Ask the Rules Guy: Most Asked Questions


• Got a Rules question? Zip it to [email protected]


What happens if I find my ball lying outside a hazard after I’ve already taken a drop and played on?

Who amongst us hasn’t shanked one toward the water and assumed the worst, only to find his ball hiding in the rough rather than on the bottom of the lake If you knew (or were virtually certain) that your ball was in the hazard when you played the other ball, you proceeded correctly and were required to complete the hole with that ball. If you did not know or were not virtually certain that the original was in the hazard, you were required to proceed under penalty of stroke and distance. This is why you’ll see a lot of Rules-savvy golfers making extra sure that their shot actually went into the drink. The long and short of it is, if it turns out that you missed the hazard, you’ll be a lot happier if you realize it before you take a drop.


Can I move a hazard stake if it interferes with my swing?

I hear this question more than Louis Oosthuizen heard “Can you spell that?” at the British Open. Who knew so many balls snuggle up against hazard stakes? At any rate, a hazard stake is normally considered a movable obstruction by Rule 24-1 and can be moved without penalty. If it is firmly embedded in the ground and cannot easily be moved, take free relief and drop your ball within a club-length of the nearest point of relief from the stake, no closer to the hole. In any case, you should probably thank your lucky stars that the stake was placed where it was, because it’s about the best thing that can happen when you hit it that close to trouble.


When is the appropriate time to declare my ball lost?

This topic floods my inbox more than any other—well, except for “Make Millions Working From Home!!!” It’s also the question most likely to spark a fistfight, since every player in a foursome has his own opinion on when and how to properly declare a ball lost. The fact is, a ball can never be “declared” lost—it simply is or it isn’t lost. The page in the Rules of Golf that these confused duffers seek is right up front, in the “Definitions” section. There are five ways in which a ball can become “lost.” You can “declare” until you’re blue in the face, but the player’s ball is lost only if any one of these actions has been completed:

1. The ball is not found or identified within five minutes of searching.

2. The player has legally made a stroke at a provisional ball.

3. The player has put another ball into play under penalty of stroke and distance.

4. The player has put another ball into play because it is known or virtually certain that his ball, which has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency, or is in an obstruction, abnormal ground condition or water hazard.

5. The player has made a stroke at a substituted ball.

If you haven’t done any of the above, your ball is in play.

Swing away!