Do You Struggle With Rule 28 – What Are Your Options With An Unplayable Lie?

unplayable lie golf rule 28

Yes, Ann’s ball really landed on this rock on hole #15 at The Santaluz Club in San Diego. An unplayable lie doesn’t have to mean losing too many strokes.

When Ann’s ball ended up on the side of a hill and on top of this boulder, she knew she had to take a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie because there’s no way she could have hit this. (I’m not even sure if Phil or Justin could have)

Knowing The Rules

Knowing the rules of golf can actually help you score better, especially Rule 28 taking an Unplayable Lie.

There’s no reason to swing at the ball when it’s sitting somewhere so challenging that you just know you won’t be able to hit it.

The Tournament We Lost Due To Not Knowing The Rules

My husband and I were playing in an NCGA Couples’ Golf Tournament at Spyglass Hill, which is very beautiful but difficult as heck.

The edge of the bunkers are covered in grass, so your ball can easily get plugged. And that’s exactly what happened to me.

Having just attended a Northern California Golf Association Rules Seminar a few weeks prior to this tournament, I was absolutely sure that one of my options was to re-hit from the exact spot that I just took the stroke that got me into the bunker. This is called taking an unplayable with Stroke and Distance.

According to Rule 28, you can declare your ball unplayable at any time, anywhere on the course (except in a water hazard).

You are the sole decision-maker as to if your ball is unplayable, not your fellow companions or opponents or your caddie.

Being a newer golfer at the time (and really, it wasn’t that I was new, it was that I wasn’t very skilled at hitting out of bunkers!), I decided that this was an unplayable ball for me.

I told our playing companions that I was going to use Rule 28a and take an unplayable.

I dropped a tee on the spot from where I had just hit that ball into the bunker (so that I would know exactly where it was) and walked up the 80 yards to the green-side bunker were my ball was lodged in the overhanging grass.

It was a bit buried, which is why I knew I didn’t have a shot in hell at hitting it out of there.

I grabbed my ball and walked back to where I had last hit (where I had left the tee to mark the spot) and took a proper “drop”.

As I was in the process of doing that I was stopped by the other couple, their caddie, our caddie and my husband!

They all insisted that I was wrong and that any “unplayable” in the bunker must be taken inside the bunker.

I tried to explain my point, that this was a “stroke and distance” option for a ball I considered unplayable, but their insistence that I was wrong persuaded me to acquiesce and just pick up.

(The tournament was a “better ball” format and my husband was on the green so we would count his score on this hole.)

Four holes later in our round, one of the NCGA rules officials drove by and I asked her about this rule.

“You are absolutely right”, she said. “You can replay that shot that got you into the bunker as “stroke and distance” for a one stroke penalty.”

We ended up in fourth place in our three day tournament, down by just one stroke.

I can’t say for sure how my re-do of my shot would have gone, and if I had made my putt, etc, but I can tell you that had I stuck to my guns we could very well have ended up in third place and “on the podium” as they say.

Three facts about an unplayable lie that I bet you didn’t know…

♥ You Can Go As Far Back As You Choose

As long as you take the ball back on a straight line between you and the flag, you can go as far back as you like, even further than your original stroke. Source:  USGA Rules Video

♥ You May Take a Do-Over If You Land In a Bunker

You can take an unplayable when you get into a bunker by hitting that shot over again (like a do-over) by using the “stroke and distance” option. Source: USGA Rules of Golf Experience*

♥ You Don’t Need Others To Agree That It’s Unplayable

You can take an unplayable anywhere you choose on the course (except in a water hazard). And don’t let anyone convince you to hit a ball you feel you don’t have the skills to hit!  Source: USGA Rules Video

Of course, all of these cost you a one-stroke penalty, but if you’re like me and you know your own strengths (and in this case weaknesses), then taking a one-stroke penalty may just save you two or three strokes in the long run.

Happy Golfing!

*The USGA Rules of Golf Experience website may require you to log in to view the rules, but I highly recommend you register and take their interactive rules quizzes.

There’s nothing better than reinforcing what you’ve learned so you’re ready to reference these when you’re in your next tournament or friendly little golf game with your girlfriends!


San Diego native, interior design nut, and golf addict (with a hopelessly bad swing)

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