Rules – Embedded Ball

Imagine you are playing Khao Kheow. There you stand on the tee of C9 – your 18th – having just birdied the previous hole, the par-3 C8. Your stableford score already exceeds your previous best at Khao Kheow yet you still have one hole to play. It’s all as good as it gets, until your tee-shot curves to the right and finishes in the long narrow “waste bunker” between the fairway and the lake.

While walking towards where you believe your ball to be, you read the Local Rules printed on the scorecard. There are two lines that could be relevant:

  • Embedded ball rule is in effect through the green.
  • The waste bunkers, the sand areas on the right side of holes 2a, 9a, 5c & 9c and left side of 3a, 2b & 7c are neither bunkers nor hazards. These 7 areas all contain grassy bushes.

On arrival, you are able to confirm your ball is indeed in the waste bunker, but only half of it is visible as it is embedded in the sand.

What are your options?

The relevant IPGC Local Rule states:

  • Ball Embedded Through the green (the whole golf course, excluding hazards), a ball that is embedded in its own pitch mark, relief may be taken at the nearest point of relief without penalty, and the ball may be cleaned when lifted.

The relevant PSC Local Rules states:

  • 8/. PLUGGED BALL: You may lift, clean and DROP, through the green.

All three Local Rules refer to through the green, which means any part of the course except for hazards as well as the tee and putting green of the hole you are playing. This, along with Khao Kheow’s clear reference to this area being neither bunker nor hazard, means we can safely assume the ball lies through the green.

When this is added to IPGC and PSC’s clear reference to a free drop in the case of an embedded ball, then surely that means you have the right to drop without penalty, yes?

I don’t believe so.

The Rules of Golf contain a section headed: Appendix 1; Local Rules; Conditions of the Competition. One purpose of this section is to ensure golf clubs apply uniformity when devising Local Rules. After defining the areas that could apply to Local Rules, this section goes on to provide Specimen Local Rules that could/should be used.

It is worth reading the introduction:

As provided in Rule 33-8a, the Committee may make and publish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy established in this Appendix. In addition, detailed information regarding acceptable and prohibited Local Rules is provided in “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” under Rule 33-8 and in “Guidance on Running a Competition”. If local abnormal conditions interfere with the proper playing of the game and the Committee considers it necessary to modify a Rule of Golf, authorisation from the R&A must be obtained.

Note the last sentence. There are many reasons for this, not least being the need to preserve the integrity of handicapping systems.

Both IPGC and PSC Local Rules contain instances where the Rules of Golf have been modified. I suspect these have been done without sanction, and understandably so given the uniqueness that is golf in Thailand. But when it comes to modifying a Local Rule where the playing circumstances are the same here as anywhere else in the world, I think R&A guidelines should be followed.

Appendix 1, Part B, Specimen Local Rules 4.a. Relief for Embedded Ball:

Rule 25-2 provides relief, without penalty, for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in any closely-mown area through the green. On the putting green, a ball may be lifted and damage caused by the impact of a ball may be repaired (Rules 16-1b and c). When permission to take relief for an embedded ball anywhere through the green would be warranted, the following Local Rule is recommended:

“Through the green, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.


1. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.

2. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if interference by anything other than the condition covered by this Local Rule makes the stroke clearly impracticable.


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

Note: “Closely-mown area” means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less.

Exception 1, above, clearly excludes sand from the condition under which relief is provided. Unless found on the putting surface, sand is not a loose impediment. It cannot be moved, removed, shaped, or played with in any way. If a ball comes to rest in sand, the Rules intend that it be played as it lies. And no, sand itself cannot be defined as a “closely-mown area”.

There are, however, some courses around Pattaya where a lack of course maintenance can result in bare or sandy patches that exist within a closely-mown area, such as fairway. A ball embedded in sand, as described here – within an area that is closely mown – may be dropped without penalty. The point here is that this sand was clearly not meant to feature on this part of the course. Such areas should be surrounded by the green-keeper’s paint-line and have the letters GUR inserted.

In January this year, at the HSBC Championship played in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods both missed the cut. It appears McIlroy gave up well before reaching the 18th hole on day two, but not Woods. Whatever the state of his game or his position on the leader board, Woods, unlike McIlroy, has always shown great bottle. That he missed the cut – for the first time in an event for which he has received appearance money – by one stroke, was down to an illegal drop when playing the par-4 fifth.

Playing with McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, Woods drove into a bush well to the right of the fairway. Watching the TV, I recall seeing Woods have a discussion with Kaymer, before extracting his embedded ball from the sand. After dropping within one club-length he then played on to record a five. My amusement turned to amazement when Woods’s score for that hole was posted, without allowing for what I assumed would be the one shot penalty – his five shots should have given him a score of six.

The announcers were finally able to clarify matters after the European Tour’s chief referee, Andy McFee, advised woods after he had played the 11th, that he had infringed the Rules whilst playing the fifth hole and would be penalised two shots.

