Rule of the Month: The Essential Guide to Dropping Your Ball

By Senior Rules Officials, Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

While we stay in Rule 14 this month, we move away from the topic of placing and replacing and now focus on dropping a ball.  However, don’t get too excited because this part of Rule 14 requires, at times, the knowledge of placing and replacing that have been the focus of the last four months of articles.  Without a keen understanding of Rule 14, it is impossible to play penalty free golf.  And while some breaches of this Rule might seem insignificant, every golfer is expected to adhere to this and every other Rule.  No matter how small the advantage may be from a breach, the player must accept the penalty and play on.

This is also a good time to mention Rules 1.3c(3) and 20.1c(2).  The first restricts a player, or the Committee, from varying a penalty.  In other words, penalties need to be applied only as provided in the Rules.  While you might think that a breach warrants only a warning because the advantage gained is insignificant, that is not how the game is played. Every golfer in the competition has an interest in Rules and penalties being applied correctly.  And speaking of every golfer, the second Rule mentioned above puts a responsibility on every player to protect the interest of all other players.  If a player knows or believes that another player may have breached a Rule, that player should promptly inform the other player, the other player’s marker, a referee or a member of the Committee.  And sorry to say, but if the player fails to inform someone about a possible breach of the Rules, the Committee may disqualify the player if it decides that this was serious misconduct contrary to the spirit of the game.

Let’s get back to Rule 14 and dropping a ball in a relief area with the following questions:

Questions:  True / False

1) Every time a ball is dropped to take relief, whether free or penalty relief, a different ball may be used.

2) Before dropping a ball into a relief area, loose impediments (unattached leaves, branches, sticks) may be removed.

3) Divots in a relief area may be repaired by replacing the grass before dropping a ball.

4) In stroke play and match play, only the player is allowed to drop a ball when taking relief.

5) When dropping a ball into a relief area, the ball must be dropped by letting go of it from knee height so that it falls straight down.

6) When dropping a ball, the player must stand erect.

7) The dropped ball must not touch any part of the player’s body or equipment before it touches the ground.

8) If the dropped ball accidentally hits the player’s foot or club after hitting the ground and before coming to rest in the relief area, the ball must be dropped again.

9) When taking back-on-the-line relief under an applicable Rule, there is no relief area until the ball is dropped.  The ball must be dropped on the line and the spot where the dropped ball hits the ground creates the relief area.  

10) A ball that is dropped outside the relief area, but comes to rest in the relief area, is properly in play and must not be dropped again.



1) True.  Rule 14.3a.  A player may use the original ball or substitute a ball.  And if the Rules require more than one drop to get the ball back into play properly, a different ball may be used for each drop.

2) True.  Rules 14.3 and 15.1a.  Loose impediments may be removed anywhere on the course including a relief area in which a ball will be dropped.  However, take note that if a ball is to be replaced, removal of loose impediments might be restricted by Exception 1 in Rule 15.1a.

3) False.  Rule 8.1a and the Definition of Conditions Affecting the Stroke.  No improvement of a relief area in which a ball will be dropped is allowed.  Replacing grass in a divot hole in a relief area is improving the conditions affecting the stroke and the player gets the general penalty.

4) False.  Rule 14.3b(1).  This Rule states that only the player is allowed to drop the ball and this is generally true.  It restricts the player’s caddie or anyone else from dropping the ball.  However, for players with certain disabilities, this Rule is modified by Rules 25.2h, 25.3c and 25.4a to give general authorization to any other person to drop a ball for the player.  And don’t forget that in Foursomes and Four-Ball play, a partner may always drop a ball for the player.

5) True.  Rule 14.3b(2).  No motion that might affect where the ball will come to rest is allowed.  For instance, spinning, throwing or rolling the ball is not allowed.  

6) False.  Rule 14.3b(2).  There is no requirement in the Rules pertaining to the posture of the player when dropping a ball.  The ball must be dropped from knee height, which means the height of the player’s knee when in a standing position.  The player is not required to be in that standing position when dropping.

7) True.  Rule 14.3b(2).  The ball must hit the ground in the relief area first.  To clarify this a bit, growing things in the relief area would be considered part of the ground. For instance, grass or a branch of a tree or bush would be considered ground in the relief area.  

8) False.  Rule 14.3c(1).  In this case, the ball is properly in play.  It does not matter if the dropped ball hits any person (including the player), equipment or any other outside influence before coming to rest.  It is important to note the difference between this situation and that in Question #7.  The ball must first hit the ground in the relief area and then can accidentally hit any other object and the ball will be properly in play provided that it has come to rest in the relief area.

9) True.  Rule 14.3b(3) and the definition of Relief Area.  The spot where the dropped ball first touches the ground creates the relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that point.  In other words, when using the back-on-the-line option of a Rule, the dropped ball may roll towards the hole and, provided it comes to rest within one club-length of where it first touched the ground, the ball is properly in play.  

10) False.  Rules 14.3b(3) and (4).  For the ball to be properly dropped, it must be dropped in the relief area. The ball in the question has been dropped in a wrong way and must be dropped again.  There is no limit to the number of times a ball must be dropped when dropped in a wrong way, a topic that will be further covered in next month’s article.