Understanding the Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Ball Lost or Out of Bounds

By Jamie Wallace, USGA Rules Department

One of the most significant and talked-about changes in the new Rules of Golf for 2019 was the introduction of an alternative to stroke and distance for a ball that is lost or out of bounds. Before we go any further on this topic, however, let’s first clarify that stroke and distance is still the default in the Rules of Golf.

The alternative relief procedure is only available when the golf course or the Committee running a competition has decided to put the optional Local Rule into effect. Before using it, you should verify with the person in charge of the golf course (often the pro) or the competition as to whether or not it is in effect.

How the Local Rule Works

Let’s pretend that you just lost your tee shot or hit it out of bounds. You can take relief under the Local Rule for two penalty strokes, which means that you will be playing your fourth shot after taking your drop. This might at first seem like a harsh penalty, but it is actually comparable to what you could have achieved if you went back to play under stroke and distance.

To take relief, your first steps are to identify your ball and fairway reference points.

Ball Reference Point: For a lost ball, this is the estimated spot where your ball came to rest on the course. For a ball that went out of bounds, it is the estimated spot where it crossed the out of bounds line.

Fairway Reference Point: The nearest spot on the fairway of the hole you are playing that is the same distance from the hole as the ball reference point, or farther (if there is no equidistant fairway reference point).

From the fairway reference point, you can then measure two club-lengths farther into the fairway. You’ll take your drop within this two club-length area on the edge of the fairway most of the time. However, your relief area where you are allowed to drop is actually much larger.

Imagine one straight line starting at the hole and running through the ball reference point, and then a second straight line starting at the hole and running through the fairway reference point. Your relief area includes anywhere between those two lines but no closer to the hole than the ball reference point, plus an additional two club-lengths to the side of each of those two lines.

Some items to note relating to how this Local Rule works:

  • If your ball is lost in a penalty area, you must proceed under the penalty area relief options.


  • If you played a provisional ball, you can no longer use the relief option provided under this Local Rule.


  • If there is no fairway reference point equidistant from the ball reference point, you can use the nearest point that is farther from the hole. The term “fairway” can include a tee box or a path through the rough cut to fairway height or less.


  • For a ball that is lost or goes out of bounds behind or near the putting green, the Local Rule can still be applied.


  • This Local Rule is usually put into effect for the entire golf course, but a Committee could decide to limit it to just one or multiple specific holes.

One of the main benefits of this Local Rule is improved pace of play; it eliminates the need to walk back to the spot of the previous stroke to play under stroke and distance. Additionally, it allows golfers to play by the Rules and post a legitimate score even when they unexpectedly lose a ball or find that their ball is out of bounds.

When Should this Local Rule be Used?

Model Local Rule E-5 is recommended for use in all casual and general play. It would not be appropriate to use in competitions that are limited to highly skilled players, such as professional or elite amateur competitions.

There is some room for judgment here as there are certain types of club-level competitions where the Local Rule might be appropriate to use. It is up to the Committee in charge of that competition or golf course to make that decision.

At the club level, it is important to note that a golf course may have Local Rule E-5 in effect for general play, but then decide to not have it in effect for the Club Championship or other tournaments. When this is the case, all players in that specific competition should be made aware of this change before play begins.

So the next time you tee it up, whether in a casual round with friends or in a competition, be sure to check if this optional Local Rule providing an alternative to stroke and distance is in effect. It may just help to keep your round rolling along at a good pace!

For more on the Rules of Golf, visit the TGA Rules Hub.