How to Proceed

Golfer_on_Tee- A player is playing in a local club competition in which Model Local Rule E-5, the alternative to stroke and distance for a lost ball or ball out of bounds, is in effect. On the 3rd hole, the player hits a drive toward a penalty area with some adjacent rough and trees. Although the ball cannot be found, the player is 90% certain that the ball came to rest in the penalty area. The condition of the penalty area is such that finding the ball would be very difficult and, even if found, the ball would almost certainly not be playable. After a 3-minute search the ball is not found so which of the following statements is true?

A. The player may take penalty area relief.

B. The preamble to model Local Rule E-5 states, “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.” Since Local Rule E-5 does not apply, the player must go back to the tee and put a new ball in play.

C.  The player may estimate the point in the penalty area where the ball came to rest and, using this point, find the nearest point on the fairway edge that is not nearer the hole. The player may drop on the fairway within two club- lengths of that point no nearer the hole for a penalty of two strokes.

D. After deciding the local rule applies, the player realizes that because of tree interference, the best line of play to the green is from a low-lipped bunker that is within the drop area. The player may drop there incurring two penalty strokes.

For rules officials’ knowledge is power and it’s impossible to provide a ruling without an understanding of the definitions listed in the rule book. These definitions, 74 in total, will often give you the needed knowledge to make a quick and correct ruling.  

To answer this week’s question, we must first understand the definition of Known or Virtually Certain and how Modern Local Rule E-5 is applied when available.

Known or Virtually Certain

The standard for deciding what happened to a player’s ball – for example, whether the ball came to rest in a penalty area, whether it moved or what caused it to move.

Known or virtually certain means more than just possible or probable. It means that either:

  • There is conclusive evidence that the event in question happened to the player’s ball, such as when the player or other witnesses saw it happen, or
  • Although there is a very small degree of doubt, all reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened.

“All reasonably available information” includes all information the player knows and all other information he or she can get with reasonable effort and without unreasonable delay.

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 course boundary 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 hole through the ball reference point (and within two club-lengths to the outside of that line), and
  • A line from the hole through 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 hole than the ball reference point.

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

  • The original ball that was lost or out of bounds is no longer in play and must not be played.
  • This is true even if the ball is found on the course before 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 certain to 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.”

The original question states that “the player is 90% certain that the ball came to rest in the penalty area”. This, by definition, is not enough knowledge as 95% is needed for the player to be able to proceed under Rule 17, Penalty Area Relief.

But the player can proceed under Modern Local Rule E-5 as his ball is known to be lost outside of a penalty area.

To proceed within the local rule the player, after their drop, is now lying 3 and playing their 4thshot towards the green making this week’s correct answer: C

But what would the outcome be if this local rule had not been put into place by the committee prior to the start of the competition?

Then the ball would be lost, as it was not found within 3 minutes of the search starting, and it is not known or virtually certain that the ball is in the penalty area. Therefore, the player would have to proceed under Stroke and Distance Penalty, Rule 18, and play their third shot from the teeing area.

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