Golf Out Of Bounds Rules: Learn How To Play The Game

The rules of golf are complex. A red stake vs. a yellow stake. Options when you have an unplayable lie. How to handle hitting the wrong ball . . .

Eventually, you will need to learn them all, but amongst the most crucial are the golf out of bounds rules.

Out of bounds is the largest penalty in the rule book. Hitting the ball out of bounds will typically cost you both a stroke and distance. Effectively, it is a two-stroke penalty.

But knowing the golf out of bounds rules can help save you from this sticky situation. We hope you never have to use it, but if it does happen, you need to know the golf out of bounds rules.

In this article, we’ll run you through the meaning of out of bounds, the rules that surround it, and how to play these rules to your advantage.

Ready? Let’s get into the swing of it.

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What Does “Out of Bounds” Mean?

Out of bounds describes the situation when your ball is no longer on the golf course. To reach this situation, you’ve probably hit either a hook or a slice off the property.

Out of bounds is typically marked with white stakes or a white line.

The golf out of bounds rules are typically needed when your ball goes across a public road or into someone’s backyard. People that live next to a golf course don’t enjoy golfers taking divots out of their yards or playing from their flower beds . . .

Even if you find your ball you cannot play it. You must follow the golf out of bounds rules to proceed with your round.

Related Article: 7 Golf Recovery Shots To Save You From Trouble On The Golf Course

Out of Bounds Vs. Lost Ball

The rules for a lost ball are very similar to a ball that goes out of bounds, but they are different situations.

Whereas out of bounds means that the ball has left the course, a lost ball can happen on the course. If you can’t find your ball and you didn’t see it go in a hazard (lake, creek, etc.) you must consider it lost.

Related Article: Learn How To Break 80 In Golf With These 4 Tricks

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For example, if you hit your ball in the trees or deep rough and can’t find it, it is considered lost.

The USGA (United States Golf Association) recently reduced the amount of time you are allowed to search for a golf ball from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes your ball is considered lost and you must take the penalty. This change was made to help with golf’s pace of play.

The golf out of bounds rules are required when your ball leaves the property and is outside of the white stakes or white line.

In both situations, the penalty is stroke and distance.

Three Golf Out of Bounds Rules

#1: Stroke and Distance

If you lose your ball or hit it out of bounds, the penalty is stroke and distance, but what does that mean

You have to take a one-stroke penalty and return to the original position of the shot and replay it.

Let’s walk through an example.

You tee it up on a par 4 and hit your driver to the right. When you find your ball you realize it is outside of the white stakes.

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Time to use the golf out of bounds rules. You must go back to the tee box and replay your drive.

You are now hitting your 3rd shot. You have to count your first shot (that went OB) and you must add a one-stroke penalty. As you can see, hitting the ball out of bounds can quickly ruin your round of golf.

#2: Save Time & Steps: Hit A Provisional Shot

Going out of bounds or losing your golf ball can add both strokes and time to your round. This is why the rules of golf allow you to hit a provisional.

Anytime you hit a shot that might be lost or out of bounds you have the option to hit a provisional.

Let’s discuss how you use this golf out of bounds rule.

You hit a shot and are worried you be unable to play it. Follow these steps:

  • Announce to your playing partners that you are worried that shot is out of bounds or lost and you are playing a provisional
  • Replay the shot
  • Go look for your first shot for up to 3 minutes
  • If you find it and it is in bounds, you can play it normally and pick up the 2nd shot you hit (your provisional)
  • If you can’t find it or it is out of bounds, you can proceed by playing your provisional shot – you still have to include the penalty, so you will be hitting your 4th shot
Golf Out Of Bounds Rules Learn How To Play The Game

The “provisional shot” rule is designed to help you play quicker and prevent you from having to walk back to replay the previous shot.

Anytime you hit a wild shot and can’t see where it lands, we recommend you hit a provisional.

#3: Local Rule (E-5)

We did mention at the beginning of this piece that golf out of bounds rules are complicated. We weren’t lying.

A few years ago, the rules of golf were updated with a new “local” rule that provides an alternative option to the golfer that goes out of bounds.

What Is A Local Rule?

A “Local Rule” is a rule that is put in place by the tournament committee that only applies to that one specific event.

A “Local Rule” cannot be used during all rounds of golf. It is only available if stated to participants before a specific event.

For example, on the PGA Tour they typically “play the ball down”. This means that you cannot touch your ball until you reach the green.

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If there has been a lot of rain and the course is wet, they might put in a “Local Rule” for one round that allows players to lift, clean, and place their ball in the fairway.

