you can drop outside the bunker taking back-on-the line relief from the flagstick through where your ball lies in the bunker. 

If you prefer to drop inside the bunker, you have two options with a ONE stroke penalty

• within two-clubs lengths of the ball, no nearer the hole
• or back on a line between the flagstick and the ball, with no limit how far back you go, as long as you stay in the bunker.

USGA Diagram 19.3 unplayable lies in a bunker
Credit: USGA

So just think….if you got into the bunker by chunking a shot from just behind the bunker, you can get out of that bunker and replay the stroke (without losing much distance) for just one penalty stroke.


Wow! Two options to get out of the bunker without attempting this impossible stroke! You have to think about all those options before you play, but if you’re a poor bunker player like I am, think carefully about all the times you’ve made 3 or 4 shots trying to get out of a bunker, and be smart to pick the best option for your level of play.

Taking relief from an Abnormal Course Condition

Graphic Explaining Relief from sprinkler in the rough
Credit: Lulu Bee Marketing and Design

Abnormal Course Conditions are things like Immoveable Obstructions (cart paths and sprinkler heads), animal holes, ground under repair, and temporary water (what we used to call casual water).

Interference from these conditions pop up frequently during our rounds, and I see players go into robot mode of “finding the nearest point of relief” and “dropping within one club-length, no closer to the hole”. People move through this so fast they don’t consider all the possible locations this relief option may allow.

For example…if you’re taking relief from a cart path or sprinkler head that is in the rough, and your one-club-length relief area (using your driver) will get you to the fairway, the Rules allow you to drop there.  Both rough and fairway are part of the General Area, and the Rules allow you to drop in either if they’re in your relief area.

Similarly, if you’re taking relief from a ball lying in an animal hole directly behind the base of a tree, you may be able to find a spot in your one club-length relief area that gets you out from behind the tree,  and that’s your good luck!


By knowing the Rules, you will find that many times there are rules options that will help your game and save you strokes.

Here are some links for great info on the Rules of Golf: USGA and SCGA Rules Hub.
In addition, you can download the USGA Rules of Golf app, for free!

One quick warning: When you give people information on the Rules, you are not giving advice. A list of options is not advice. But suggesting to another player that they SHOULD select a certain option is giving advice which is not allowed under the rules.

Many thanks to our member Bette Lackovic for suggesting this month’s Rules Corner topic!

Be like Bette, and send me your suggestions for future Rules Corner articles, I would love to hear from you!!