Rulebook: “What do you mean it’s not a rule?”

w/ Rich McLean, Golf Canada Rules Official @lobwedge 

Let’s talk about Model Local Rule E-5, Alternative to Stroke and Distance for Lost Ball or Ball Out of Bounds. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s found in the Committee Procedures section of the 2019 Rules, under Section 8. We’ll just call it E-5, for short.

Golf, like any other major sport, has a set of well-defined rules that allow us to navigate around the course. However, the variability of our playing grounds (and occasionally from day-to-day on the same course) can provide any number of unique challenges that can sometimes “trap” players or cause unnecessary delays in play. This is where Local Rules can come in handy. They give both club and tournament committees an auxiliary set of “plug-ins” that can be used to augment existing rules to help re-level things and reduce slow play traffic jams. E-5 is one example of this.

What is it?

E-5 is mainly meant to be used at the club level to help reduce the against-the-flow movement of players who may not normally play a provisional ball before going ahead to search for their original ball, and to keep things moving forward. I specifically mention “club level” because it’s a Local Rule designed to help manage casual play, while still allowing players to maintain a legitimate handicap. We won’t likely see E-5 get promoted to the “regular” rules and you won’t see it implemented in tournament play either, mainly because it runs up against a couple of the core tenets of golf. The application of skill, and the challenge of the game.

The principles of stroke and distance and provisional ball still require the player to deal with the pressure of having to put another ball in play. E-5 lets the golfer off the hook by taking the “distance” out of stroke and distance. Not exactly fair. Yes, it’s designed to allow a player to end up at the same place score-wise as playing a provisional ball or stroke and distance does, thus maintaining the integrity of your score… on paper. However, it’s still like a get-out-of-jail-free card because it allows a player to count additional strokes without actually making a swing.

I would suggest though that if your club has issues with pace of play, or if there are a large number of parts of the General Area that have deep fescue/rough, blind shots, or tight boundaries, E-5 may be a viable option to assist your membership in getting around the course more efficiently. It can’t hurt to ask. And don’t worry, E-5 doesn’t eliminate your ability to play a provisional ball if that’s how you normally operate. Just be careful. If you get this Local Rule set up, you still must make a choice between playing a provisional ball or using E-5 and adding 2 strokes to your drop. You can’t do both.

How does it work?

If you’ve searched for your ball for 3 minutes and can’t find it, or you’re certain that it’s OB, your first reference point will either be where you think the ball most likely is lost on the course (like the middle of a large bush) or at the point where it left the course (OB). Now “draw” a line from the hole through the lost ball point as far back as you want, or until a boundary intervenes. This marks one side of the area. Now, find the point at the nearest edge of your fairway that’s the same distance from the hole as the first reference point, and draw another line from the hole through that point. That’s the other edge of your relief area. The area that you can drop in is the whole part of that “cone” that’s no nearer to the hole than the two reference points, as far back as you want, PLUS an additional two club lengths along the outer edges of the sides of the relief zone. Your drop can be anywhere within this relief area, add two strokes to your score, and carry on.

The USGA and R&A also both have great diagrams on their websites that lay out visually what I’ve described here. Have a look.