May a Committee Adopt a Local Rule for Free-relief for a Lost Ball in Standing Water or Under Fallen Leaves?

May a Committee Adopt a Local Rule for Free-relief for a Lost Ball in Standing Water or Under Fallen Leaves?

With the weather conditions that many golfers are experiencing at the moment there are some playing conditions that make a round of golf not only difficult but not that enjoyable to play.

The most frustrating thing is having played a reasonable shot, knowing where your ball has landed only to then be faced with the fact that you cannot find your ball.

Because you do not consider it is your fault you feel that under the circumstances you should not be penalised but be allowed some form of relief.

I received a request along these lines to consider if a local rule could be adopted allowing free relief.

‘Do you consider that a temporary local rule should be put in place when the following situations arise: During the winter months, especially late November and December, my golf Course suffers badly from a lot of standing water and fallen leaves. Very often a player’s ball, invariably from a tee shot, becomes imbedded in soft ground and will be lost, or becomes lost under a carpet of leaves. The new three-minute rule of course does not help the searching in these situations. Very often the player feels hard done by because the lost ball is none of his making, but due to the abnormal conditions. Also, because it is winter, the walk back to where the original shot was played, is not a high priority when playing stableford. Therefore, do you consider that a temporary local rule is warranted allowing a free-drop in the area where the ball is considered lost, with of course full agreement of the other players?’

Golf is an outside sport and so subject to many and varied playing conditions especially those created by nature, which many players accept as being part of the challenge of playing different courses at different times of the year along with the frustration that the conditions bring.

A Committee does have the freedom, within reason, to adopt its own local rules so long as it does not change a Rule of Golf or reduce a penalty that would be imposed by a Rule of Golf and if thinking of adopting a Local Rule, it will have to decide on what status a golf round will have; will it be a Qualifying Round or one for General Play only?

The reason for this is because of the impact that a Local Rule can have on the status of a Round of Golf.

A Committee will also have to ensure that all players know as and when the Local Rule is in operation.

In considering the question I will divide it into two parts:

  1. Problem with Standing-water
  2. The problem with Fallen Leaves


  1. Standing-water

When you go out to play a game of golf it is understood that you accept the central principles of the game stated in Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Golf and:

  • Play the course as you find it and the ball as it lies
  • Play by the Rules and in the Spirit of the Game
  • You are responsible for applying your own penalties if you breach a Rule, so that you do not gain any potential advantage over your fellow players or opponents

The Rule, however, does provide for exceptions where the Rules allow you to alter conditions on the course and require or allow you to play the ball from a different place from where it lies.

One such circumstance is Interference from Abnormal Course Conditions, which the R&A and USGA do not regard as part of the challenge of playing the course and free-relief may generally be allowed, except in a Penalty Area.

The Standing-water (known now as Temporary Water) is accepted as an Abnormal Course Condition and so Free-relief may be obtained from it.

An important point, especially in this case, is that you may get Free-relief for a Ball that is not found but is in the Temporary Water.

This is covered by Rule 16.1e. and the Rule applies in both Qualifying Rounds and General Play.

The only proviso is that you must ‘Know or be Virtually Certain’ that your ball came to rest in the Temporary Water; if that is the case then you may take Free Relief using an estimated point where you think your ball came to rest in the Temporary Water and use this relief instead of Stroke and Distance.

So, no real need to adopt a Local Rule for these situations.

  1. Fallen Leaves

Now these are a different problem because the R&A and USGA do not regard them as Abnormal Course Conditions, and so no Free Relief can be obtained from them in Qualifying Competitions.

Rule 18.2 provides advice on dealing with Lost Balls in these circumstances and if you have not played a provisional ball, in the expectation that your ball may be difficult to find or indeed be lost, then you have no alternative than to go back and play another ball under Stroke and Distance.

Unfortunately, you may not adopt a Local Rule to give relief from the fallen leaves, especially one that would reduce a penalty that would normally be incurred.

