Defining 'Out of Bounds' in Golf and the Penalty for Hitting a Ball OB

White lines show where out of bounds begins at Royal St. George golf course No. 14 hole
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"Out of bounds" refers to those areas outside the golf course from which play is not allowed, or any area designated as out of bounds by the committee.

Out of bounds will be marked in some way, often by the use of stakes or some barrier (a fence, for example). Items used to designate out of bounds are not considered obstructions, are considered to be fixed, and therefore cannot be removed in order to play a shot.

"Out of bounds" is often abbreviated in writing as "O.B." or "O.O.B.," and "OB" (oh-bee) is often the spoken shorthand (as in, "That shot might be headed OB").

Official Definition of 'Out of Bounds' in the Rules

This is the official definition of "out of bounds" as it appears in the Rules of Golf, written by the USGA and R&A:

"Out of Bounds: 'Out of bounds' is beyond the boundaries of the course or any part of the course so marked by the Committee.

"When out of bounds is defined by reference to stakes or a fence or as being beyond stakes or a fence, the out of bounds line is determined by the nearest inside points at ground level of the stakes or fence posts (excluding angled supports). When both stakes and lines are used to indicate out of bounds, the stakes identify out of bounds and the lines define out of bounds. When out of bounds is defined by a line on the ground, the line itself is out of bounds. The out of bounds line extends vertically upwards and downwards.

"A ball is out of bounds when all of it lies out of bounds. A player may stand out of bounds to play a ball lying within bounds.

"Objects defining out of bounds such as walls, fences, stakes and railings are not obstructions and are deemed to be fixed. Stakes identifying out of bounds are not obstructions and are deemed to be fixed.

"Note 1: Stakes or lines used to define out of bounds should be white.

"Note 2: A Committee may make a Local Rule declaring stakes identifying but not defining out of bounds to be obstructions."

White Is the Color of Out of Bounds

As stated in Note 2 to the official definition above, when a golf course uses stakes or a line painted on the ground to designate the out-of-bounds boundary, those stakes or that line are white.

(Although if some other boundary--a fence, for example--denotes out of bounds, that type of boundary won't necessarily be white. Many times, though, such OB boundaries are either obvious--a fence along the edge of a golf course property, for example--or are mentioned on the scorecard.)

The Penalty for Hitting a Ball Out of Bounds

The penalty for hitting a golf shot out of bounds, and how to proceed after doing it, are covered in the Rules of Golf in Rule 27. The key points of Rule 27 include:

  • A golf ball is out of bounds when all of it lies beyond the inside line of objects such as white stakes, or a fence or wall that marks the boundary of the course. (However, you can stand out of bounds to play a ball that is in-bounds.)
  • It's a stroke-and-distance penalty for hitting the ball out of bounds. That means, if you are playing by the rules, when you hit a ball OB you must add a penalty stroke to your score, then play another ball from the location of your previous stroke.
  • If you think you just hit a ball out of bounds, you can play a provisional ball from the same place the first one was played. Be sure to announce your intention to hit a provisional to your playing partners. 

If you are not playing by the rules--a friendly round with buddies, none of whom take it too seriously or expect strict adherence to the rules--then for the sake of speeding up play you can ignore stroke-and-distance. Just add a penalty stroke and drop a ball at the place your original shot went out of bounds.