How this little-known golf rule became a social-media hit

dropping ball in fairway

Dropping from the rough to the fairway? In certain instances, it's permitted.


Usually, it’s dance crazes and cat videos that take the internet by storm.

But more traditionally hidebound subjects have the power to do the same.

For a long time now, the USGA has been busy modernizing the Rules of Golf, streamlining the game’s written guidelines and the language around them while broadcasting them to a wider audience. 

Since the start of this year, that campaign has gone full-throttle on social media, where the governing body has been posting rules-related videos on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook— and drawing views into the seven figures.

One explainer, in particular, has generated Grumpy Cat-like numbers, garnering more than 4.5 million views on Instagram.

The focus of the video is Rule 16.1/1, which deals with relief from abnormal course conditions. Under its provisions, if your ball finds a bad lie in the rough and your stance is interfered with by a sprinkler head, lucky you. You’re entitled to a free drop. Better still, as the video highlights, if you’re within one club-length of the fairway, you can drop in the short grass, because, under the rules, the fairway and the rough are treated as the same area of the course. Check it out here:

Who knew?

If the views and comments are any indication, many golfers didn’t.

The smooth-swinging young man in the video, dropping from the rough into the fairway, is Jay Roberts, 33, who grew up playing the game in North Carolina and worked in the insurance business for eight years after college before creating his own YouTube channel, where he posted videos on the Rules of Golf.

The first video he ever shot and shared, which focused on a rule about a ball in play on the teeing area (if you top your drive, and the ball remains on the teeing ground, you can tee it up again to hit your second shot, with no penalty), gave Roberts an inkling of the kind of rules-related matters that pique golfers’ interest.

“There are some things the rules allow for that you instinctively think you’re not allowed to do,” Roberts says. “Those are the videos that really seem to do well — the rules that catch people by surprise.”

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As his YouTube channel grew in popularity, Roberts, in turn, caught the eye of the USGA, which brought him aboard a year ago this fall. When Roberts took over the social-media campaign in January, his goal was to post a new rules video every Wednesday, and with a couple of exceptions, he has met that schedule. He’s strategic about the material he posts.

Take the video about dropping from the rough into the fairway. Roberts sensed that it would probably take off, so he sat on it for a while, waiting to build a following through his USGA account that would generate the most bang for his buck.

The rest is history. 

Roberts, meanwhile, has several other videos ready to go that he believes could stir a similar degree of interest.

Of course, they’ll focus on the rules. He’ll leave the cat stuff to someone else. 

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.