This is dealt with under Committee Procedures 8L – Unauthorised Local Rules:

  • A Committee does not have the authority to adopt rules to fit particular needs of a course or competition and any Local Rule must be consistent with policies established din Section 8, Model Local Rules.
  • If a Committee authorises players to play under Local Rules that differ from the Rules of Golf, the player may not post her/his score for handicap purposes and their round will be considered to be one of General Play

However, if your game is one of general play only and you lose your ball under fallen leaves, or anything else, or is Out of Bounds, and YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED A PROVISIONAL BALL, then your Committee could adopt an Alternative Rule to the Stroke and Distance as a Local Rule, intended to help with Pace of Play.

This is covered by Committee Procedures Model Local Rule – 8E – Special or Required Relief Procedures

E-5 Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Lost Ball or Ball Out of Bounds

Purpose. When a provisional ball has not been played, significant issues with pace of play can result for a player needing to take stroke-and-distance relief for a ball that is out of bounds or cannot be found. The purpose of this Local Rule is to allow a Committee to provide an extra relief option that allows a player to play on without returning to the location of the previous stroke.

The Local Rule is appropriate for general play where golfers are playing casual rounds or playing their own competitions. The Local Rule is not appropriate for competitions limited to highly skilled players (that is, professional competitions and elite amateur competitions). For guidance on when and how this Local Rule may be used in order for scores to be submitted for handicapping purposes, consult the rules or recommendations contained within the Handicap System operating in the local jurisdiction.

Where a Committee has introduced such a Local Rule for general play, and removes it for competitions, it should ensure that all players are aware of this before play begins.

A Committee may introduce such a Local Rule for all play on the course or only for one or two specific holes where it may be especially useful (for example, where players are unable to see the landing area and therefore may not know whether or not to play a provisional ball).

This option allows the player to drop in a large area between the point where the ball is estimated to have come to rest or gone out of bounds and the edge of the fairway of the hole being played that is not nearer the hole.

The player gets two penalty strokes when using this relief option. This means that the relief is comparable to what could have been achieved if the player had taken stroke-and-distance relief.

This Local Rule cannot be used for an unplayable ball, or for a ball that is known or virtually certain to be in a penalty area.

If a provisional ball is played and neither the original ball nor the provisional ball can be found, then the Local Rule may be applied for the provisional ball that cannot be found.

Model Local Rule E-5

“When a player’s ball has not been found or is known or virtually certain to be out of bounds, the player may proceed as follows rather than proceeding under stroke and distance.

For two penalty strokes, the player may take relief by dropping the original ball or another ball in this relief area (see Rule 14.3):

Two Estimated Reference Points:

(a). Ball Reference Point: The point where the original ball is estimated to have:

  • Come to rest on the course, or
  • Last crossed the edge of the courseboundary to go out of bounds.

(b). Fairway Reference Point: The point of fairway of the hole being played that is nearest to the ball reference point, but is not nearer the hole than the ball reference point.

For purposes of this Local Rule, “fairway” means any area of grass in the general area that is cut to fairway height or less.

If a ball is estimated to be lost on the course or last crossed the edge of the course boundary short of the fairway, the fairway reference point may be a grass path or a teeing ground for the hole being played cut to fairway height or less.

Size of Relief Area Based on Reference Points: Anywhere between:

  • A line from the holethrough the ball reference point (and within two club-lengths to the outside of that line), and
  • A line from the holethrough the fairway reference point (and within two club-lengths to the fairway side of that line).

But with these limits:

Limits on Location of Relief Area:

  • Must be in the general area, and
  • Must not be nearer the holethan the ball reference point.

Once the player puts a ball in play under this Local Rule:

  • The original ball that was lostor out of bounds is no longer in play and must not be played.
  • This is true even if the ball is found on the coursebefore the end of the three-minute search time (see Rule 6.3b).

