The stroke-and-distance penalty imposed by Rule 27 is quite straightforward:if your ball is lost anywhere other than in a hazard, or is out of bounds, you must play another ball as nearly as possible from the spot from which the original ball was played, and add a penalty stroke. It is an unforgiving rule, in effect equating to a two-stroke penalty for wayward shots.
It is also probably the most violated rule in golf. We’ve all been there. You hit your tee shot into a problem area, but hope springs eternal. Surely you’ll find it. When you don’t, are you likely to walk back to the tee and hit again, particularly on a busy Saturday morning with groups backed up behind you? Most likely, you’ll drop a ball at the edge of the woods, take a penalty stroke, and move on. Practical, perhaps, but not permissible.
The appropriate course of action is to play a provisional ball if there’s a chance your ball is lost or out of bounds. You must declare that you’re playing a provisional, or you’ll be considered to have put a new ball in play under the stroke-and-distance rule. You may continue to play your provisional ball up to the point on the course where your original ball was likely to have been lost or crossed the boundary line, and still retain the option of playing your original ball if you find it in bounds.
Your ball is deemed to be lost if you do not find it within five minutes. Course boundaries generally are demarcated by white stakes or lines, although fences and walls often mark boundaries. (Consult local rules.) Be aware that some courses contain “internal” out of bounds markers between holes. A ball is out of bounds if it lies completely outside the boundary line.
Rule 27 does not apply if your ball is lost in a water hazard; you must apply the water hazard rules (Rule 26), which provide several relief options at the cost of a penalty stroke. However, these rules apply only if it is “known or virtually certain” that your ball was lost in a hazard. Keep in mind that many courses contain red stakes (which denote lateral water hazards) along the periphery of holes adjoining severe terrain, even where there is no body of water. If your ball crosses the line marked by ed stakes and is lost, you mayinvoke the lateral water hazard rule and drop within two club lengths of the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard. If your ball crosses into the woods beyond the last red stake, the stroke-and-distance rule applies.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. He is a co-author of “Mastering Golf ’s Toughest Shots,” which explains how the rules may be used to the golfer’s advantage in problem situations.