Related article: 4 Tips to Master Golf In The Rain + Must-Have Rain Gear

Golf Out of Bounds Rules: Local Rule E-5

The USGA (Golf Governing Body) put in local rule E-5 to give tournament committees and/or casual players an alternative to the “stroke and distance” penalty.

You can only use this rule if it is stated on the Rules Sheet or your group of buddies has decided to play it.

If you search for your ball for 3 minutes and cannot find it, or you find it out of bounds, Local Rule E-5 allows you to do the following:

  • Estimate where your ball went out of balls or where it was lost
  • Drop a new ball on the edge of the fairway equidistant from where you estimated it was lost or out of bounds
  • Take a two-stroke penalty

This saves you the time of walking back to the tee box. Local rule E-5 is rarely used in competitive golf.

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During tournaments, the golf out of bounds rules are stroke and distance, so it is important to always hit a provisional if you are worried about finding your ball.

How To Avoid The Golf Out of Bounds Rules

Now that you understand the golf out of bounds rules you realize that is hard to shoot a good score with a stroke and distance penalty.

Going out of bounds almost always leads to a double bogey or worse.

To improve at the game of golf and shoot lower scores, you need to reduce your penalty strokes.

Two ways to avoid going out of bounds. Work on your golf swing and improve your course management.

Make smarter decisions on the golf course. Play the percentages. Don’t always try to hit the hero shot.

If you are playing a tight hole, leave your driver in the bag and hit the fairway with a 3-wood or long iron.

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If your ball is in trouble, simply chip it back in play and try to save a bogey. Don’t try the crazy punch shot under the trees and over the lake.

It is important that you know the golf out of bounds rules, but we hope you never have to apply them.

Avoid adding penalty strokes to your scorecard and watch your golf handicap decrease.

Keep The Rules Of Golf In Your Bag

We are sure your golf bag has plenty of golf equipment and gear, but do you have a rules book handy?

Did you know you can order a pocket-size rules book from the USGA or use their phone application (USGA Rules Of Golf)?

Very useful if during your round you have questions related to the golf out of bounds rules or any other strange golf situations you encounter.

No reason to argue with your playing partners. Simply pull out your Rules of Golf and research the correct decision.

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Is It Time You Learned About Golf Etiquette?

Plenty of resources above for you to become a rules expert, but are you comfortable with golf etiquette?

Photo of author
Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

10 thoughts on “Golf Out Of Bounds Rules: Learn How To Play The Game”

  1. I hit a slice and the ball travels THROUGH the out of bounds markers in the air, and lands just outside the out of bounds line. Because my ball CROSSED the out of bounds markers in the air, but landed somehow IN bounds have I hit the ball out of bounds

  2. If on your second shot the ball goes out of bounds what is the penalty. I was told two different things 1. Drop ball one club length in for one stroke laying 3. Or #2. Drop ball at fairway for 2 stroke penalty laying 4

    • Good question. Regardless of which shot (first, second, third, etc.) goes out of bounds, the rule is the same. You must take “stroke & distance”. You must replay the shot you hit out of bounds (from the same spot) and take a stroke penalty. For example, if you hit a 7-iron out of bounds on your second shot on a par 4 you must do the following. You return to spot where you hit your 7-iron, take a drop, add a stroke, and hit it again. In this case, you hit your 2nd shot out of bounds, you add a stroke, and now you are hitting your 4th shot.

  3. Ray, I’m confused about somerhing. I just watched a very exciting Canadian Open on CBS that went to the 4th Playoff hole. On the Par 5 18th hole, Tommy Fleetwood drilled his second shot into a 20 ft high grandstand seat, like Reggie Jackson launching one into the short porch in right field. A girl was allowed to pick up the ball, take a selfie with it, and keep it as a souvenir. This is where it gets weird. Tommy took a two club length drop next to the grandstand wall, and hit what they declared was shot 3 onto the green, and then putted strike 4 for the championship (which he missed). Wait, what? No penalty of any kind, whatsoever??? I replayed it over and over on the DVR. Nothing. No stroke or distance or penalty? What am I missing?

    • Great question – this is a unique situation that you only see in professional golf. They use “Local Rule F-23” and declare the grandstands as “temporary immovable obstructions” – this gives the player a free drop without penalty. The player gets to take a drop at his nearest point of relief (no closer to the hole) without any penalty.

      They don’t mark the grandstands as Out of Bounds. There are situations where you will see a professional golfer do this on purpose, because they know they will get a free drop. In Tommy’s case, it was an accident.


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