But the player may not use this option to take relief for the original ball when:

  • That ball is known or virtually certainto have come to rest in a penalty area, or
  • The player has played another ball provisionally under penalty of stroke and distance(see Rule 18.3).

A player may use this option to take relief for a provisional ball that has not been found or is known or virtually certain to be out of bounds.

Penalty for Playing Ball from a Wrong Place in Breach of Local Rule: General Penalty Under Rule 14.7a.

Ball Not Found
Ball Not Found


Ball out of Bounds
Ball out of Bounds


Ball Not Found or Out of Bounds Close to Green
Ball Not Found or Out of Bounds Close to Green


As a personal comment, but something my Golf Club has done recently, if the problem is a perpetual problem, then the Club should try to address the problem of the Standing Water by improving drainage in the affected areas and with fallen leaves clear them on a regular basis, even by just using a leaf-blower or more sophisticated Leaf Collection Equipment.

Committees and Clubs should be mindful of creating courses where players can enjoy a reasonable round of golf under all conditions.

Still, enjoy your golf


New Local Rule available as of April 2019: Back-on-the-line Relief

Would you believe it, another Rule Change?

As of April 2019, the R&A and USGA have issued a new ‘Rules Clarification’ making a new Local Rule available to all Golf Clubs.

The Local Rule relates to the ‘back-on-the-line’ relief option available under Rule of Golf –  17 (Penalty Area) and Rule of Golf – 19 (Unplayable Ball).

The Rules of Golf state that you must drop within one club-length of the line, which can be done in one of two ways:

1. a) Find a spot on the line, mark it (e.g. with a tee) and drop a ball within one club-length of that spot, not nearer the hole. (This is the recommended procedure).
1. b) Drop a ball on the line, or within one club-length of the line (i.e. without marking a spot).

How you find the relief area (i.e. the area in which the ball must land and must remain) depends on which of the two above procedures, you have used:

Procedure a): The relief area is one club-length from the marked spot on the line, not nearer the hole.

Procedure b): The relief area is one club-length from, and not nearer the hole than, the spot on the line, which is in the same distance from the hole as the spot, where the ball landed in the drop. This way seems a bit complicated – but may be to ensure that the ball is never dropped more than one club-length from the line!

If you play your ball from outside this relief area, you play from a wrong place (Rule 14.7), which will cost you two penalty strokes in Stroke Play and Loss of  hole in Match Play.

The New Local Rule.
The new Local Rule states, that there is no penalty for playing from a wrong place, as long as the ball, dropped  inside the correct relief area, does not end up, and is not played from, a spot more than one club-length from the spot where it landed in the relief area.

Note:  1. This remains true even if the ball rolls nearer to the hole! and

  2.  This Local Rule only applies to Back-on-the-line Relief and not Stroke-and-distance or other relief situations!

The complete wording of the Local Rule is this:

When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.

I personally do not understand why the principle that you must not play your ball from outside the relief area is being departed from, nor why it should only apply to Back-on-the-line relief and am not sure as to whether I could recommend its adoption, firstly because I think a Golf Club should have as few Local Rules as possible, secondly because the Local Rule as it stands is  difficult to understand and apply and goes against the premise that the R&A and USGA were  going to make the Rules of Golf easier to understand and apply and thirdly the R&A and USGA have not made it clear as to why this Local Rule has been made available and then only under the Back-on-the-line relief option, and not also under the ‘stroke-and-distance’ or under the lateral-relief option.

May it be to ensure that players dropping on a line without marking a reference point, something I see frequently, play their ball within a one club-length area and not be penalised for playing from a wrong place.

I am not sure and neither are the R&A nor the USGA seem to want to explain their decision.

You can download a copy of the Rules of Golf Clarifications, Updated 23 April 2019 by clicking on the button below.

[Download not found]

If you have any thoughts on this Local Rule, please let me know.


Enjoy your weekend golf,



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