RULE OF THE MONTH FOR JUNE 2021.  Written by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair. 

If you can’t find your ball, what are your options?

The most common situation is that you slice or hook your shot, and it heads toward the rough, or worse.  You search for 3 minutes, but can’t find it. If a ball is not found in 3 minutes, it is lost, even if it is found in 3 minutes and one second. (Definition of Lost). If your ball is lost (or out of bounds), you simply return to the place where you hit your previous shot, take a 1-stroke penalty, and hit the shot again. This is called Stroke and Distance Relief (Rule 18.2). 

You also have a second option. Our club adopted a Local Rule (Model Local Rule E-5) in 2019 that allows you to avoid walking all the way back to where you hit your previous shot. Full option relief procedures are complicated (see Model Local Rule E-5), but in general, you can play your next shot 2-club lengths no nearer the hole from the nearest point on the fairway to where you estimate the lost ball would have come to rest on the course or where the OB ball crossed into OB. The penalty is 2 strokes. Thus, it is as though you did walk back to where you hit your previous shot and then hit your next shot in the fairway. This local rule  applies to all 18er play including the Handicap, Invitational, Classic, and Championship tournaments.

Well, that was a mouthful, but, as with most Rules of Golf, there is even more to say about Stroke and Distance Relief, and for those interested, here’s a fuller explanation of Rule 18.

  1. It is important to know that you don’t have to wait for your ball to be lost or out of bounds to take Stroke and Distance Relief. You can take Stroke and Distance Relief whenever you want. For example, say you hit a terrible shot on a par 3 hole. Your ball is not lost, but it’s in an awful position. The option of Stroke and Distance is always available. 
  2. The example above assumed your ball was lost in the General Area (all parts of the Course except the Teeing Area and Putting Green of the hole you are playing, all Bunkers, and Penalty Areas). However, it is also common to lose a ball in another area of the course, most notably in a Penalty Area. If it is known or virtually certain your ball ended up in a Penalty Area (e.g., you see it cross into the penalty area), but then can’t find it, Stroke and Distance Relief (Rule 18.2b) is, of course, available to you, as always (Rule 17.1d). But, you don’t have to take it. Instead, you can follow the normal procedures for relief from Penalty Areas (Rule 17.1d). 
  3. On the Course, there are also Abnormal Course Conditions (Rule 16), of which there are four: Animal Holes, Ground Under Repair, Immovable Obstructions (e.g., a parked maintenance vehicle), and Temporary Water. If your ball is lost in one of these four Abnormal Course Conditions, as always, you have the option of taking Stroke and Distance Relief, but you may also take relief without penalty following Rule 16.1e.