Golf Rules – What You Need to Know About Stroke and Distance

Interesting Fact – You can take Stroke and Distance Relief AT ANY TIME

Although you have the option to take it at any time, there are times when it is required.

The “Stroke-and-Distance Relief” rule in golf (Rule 18) states that if a ball is lost outside a penalty area or is out of bounds, the player must take a penalty stroke and play again from the location of the previous stroke (1).

Additionally, this rule allows for the playing of a provisional ball to save time if there’s a possibility that the original ball is lost or out of bounds, with specific conditions for when the provisional ball becomes the ball in play or must be abandoned.

Stroke and Distance Relief Allowed at Any Time

When might someone want to take stroke and distance relief even though their ball is in play?

Let’s say you tee off on a par 5 and top it. Your ball goes about 10 yards past the tee and comes to rest in an area that’s basically impossible to play. The ball is in play, but in reality, you have no shot at it.

First, you know the deal…you didn’t make it past the ladies’ tee…so there’s that! šŸ˜³

But seriously though, you’d be far better off teeing a new ball and hitting your third shot off the tee than trying to hit a recovery shot out of a bunch of rocks, then following that up with an iron to just try and get it in the fairway.

Again, you can take stroke and distance relief at any time. This option is available regardless of the ball’s location on the course and even if another rule specifies a different method of relief.

When The Stroke and Distance Penalty MUST be Taken

When a ball is lost, or hit out of bounds, the stroke and distance penalty applies.

Lost Ball – Once a player or their caddie begins searching for the ball, they have 3 minutes to find it. If they stop searching during the 3 minutes for any reason, the clock stops. The clock resumes when they resume searching. If you cannot find it in 3 minutes, you must go back to the original spot and take your penalty stroke.

Out of Bounds – A ball is out of bounds when ALL of it is outside the boundary edge. If any of your ball is touching the OB line, it is still in bounds. Also know that a player is allowed to stand OB to play their ball. When a ball travels out of bounds, the Stroke and Distance penalty applies.

Exceptions – Local rules are in play at some clubs. For speed-of-play purposes, you can take two penalty strokes and bring your ball 2 club lengths into the fairway reference point nearest where your ball was thought to be lost or traveled out of bounds.

For example, let’s say I hit my ball out of bounds off the tee. My ball traveled pretty far and I have a good idea where it crossed the OB line. The local rule is in place, so I have the option to take the stroke and distance penalty and hit my 3rd shot off the tee. Or I can take advantage of the local rule and take a two-stroke penalty but can drop the ball 2 club lengths in the fairway without losing the distance.

The local rule is pretty convenient, especially if my first shot traveled a good distance. You’ll be hitting your 4th shot from the fairway, as opposed to taking the risk of hitting a 3rd from the original spot and praying it ends up in a better position.

Hitting a Provisional Ball

Another effort to speed up play is the provisional ball. Let’s say you tee off and you’re not sure if your ball stayed in bounds. If it went out of bounds, the stroke and distance rule applies. But, walking all the way down there “just in case” is going to take a lot of time.

This is where the provisional comes into play. If you think your ball may have gone OB, be sure to announce that you are playing a “provisional”, or another “just in case”.

If you casually mention, ā€œIā€™m going to re-load,ā€ or ā€œIā€™m going to play another,ā€ without that keyword “provisional,” you’re basically saying goodbye to your first ball and committing to the new one, with all the extra strokes that come with it

If your original ball is lost, or OB, you’ll simply continue playing the provisional ball with the stroke and distance penalty. If your original ball is found in bounds and within the allotted time, you simply play the original ball without penalty.

Strategic Implications of Stroke and Distance Relief

Assessing the Difficulty of the Next Shot: If your ball lands in a difficult spot, such as deep rough, behind obstacles, or in an area with poor footing, you should weigh the likelihood of a successful next shot from that position against the penalty of taking stroke and distance relief.

Sometimes, it might be more advantageous to replay the shot from the original position, especially if you are confident in your ability to make a better second attempt.

Current Performance: A decision may also be influenced by your performance on the day. If you are striking the ball well, you may feel more confident in replaying the shot. For example, if I am hitting my driver poorly that day and I hook one OB, I’m not taking the risk of hitting it off the tee again.

Mental Game: Golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. The psychological impact of a bad shot can influence a golfer’s decision. Some golfers might prefer to take the stroke and distance relief to mentally reset and avoid the negative emotions associated with attempting the same shot again.

Final Thoughts

Stroke-and-Distance Relief can be taken at any time, though it’s mandatory in certain situations like when a ball is lost or out of bounds.

Knowing when to take advantage of the rule is important for any golfer trying to lower their scores. Assess the situation and your current performance and mental state before making a decision to take relief, hit a provisional, or use the local rule for a two-stroke penalty if it applies.

Good luck on the golf course!

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