In Depth: do you know when to drop or place?

IT may only seem like a minor offence, but knowing when to drop or place your golf ball can have serious consequences.

IT is important that golfers know when to place and when to drop their ball under the Rules.

If a ball is dropped when it should have been placed, or placed when it should have been dropped and a stroke is then made, there is a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play (Decision 20-6/1).

However, there is no penalty if the player corrects their mistake before making a stroke.

When a Rule permits the lifting of a ball at rest and requires that it must subsequently be replaced at the same spot, it must be marked before it is lifted, so as to ensure the accuracy of its replacement (Rule 20-1).

Examples include lifting a ball from the putting green to clean or align it, lifting a ball to identify it and lifting a ball because it assists or interferes with another player’s play.

Also, a Local Rule for ‘Preferred Lies’ may require that a ball has to be marked before lifting, even though it is not going to be replaced at the same spot, so as to provide an accurate reference point for the permitted area in which the ball must be placed (e.g. within the width of a score card, or 6”).

In other circumstances, the ball has to be placed where it was before it was moved, e.g. when it was accidentally moved during search for it, or as a result of a practice swing, both of which incur a penalty stroke.



Or if it was moved whilst moving a movable obstruction, or in the act of measuring, offences which do not incur any penalty.

Note that if it is impossible to determine the spot where a ball should be placed or replaced, such as when another competitor plays the ball thinking that it was theirs, the ball must be dropped (or on the putting green placed) as near as possible to where it was estimated the ball was at rest (Rule 20-3c).

If a player has deemed their ball unplayable, or is taking relief from a water hazard, they must drop their ball back into play under penalty of one stroke, unless they are playing under penalty of stroke and distance from the teeing ground, when they may tee their ball.

A player must also drop a ball when taking relief, without penalty, from an immovable obstruction, an abnormal ground condition or in taking relief when their ball is embedded in its own pitch-mark in a closely mown area.

In any of the examples in this paragraph it is not mandatory for players to mark the position of their ball before lifting it, though I recommended that they do so, especially if they intend taking full advantage of the area of relief.

This is to clearly demonstrate to their fellow competitors or opponents that they have dropped within the permitted area.

In most cases a ball must be placed on a putting green, not dropped, but there are rare exceptions where this is not the case and the ball has to be dropped.

I won’t going into detail on these, but for those of you that take an interest in such matters, click here to link to a blog of mine on the subject.

Photo: Justin Falconer


15 Barry Rhodes & Claret Jug

Barry is the author of ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf' (including the January 2016 changes), and '999 More Questions on the Rules of Golf (newly published in January 2016).

He believes that these books provide the easiest and most enjoyable way to absorb and understand the Rules. Barry is an enthusiastic, high handicap golfer, resident in Dublin, Ireland, who developed an interest, then a fascination, and now an obsession with the Rules of Golf.

Barry’s relationship with the Rules began in 2000 with his participation in the inter-club Rules of Golf quiz competitions, organised by the Royal & Ancient for Golf Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland.

This then led to him writing articles, running quizzes, and delivering presentations on the Rules at a variety of golf clubs and corporate functions.

In March 2008, Barry became the first person to achieve a 100% correct mark on the public Advanced Rules of Golf Course examination, run by the PGA in their headquarters at The Belfry, West Midlands, UK, and in April 2015, Barry received a ‘Pass with Distinction’ in the R&A’s Level 3, Tournament Administrators and Referees School examination, the highest certification awarded.


Barry is author of the eBook, ‘999 Updated Questions on the Rules of Golf 2016’. To purchase the eBook, click here.

He writes a weekly web blog, containing interesting content for anyone who wishes to improve their knowledge and understanding of the Rules of Golf. To visit the blog, click here.



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