As is the case with most if not all professional tours, the European Tour extends the local rule for embedded balls in preferred lie situations to all areas. The exception is that this extension does not apply to sand. That neither Woods nor Kaymer knew this is astonishing. At least he tried his best, going on a birdie spree to miss the cut by just the one solitary shot.

Back to C9 at Khao Kheow and its waste bunker – you decide to play the ball as it lies. You manage to advance the ball about 30 yards leaving you a 7-iron to the green. From this position you put the ball on the green and two-putt for a five, to record two stableford points. Back at the presentation you learn your score is sufficient to earn second place, one behind the winner.

Perhaps next time, but hey, you feel bloody good about your game and the way in which you played it.

We all need to recognise the relevance of sand when considering relief from an embedded ball. Clearly the Rules do not intend for relief without penalty in the circumstances outlined here. This also applies to any situation where a ball is embedded in sand that is not in a closely-mown area.

I would not take nor give free relief for a ball embedded in those waste bunkers.

Having said that, given the way the Local Rules are written, it may prove tough for a golf organiser to DQ someone who did.

Maybe our Local Rules need reviewing.

Happy Golfing,


About golfnutter

Born in Wellington, New Zealand over 60 years ago. Introduced to golf - Thailand style - in 2004 and never recovered. I believe Thailand, Pattaya particularly, offers a unique and wonderful golfing experience for all golfers, whatever their handicap. If I can help embellish that experience, I will.
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6 Responses to Rules – Embedded Ball

  1. Robert Lamond says:

    Your commentary seems to me to raise a separate issue than that of a free drop for an embedded ball. If you take a literal reading of the local rule for an embedded ball then you are entitled to free drop because it does not have any exception for sand. The sample local rule you reference in the R & A rules states that the exceptions are recommended, not compulsory, therefore the IPGC committee has decided not to include the exceptions. Does this make the local rule illegal or a practical application of the embedded ball local rule?
    On the matter you refer to with Tiger Woods in Dubai my recollection is that he wasn’t embedded in sand but he was embedded in vegetation growing in a designated sand area which, I presume, neither Tiger or his marker was aware of. The error was picked by a couple of Golf Channel journalists who took great delight in notifying the chief referee and crowing about it on their web site. Sorry for the long winded introduction but my question is why was Tiger penalised 2 shots for an illegal drop? Was it because he did not state he was taking a drop for an uplayable lie? He had far more options available to him if it was unplayable and he may have made a 5 even with a penalty. The 1 club length drop for an embedded ball complies with an unplayable drop and it couldn’t have been for an incorrect score card as he was informed before the card was completed.
    One more issue for you to ponder – isn’t it interesting that TV viewers never ring in after the event has been concluded. Or do they and we never hear of it?

    • golfnutter says:

      Dear Robert,

      I agree the current situation is unclear. That is why I’m advocating an amendment in line with the R&A’s guidelines.

      I believe TW’s ball was embedded in sand, which explains him receiving the two-shot penalty.



  2. Simon Hirst says:

    As an addition to this.

    About 4 years back I came over in October to play. The weather was wet to say the least. Playing on the plantation course I hit the first fairway and the ball had hopped out of it’s pitch mark by a mere 6 inches. I now faced a much longer shot to the green than expected. Whilst waiting for my playing partner behind me to play my caddie picked up the mud covered ball and cleaned it and put it back.

    I asked her if we were playing winter rules but it was pointless question as she did not understand ‘winter’ or ‘rules’. I shouted across to my mate that I thought we were playing winter rules so that he could take advantage of them as well.

    Now it could well be that there was a sign on the notice board, or in the locker room or the starters hut. If it’s written in Thai then I don’t stand a chance. A sign giving notice of winter rules would look the same to me as one saying the caddie would be happy to give you a blow job if you birdie the 7th.

    So my question is :- Do you play winter rules when the ball is picking up mud?

    • golfnutter says:

      Hello Simon,

      In short, no. Simply because the golf organiser won’t know what conditions his field is likely to meet prior to tee-off.

      What normally happens is we leave that sort of decision to those that know… the greenkeeper and his staff. When we arrive at a course and are told that motorised carts are limited to cart paths only, then automatically that invokes winter rules.

      As regards your caddie picking up a ball in play, then you need to invoke the appropriate local rule, providing the society you are playing with has this situation covered. If not, then a two-shot penalty should apply.



  3. Simon Hirst says:

    Thanks Golfnutter,

    only complicated by courses that restrict carts at all times and other places that use the 90 degree rule…….
    I presume that if it is pick and place we will be notified on the 1st tee by the organiser/starter for the society.

    I hope my replying a lot is not a bother. 25 weeks to go now and I can’t wait to be back in the Kingdom playing golf.


    • golfnutter says:

      No bother whatsoever, Simon.

      A few courses, such as Siam Old Course, restrict their carts to paths at all times. Such courses tend to be out of our price range. Other courses have pre-existing conditions known to us. An example is Emerald where we remind everyone to play preferred lies, before arriving at the course.



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