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Stroke and distance penalty for ball out of bounds

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There has been a lot of discussion in golfing circles about which Rule of Golf players would want to see changed, in addition to the proposed changes announced by the Ruling Bodies on March 1.

At the top of nearly every informal poll I have seen is a wish to change the stroke and distance penalty for a ball played out of bounds.

Players hate returning to where they last played from when they unexpectedly find that their ball is on the wrong side of an out of bounds boundary line.

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When this happens, there is an inevitable delay in play while the player goes back.

Of course, they should have played a provisional ball, but there are occasions when the out of bounds line is not obvious from where the ball was played from and other times when players find that their ball has taken an unusual deflection in the wrong direction.

There is only one way to proceed when a ball is out of bounds and a provisional ball has not been played, as in Rule 27-1b;

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  1. Ball Out of Bounds

If a ball is out of bounds, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).

The appropriate penalty for a ball that has been played out of bounds has exercised the Ruling Bodies for well over a century; it seems that there is general support for a change to be made, but it is far from obvious what that change should be.

The main difficulty relating to a ball that has come to rest out of bounds is estimating where it last crossed the boundary of the course.

Sometimes this may be easy to determine, but more often it may lead to a robust debate between players, officials and spectators.

Also, there is little doubt that keeping the ball within the boundaries of the course can be a strategic part of the challenge of playing some holes.

This is particularly true on courses that have tight boundaries where some holes have specifically been designed to encourage players to weigh the risk-reward of a shot and play the higher percentage route for safety.

In this context, safety may include both avoiding out of bounds penalties and avoiding public liability issues from balls landing outside the course.

Adjusting the penalty for balls played out of bounds could lead to players choosing to take high-risk shots towards, or over those areas, with little concern for what is on the other side.

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