The Rules Column - "Dropping and Re-Dropping"

There are many situations when a player is required to drop a ball under the rules. The requirement to drop a ball is so prevalent that it is almost impossible to complete a round without someone in your group finding it necessary to use this procedure. It seems like such a simple thing, but there is a whole lot of misinformation and confusion surrounding how and where to drop, and when a re-drop is necessary. The details are covered in Rule 20 – Lifting, Dropping and First, How to Drop. Placing; Playing from Wrong Place.

First, How to Drop. Only the player may drop the ball. He must stand erect, hold the ball at arm’s length and shoulder height, and drop it. If a ball is dropped by anyone else or in any other manner, and the error is not corrected, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke. Do not just take a ball out of your bag and toss it to the ground.

Next, Where to Drop. Depending on the operative rule, a player may be required to drop:

    • As near as possible to a specific spot. (Examples: a ball played from the fairway may be lost or out of bounds and the player wants to play a provisional ball; taking relief from embedded ball.)
    • Within one club length of the nearest point of relief. (Examples: taking relief without penalty from an obstruction or ground under repair.)
    • Within two club lengths of a specific reference point. (Examples: taking relief from a lateral water hazard (26-1c) or unplayable lie (28-c) with a one stroke penalty.)
    • On a line behind a specific reference point, keeping the reference point between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped. (Examples: taking relief from a water hazard (26-1b) or unplayable lie (28-b) with a one stroke penalty.)

The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course where the applicable rule requires it to be dropped (prescribed area).

Finally, When to Re-Drop: Now it gets tricky…

    1. What if the ball first hits the ground closer to the hole than the prescribed area? This is considered a “no drop” and you start again, taking care to drop within the prescribed area.
    2. What if the ball first strikes within the prescribed area, but then rolls closer to the hole than the original position or reference point? The ball must be re-dropped. If the ball when re-dropped rolls closer to the hole again, the ball is lifted and placed at the point where it first touched the course on the re-drop.
    3. What if the dropped ball rolls out of the prescribed area? (Pay attention: many golfers get this wrong.) If the ball lands within the prescribed area, but rolls and comes to rest less than two club lengths from where it first struck the course, and no closer to the hole than the original position or reference point—don’t touch it! The ball does NOT have to come to rest within the prescribed drop area. The dropped ball is IN PLAY even though it has rolled out of the prescribed drop area, as long as it comes to rest less than two club lengths from the spot where it landed.
    4. What if you drop a ball to take relief without penalty from an obstruction or GUR, and the drop does not provide relief? For example, if you address a ball you have dropped to take relief from a cart path and your heel is still on the cart path. Don’t play the ball! You cannot decide that you like the lie of the ball where it came to rest and the stance on the cart path is just fine. You MUST take complete relief from the condition (including lie of the ball, stance, and area of intended swing), and a re-drop is required.
    5. What if you drop a ball to take relief from an unplayable lie under penalty of one stroke, and the ball rolls into a similar position where it is difficult to play your stroke? Bad break, but no re-drop. This ball is IN PLAY! Unlike relief from an obstruction or GUR, there is risk in seeking relief from an unplayable lie—you get what you get, no guarantee. If you elect not to play the dropped ball, with an ADDITIONAL penalty stroke you may drop again, using the new position of the ball as the reference point. Note to player: consider all relief options (there are three) and possible outcomes when faced with an unplayable lie.
    6. What if the ball you drop hits your foot or the club you laid down to measure? A re-drop is required—get your equipment and yourself out of the way next time. But what if the ball strikes a tee you placed to mark the prescribed drop area? This ball is IN PLAY—don’t touch it. A tee or other small object such as a coin is not considered to be a player’s equipment when used to mark the position of a ball or the extent of an area in which a ball is to be dropped.

Some “mistakes” when dropping or re-dropping will not result in penalty if corrected before a stroke is made at the dropped ball. Let’s say you drop a ball two club lengths from your nearest point of relief from a cart path, but—before you play the stroke—your fellow competitor reminds you that you only get one club length. No problem, pick it up and drop it within the prescribed area. However, if you get the reminder AFTER you have played the dropped ball, add two strokes for playing from a wrong place.

Be aware of when your ball is IN PLAY, and do not lift a ball in play unless you are certain that you will take relief or that a drop or re-drop is required.


    • Let’s say your ball is on a cart path bordered on one side by thick bushes and on the other side by light rough. Your ball is IN PLAY on the path, and before you lift it to take relief, determine where your nearest point of relief would be. If the nearest point is on the side of the path bordered by shrubbery, you may want to play it off the path rather than drop it in the bushes. If you have lifted your ball, it will cost you a one stroke penalty to replace it on the path. If you incorrectly drop and play from the light rough, you will incur a two stoke penalty for playing from a wrong place.
    • Now, let’s say your ball is rolling down a slope away from the prescribed area where you dropped it in taking relief from a sprinkler control box. You instinctively stop it with your foot so that you don’t have to go and retrieve it. Sorry, play from where you stopped the ball and add two strokes for influencing the movement of the ball. You should have waited until the ball came to rest, or at least until it rolled more than two club lengths from where it landed when dropped.

Drops and Re-Drops are performed in nearly every round, but that doesn’t make this part of the game a no-brainer. The information above is only a summary of basics. Rule 20 – Lifting, Dropping and Placing; Playing from Wrong Place takes up 39 pages in the USGA Decisions book—more pages than any other rule except Rule 33 – The Committee. This fact alone suggests that you dig out your rule book and take a refresher course.

Dick Beckman – October 2013