Rule 28: Ball Unplayable (The Rules of Golf)

Chris Wood looks for his ball in the rough during the 2016 World Cup of Golf
Maybe he'll find his golf ball in there ... but will it be unplayable?. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

(Editor's Note: What follows is text of Rule 28 as it appeared in the Rules of Golf that were in effect through Dec. 31, 2018. As of Jan. 1, 2019, a new version of the Rules of Golf went into effect. The new rules are condensed and in some cases greatly rewritten or rearranged. See A Quick Introduction to the Rules of Golf for a summary of the new rules. To read the new rules in full, visit or

(The Official Rules of Golf appear on the Golf site courtesy of the USGA, are used with permission, and may not be reprinted without the permission of the USGA.)

The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

If the player deems his ball to be unplayable, he must, under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or
b. Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped; or
c. Drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole.

If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, the player may proceed under Clause a, b or c. If he elects to proceed under Clause b or c, a ball must be dropped in the bunker.

When proceeding under this Rule, the player may lift and clean his ball or substitute a ball.

Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.

©USGA, used with permission

(Editor's Note: See our FAQ, "What Are the Standards for Declaring a Ball Unplayable?" for more discussion on this topic. Also see, on, the Decisions on Rule 28.)