Rules Guy: Can I take a penalty and tee off from the drop zone to avoid potentially losing a ball?

Henrik Stenson of Europe plays a shot from the drop zone during morning foursome matches of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club on October 1, 2016 in Chaska, Minnesota.

What do the rules say about bypassing the tee box for the drop zone?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

Playing with my friend in a stroke-play event, he came to the 17th hole four shots ahead of the field but with only one ball left. Not knowing if the rules allowed for borrowing a ball from another player and facing a long par 3 over water, he asked whether he could bypass hitting his tee shot and head directly to the drop zone across the water, lying 3, to prevent the possibility of losing his last ball. He would still have a two-shot lead, with a much safer shot to the green. Legal? Creative thinking in any case, no? —Dave Trent, Wilmington, N.C.

Creative, yes; legal, no. Think of the drop zone as an exclusive nightclub called, well, “The Drop Zone,” where you can’t just talk your way in — you must be on the guest list. (Yes, Rules Guy knows what a nightclub is, even if he prefers libraries.)

Under Rule 17.1b, access to the drop zone requires a ball to come to rest in the affiliated penalty area. The “1-ball rule,” Model Local Rule G-4, is rarely in effect other than for elite professional and amateur competitions. Assuming it wasn’t, your friend could indeed have borrowed a ball from another player if he ran out.

For more drop-zone guidance from our guru, read on …

Jordan Spieth drop zone
Rules Guy: My shot from the drop zone went back in the penalty area. Do I *have* to hit from the drop zone again?
By: Rules Guy

When you can take relief from near the putting surface, do you place the ball or drop from knee height? More generally, on what occasions do you place rather than drop? —Jesse Trapp, via email

Jesse, remember the old advice you learned in school in case of fire, “stop, drop and roll”? This really has nothing to do with that — it just popped into our head.

Anyway, other than Preferred Lies (Model Local Rule E-3), you would place a ball when taking free relief for interference by an abnormal course condition when the ball was originally on the putting green — even if the nearest point of complete relief is off the putting green (see Rule 16.1d).

You would also end up placing, per Rule 14.3d, if two drops in the correct relief area in the general area roll outside that relief area. Drop, drop and place!

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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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