Proceeding Under Rule 26-1 or Rule 27-1

Each week I receive a rules of golf question similar to the one below. It concerns a common scenario where a golfer must be absolutely clear on whether they must proceed under Rule 26-1 or under Rule 27-1:


“My friend and I were playing and she hit a long blind shot that obviously went into the red staked area and down into a wooded, sloped area. We could not find the ball, of course. She dropped another ball within two club lengths of a vague idea of where she thought the ball went out and took a stroke penalty.

My contention is that she did not see the ball go out into the red staked area so she had no idea where to take her two club lengths from and that it should be treated as a lost ball. The key here is that no one saw where the ball went out – we were all down below the hole and couldn’t see the point where the ball crossed the red staked area.

What is the rule here – lost ball or lateral hazard?”


“There is no easy answer to your question. Let me quote from Decision 26-1/1;

If a ball has been struck towards a water hazard and has not been found, the term “known or virtually certain” indicates the level of confidence that the ball is in the water hazard that is required for the player to proceed under Rule 26-1. A player may not assume that his ball is in a water hazard simply because there is a possibility that the ball may be in the hazard. If it is not known that the ball is in the water hazard, in order for the player to proceed under Rule 26-1 there must be almost no doubt that the ball is in the hazard.

Otherwise, a ball that cannot be found must be considered lost outside the hazard and the player must proceed under Rule 27-1.

All available evidence must be taken into account in determining whether knowledge or virtual certainty exists, including any testimony and the physical conditions in the area around the water hazard. For example, if a water hazard is surrounded by a fairway on which a ball could hardly be lost, there exists a greater certainty that the ball is in the hazard than there would be if there were deep rough in the area. Observing a ball splash in a water hazard would not necessarily provide knowledge or virtual certainty as to the location of the ball as sometimes such a ball may skip out of a hazard.

If everyone in your group agrees that it is virtually certain that the flight of the ball means that it is lost in the water hazard then I think that the player would be right in using her best judgement as to where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard, with help and agreement from her fellow competitors. However, if there is some doubt that the ball may have been lost elsewhere then the player has no option but to consider her ball lost outside of the hazard and play another ball from the point where she made her last stroke, under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1).”

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Disclaimer: Whilst every attempt has been made to ensure the accuracy and reliability of this information on the Rules of Golf I am human and have been known to be wrong! Neither I, nor anyone connected with, shall be held responsible for any losses caused by reliance upon the accuracy or reliability of such information. Readers should refer to the full text of the rules and decisions as published in the official publications of the R&A and the USGA, The Rules of Golf 2008-2011 and Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2008-2009.

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