Rules Of Golf: Out Of Bounds

When is your ball in or out of bounds, and what should you do? Find out here...

Rules Of Golf: Out Of Bounds
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

However good you are, at some stage you will hit your ball beyond the course boundaries, so you need to know what to do when you find yourself out of bounds

Rules Of Golf: Out Of Bounds

Out of bounds may be defined in a number of ways – white stakes, lines on the ground, fences, walls, railings – but if your ball has strayed beyond them, the first thing to remember is that there is no option within the Rules to drop a ball under penalty at the point where your ball crossed the OOB line as you would with a water hazard (although many golfers might play this ‘rule’ informally in friendly games).

If your ball is definitely out of bounds, you must play another ball from where you last played under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 14.6), whether from the tee or fairway. So if it was your tee-shot that had gone OOB, you would now be playing three off the tee.

If there is some doubt as to whether or not the ball is out of bounds (i.e the out of bounds line is partially hidden by trees, or you cannot be 100% certain it has definitely crossed the line) make sure you declare your next shot a provisional ball, for if you fail to do so, you won’t be able to continue with the original ball even if it is found in bounds.

Watch: 8 rules golfers break without realising

Rule 18.2 then defines what is deemed in or out of bounds.

(Image credit: R&A)

A ball is in bounds when any part of the ball: 

  • Lies on or touches the ground or anything else (such as any natural or artificial object) inside the boundary edge, or
  • Is above the boundary edge or any other part of the course.

Where out of bounds is defined by white stakes or a fence, the out of bounds line is the nearest inside points at ground level of the stakes or fence posts.

When a line on the ground is used, the line itself is out of bounds. However, a ball is deemed in bounds still even if only a small part of it lies on the course side of the boundary line.

If white stakes are used at intervals, the out of bounds line is the direct line from one stake to the next.

Clearly this may sometimes become a matter of tricky judgment with the naked eye, but it is not unknown for referees in big events to carry a piece of string around with them to help them determine if a ball lies in or out of bounds!

Related: 7 tips to help you find your golf ball

Other important out of bounds points to note are:

1) You may stand out of bounds to play a ball that is lying in bounds.

2) The out of bounds line extends vertically upwards, so if your ball is lodged in a tree on the boundary, you will have to make your judgment on that basis.

3) Whatever is used to define out of bounds - whether fence, railings, wall or stakes – is deemed to be fixed and is not classed as an obstruction. This means that you get no free relief if the fence, railings or wall impede your stance, backswing or follow-through, and that white out of bounds stakes may not be removed to facilitate your next shot.

4) Some courses have ‘internal out of bounds’ for reasons of safety or to ensure a hole is played in the way in which it was designed rather than via another potentially easier route down another fairway. Whatever you think of that, you have to honour it even if your ball is lying in the clear with a perfect route in to the green. Frustrating sometimes, but probably for the overall good of all playing the course!

For more rules content, check out the Golf Monthly website.

Jeremy Ellwood
Jeremy Ellwood

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...